Evidence of meeting #34 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was police.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Tony Hunt  General Manager, Loss Prevention, London Drugs Limited
  • Steve Rai  Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department
  • Paul Champ  Legal Counsel, BC Civil Liberties Association
  • Lincoln Merraro  Senior Security Manager, Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited
  • Michael Byers  Professor and Canada Research Chair, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia, As an Individual

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I guess it would go without saying that a number of businesses were shut down. There were damages. Were any of the employees affected by this riot?

11:55 a.m.

Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department

Insp Steve Rai

Some employees had to lock themselves in back rooms or security rooms, and some of them remain traumatized to this day. We had a famous store that blends coffee near the heart of the riot, and this poor victim had to lock herself in while she heard a mob outside attacking and destroying her business. These kinds of things happened throughout the downtown core during that riot. It affected people's lives. You pour a lot into your business—blood, sweat, and tears. Yes, a lot of businesses were affected.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I wonder, had this existed at the time, how it would have helped you to deter or to stop...and you did comment on this topic for de-escalating the riots. What kind of additional arm would this have been? Ms. Boivin sort of alluded to that.

11:55 a.m.

Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department

Insp Steve Rai

I'm speaking from my experience as a public order commander. When you have a crowd on the ground and you're trying to ensure the safety of the crowd, and the point you're trying to make is respected and you amend your tactics according to the crowd, which is a peaceful crowd, you give them more street room. You give them an extension on time. You work with the crowd, because we're here to facilitate that in our country.

Where this amendment or tool would have come in handy is when, as a public order commander, you're making decisions on tactics and you see a large number of people with backpacks, and maybe some of the people have had their backpacks searched and masks have come out and disguises have come out. Now you're thinking, okay, the crowd is being infiltrated by another element. Then as the riot or assembly moves forward and the troublemakers, if I can call them that, start to take more ownership of the larger crowd, that's where I, as a public order commander or a police leader, can come in and make a decision and have the tool behind me that I can surgically remove people. I can also have the education, the pre-awareness to the event. People know what they're doing. The people know they're covering their faces for an intent. The Black Bloc is not a group; it's a tactic.

When you have the full weight of the Criminal Code, and it's clearly articulated and the police officer knows that clearly and he can articulate that on the ground, those are all subtle nuances and strengths that help you mitigate an event like a riot.

Noon

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Goguen.

Mr. Cotler.

Noon

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to put a question at this point to Mr. Rai following from his testimony. Your testimony, Mr. Rai, began with an important affirmation of freedom of expression, association, and assembly, anchoring it in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and then spoke about the situation of small groups who endanger peaceful protest and the like.

This initiative is not unlike what other countries are doing, but my sense is if you look at our legislative framework, you will see it is what other countries are doing without this specific initiative. We have a whole set of provisions that can deal with these issues now, whether we're talking about provisions about unlawful assembly in section 63 of the Criminal Code, or with respect to section 67 and the proclamation of a riot, or with respect to section 30, an arrest for breach of an offence, or section 30 where it also speaks to the suppression of a riot. The most important thing—and this brings me to the whole issue here—is subsection 351(2) of the code, which sets out the offence of disguise with intent and where it reads:

(2) Every one who, with intent to commit an indictable offence, has his face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised is guilty of an indictable offence

We have the legislation and enabling authority right now. Is it not more a question of the efficacy of law enforcement rather than the absence of law? I'm concerned about this trend of the over-criminalization in the Criminal Code and responding to specific incidents, such as what occurred with the Stanley Cup, with yet another law, rather than asking whether the legal system in place was already sufficient for that purpose and whether it is like that which exists in other countries.

Noon

Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department

Insp Steve Rai

I'm not a legal expert, by any means, but I can tell you the law with the last one you mentioned, subsection 351(2). That is applied by police officers on...if somebody is robbing a bank—they go in and rob a bank with a balaclava on, they run out of the bank, and you catch them—it's a single case; it's manageable.

We're talking about the ability to have large groups of people not hijacked by a small group of people who are wearing intimidating facial masks and are employing a known tactic. A Black Bloc is a tactic that's used worldwide by groups to hijack public assemblies. I don't mean to lecture or anything, but in the Charter of Rights, the larger group also has a right to bring their children down, bring their grandmothers down, bring people down to make a statement, I don't know, at the footsteps of an art gallery or city hall, without being intimidated by a small cluster employing Black Bloc tactics.

I don't think that other section is easily applicable from a policing-on-the-ground perspective when you have thousands of people.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

I just want to say that the courts have already used the existing legislation, including section 718.2 of the Criminal Code, to determine that the wearing of a mask can imply violence, intimidate victims, demonstrate planning, etc. In other words, the courts seem to have found in the existing legislation that which is necessary for the purposes of sanctioning the very conduct that we are all concerned about. That's why I go back to the question. Is it not more a question of the efficacy of law enforcement and the application of the law rather than the absence of an enabling authority to begin with?

12:05 p.m.

Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department

Insp Steve Rai

Again, I can say that the courts.... I don't have the wherewithal to have all the knowledge on how the courts have applied it and how they've sanctioned people who have been in violation of that.

What I can tell you is that that particular law is fine when the person gets to court. It's the ability to utilize that in a preventative purpose from law enforcement's perspective. Do I use that tool? Can I use that tool when I have 150,000 people? Is that going to help me mitigate damage in the millions to the downtown core of a Canadian city? Not at that moment. Certainly, afterwards it can be applied and the courts can provide remedy and sanction people. But I'm saying, from my perspective as a law enforcement officer, that it currently is not working for me on the ground.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Ms. Findlay.

May 3rd, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Inspector Rai, I'm from British Columbia. My riding is Delta—Richmond East. It's my understanding that the Vancouver police were only able to lay two charges under section 351 so far, relating to the Vancouver riot. Is that correct? Do you know the number of charges that were able to be laid so far?

12:05 p.m.

Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department

Insp Steve Rai

The number of charges that we've recommended is 592 against 200 rioters. The number that have been approved by the crown, and they're working their way through these—they've approved 226 charges against 85 persons. So it's sort of a processing line.

We're continuing to recommend charges or to process people, we're continuing to use technology to unmask rioters involved in criminal activity, and the crown is working through what we've been providing.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Were those charges laid under section 351 or some other sections, or is it a variety of sections?

12:05 p.m.

Inspector in Charge, District Three, Operations Division, Vancouver Police Department

Insp Steve Rai

I'm not on the investigative part of the riot investigation team, but the charges include everything from mischief, break and enter, commercial break and enter, level two, level three assaults, theft from auto, theft of auto, and the participating in a riot charge.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Thank you.

One of the questions that has arisen so far in this deliberation is when you have a peaceful protest that then escalates into what we regard as a riot, a tumultuous event that is then happening. There may be people who have been in that peaceful protest for peaceful reasons and may not hear the riot act being read or may not be in the thick of it, so to speak, and realize that it is now a riot scene.

My question to you is this. Would it not be correct that, particularly from your position as a commander in a difficult situation like this, the police attention is going to go toward those who are in the commission of an offence, as opposed to someone who is not doing anything unlawful other than simply being present and who seems to be trying to leave or get away from the scene? Is your attention not directed at those who are actively engaged in the riotous behaviour?