House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-16, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Interpretation Act (powers to arrest and enter dwelling), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10 a.m.

The Speaker

There are six motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-16.

Motion No. 1 will be debated and voted upon.

Motions Nos. 2, 4 and 6 will be grouped for debate. A vote on Motion No. 2 applies to Motions Nos. 4 and 6.

Motions Nos. 3 and 5 will be grouped for debate. A vote on Motion No. 3 applies to Motion No. 5.

I shall now propose Motion No. 1 to the House.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

moved:

Motion No. 1

That Bill C-16, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 36 to 45 on page 5 and lines 1 and 2 on page 6 with the following:

“529.5 A warrant under section 529.1 or an authorization under section 529 or 529.4 may be issued on an information submitted by telephone or other means of telecommunication and, for that purpose, section 487.1 applies, with any modifications that the circumstances require, to the warrant or authorization.”

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this amendment with some regret that we are in this situation. We are facing a problem within the Department of Justice when important amendments are being made to the Criminal Code that for all intents and purposes are being ramrodded through at the committee level and through the House.

As a result of the supreme court decision in the Queen v Feeney, the Department of Justice was faced with a situation in which it had to fill a gap that had been left by the supreme court when it struck down sections of the Criminal Code that pertained to the powers of arrest.

What has happened here is akin to the trampling on the right of Parliament to actively and in a substantive way participate in the debate and the process to make recommendations as they pertain to the Criminal Code of Canada.

Time was certainly of the essence. The supreme court, by virtue of a stay that was entered back in July of 1997, gave Parliament the time to react to fill the gap left by the decision handed down in the Queen v Feeney.

The problem that I have with this is that five and a half months have past. The justice department was given ample opportunity to react, to make the appropriate amendments to address this situation. By the time it reached committee stage, members of Parliament, the elected officials of this House, were given less than five days to consider it. To be precise, they were given approximately eight hours to discuss, in the presence of witnesses and among each other, these very important amendments which affect the powers of arrest for all police throughout the land.

The committee did have the benefit of hearing a number of very important witnesses. The witnesses included the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Chiefs of Police. We heard from a victims' advocate group, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.

We also had the benefit of hearing from a very distinguished criminal lawyer, a gentleman by the name of Irwin Koziebrocki. Mr. Koziebrocki is the treasurer of the Criminal Lawyers Association of Canada. Of all the witnesses, he made a statement which I found quite startling. He deemed one of the proposed amendments to be unconstitutional. He said that it would not withstand a charter of rights challenge.

That is not to say that his opinion could not be wrong. However, when an experienced trial and appeal court lawyer makes this pronouncement before a committee, hours before the amendments are tabled and given third reading, that should give the department and all members of the committee reason to pause and to ponder whether we want to have this legislation pushed through in a flawed form, leaving it open to the possibility that within months, weeks or days we could be faced with another court challenge which may strike down, in the worst case scenario, these amendments.

The first amendment which I have put before the House pertains to the authorization of telewarrants in Canada. This amendment came about after some consultation with the Quebec bar association, which did not appear before the committee but which submitted a brief.

The amendment speaks to the evolution of new technology in communications which should be made available to all peace officers in the country.

The reality of Canada, of this vast land, is that we are not all centred in large metropolitan areas like Calgary, Toronto or Halifax. A great part of this country is spread out in rural areas. Police officers are often working out of one or two person detachments. They need to have access to justices of the peace. They need to be able to get authorization to act quickly and in a very decisive way.

Telewarrants, this new form of technology that we have with fax machines, with telephones and with cell phones, increase the possibility that a police officer can do something when faced with exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances is a newly coined phrase that came out of the decision of the Queen v Feeney. Exigent circumstances often exist in the daily lives of police officers that are faced with very serious situations.

Telewarrants permit police officers to contact justices of the peace, but that is all for naught if the resources are not allocated to make justices of the peace available. It is easy to pick up a phone or to dial a fax number, but if no one is on the other end of the line to receive the information and authorize the warrant, a real problem exists.

I would suggest that this amendment goes further than the present amendment as proposed by the government in enabling peace officers in broader circumstances to avail themselves of the ability to have a warrant granted. I want to add to that the necessity of the resources. The resources have to go cheek and jowl with the ability to get these warrants. We need to ensure that there are going to be more justices of the peace available, particularly in rural parts of the country.

I would emphasize the remarks I made at the outset. It is with some regret I find myself in this situation where we have to debate this further on the floor of the House of Commons. The committee level, had it been conducted in a more professional and timely way, would have avoided this necessity.

This amendment is one that all members of the House should consider and support. It goes to increasing the security for all Canadians and aids the police in their very important role in enforcing the criminal law within the country. As members of this House, particularly members of the justice committee, we have to be very strident in our attempts to oversee what is happening with the amendments to the Criminal Code.

The Minister of Justice, the chief executive officer for administering law in this country, can and should have at least contemplated the necessity of rising from her seat, walking down Wellington Street, knocking on the door of the Supreme Court of Canada and ask for an extension. It would have avoided the necessity of pushing this through at the eleventh hour. It would have allowed us to have proper debate at the committee level and if necessary on the floor of the House of Commons.

I speak in favour of this amendment. I would be very interested to hear the remarks of the hon. members present today.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Ahuntsic
Québec

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by repeating what has already been said in the House, which is that the government was obliged by the supreme court to ensure that both sides of the House could meet a court set deadline. This was not a deadline set by the government but imposed on us by the Supreme Court of Canada.

I would also add that in my view sufficient time has been allowed, both in the House and in committee, for opposition motions to be brought. Unfortunately, only one was received in committee. There was no discussion by the opposition on these motions. This is really stretching a point, because there was ample time available Wednesday evening for discussion and the opposition brought no amendments.

I would like to point out that we feel that, yes, the deadline is a little short. The deadline was imposed on us by the supreme court. It was not a deadline that we imposed on this House.

Second, there was ample time. The committee members on the government side were more than willing to spend more time discussing any motion brought forward by any member of the opposition. None of these motions was brought forward. There was discussion but none of the motions was brought forward to be discussed at the committee level. The opposition members decided to bring them forward in the House.

Fearmongering from the opposition by saying this will be unconstitutional is presumptive on the part of the opposition. We do not know whether this will be declared unconstitutional. We had no constitutional experts that came before the committee to to testify except a lawyer. I think that is an assumption that should not have been made.

The government is not able to support motion No. 1. This affects the very notion of practicability. The rule with respect to telewarrants is that the police are not in a position to meet a justice of the peace in person. This rule has been on the books for approximately 10 years. It is nothing new and it is seen as necessary to defend the constitutionality of the entire telewarrant scheme in the Criminal Code.

Motions 2, 4 and 6 all relate to the use of the singular to refer to dwelling house in the bill. Some have argued that in order to allow for warrants to apply to more than one dwelling house we need to refer to dwelling house in the plural. That is why we have the Interpretation Act. The Interpretation Act already provides that the singular includes the plural. All federal legislation, and this legislation in particular, Bill C-16, has been drafted with that rule in mind.

This amendment seems to undermine the way all federal legislation is drafted and would be a bad precedent in my opinion. It would make the interpretation of other statutes more difficult and uncertain in the future.

We are not able to support this motion as it is inconsistent with other provisions of the Criminal Code.

On Motion No 3, we are not able to support this motion either. The reason is that the motion addresses form 7 because it is a warrant for arrest. This warrant has been known to law for over 100 years and requires that the person be identified. If we cannot identify a person we should not be seeking a warrant for an arrest. That implies a person has been charged with a crime.

However, the government would be amenable for supporting Motion No. 5, and I will speak to that motion.

This amendment relates to form 7.1 and section 529.1 of the Criminal Code. The amendment would make it clear in the form what is already permitted by section 529.1. That section makes it possible to obtain a warrant for entry in order to arrest someone who is identifiable as opposed to identified.

I believe that if this form were amended as proposed by the hon. member we would be improving on the language in the bill by making it perfectly clear on the form itself that this is possible.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this extremely important bill. Like the members who spoke before me, I think I will say a few words on the procedure imposed on the Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

I know that it is following a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Feeney case that the government was required so to speak to amend the provisions if it wanted to correct the situation. The ruling was made on May 22, 1997, in the middle of the electoral campaign. However, as I openly said in committee—and there is no reason to hide this—officials wisely held consultations across Canada and Quebec.

My concern in all this is that there were no consultations before the political side of this issue was addressed, that it was only on Friday of last week that Bill C-16, which is in fact very important, was tabled in this House, which has been sitting for eight weeks. It may not be the fault of the Liberal members, but it is surely the fault of the federal government's cumbersome bureaucracy and procedures if we have to accelerate the review process as we are doing.

However, after consulting with people who have an interest in seeing this bill improve the Criminal Code, I believe that this bill is generally acceptable. We do not support it without reservations, but considering the time we have to review it, I believe that as a first step, it is something we can live with.

I will deal with the amendments in each group. I will speak very briefly on the first group, which includes Motion No. 1. I think that the wording of Section 529.5 in Bill C-16 reflects in fact what is found in other provisions, other laws. I don't think we should amend this section as proposed by the member of the Conservative Party. I think that the wording in the section on telewarrants meets requirements that have already been established in this area.

I want to read it to you because I think it clearly indicates that such warrants may only be issued in exceptional circumstances.

The rule is that the peace officer must appear personally before the judge to make an application for a warrant, but it can happen in exceptional circumstances that it would be impracticable, to use the words in the section, or impossible for the police officer to appear before a judge. It can also be an emergency situation—and there is a section that deals with these—, and the police officer cannot appear before a judge.

The section, which is very clear, says the following:

If a peace officer believes that it would be impracticable in the circumstances to appear personally before a judge or justice to make an application for a warrant under Section 529.1 or an authorization under Section 529 or 529.4, the warrant or authorization may be issued on an information submitted by telephone or other means of telecommunication and, for that purpose, Section 487.1 applies, with any modifications that the circumstances require, to the warrant or authorization.

I think that the wording reflects the purpose of this section, and to keep our laws in general as simple as possible, I believe that we should not amend this section because it is similar to all other sections dealing with telewarrants. That is why we will oppose Motion No. 1 as presented.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I thought I might have to get up on a chair to get noticed.

I regret very much the situation that the House finds itself in at the moment from a number of points of view. I thought there had been an understanding to dispose of this matter by today. Now it appears that technically speaking that was not the case. There was only an agreement, technically speaking, to begin the debate today and this will now carry over, I presume. It also means that some of us, having taken the agreement a little more seriously than others, find ourselves in a bit of difficulty.

Fundamentally I think the government has to take some responsibility for this because I see a pattern emerging here. I think this is the third time in this Parliament when we have been presented with something that has to be dealt with by a certain date. There is always truth in that claim but the truth comes from the fact that the government has left it until the 11th hour, so to speak.

The opposition in some cases has been co-operative and in some cases not. The government made a similar argument with respect, for instance, to the CPP, that it had to have this through by a particular time because it had an agreement with the provinces and were prepared to move closure on that.

In respect of this particular bill, we thought that the government's argument had more merit but was not entirely meritorious in the sense that this is something the government has known about since July. It is also something Parliament could have been dealing with when we first got back. If the government had done its work between the time it was elected and the time that Parliament came back we would not be in the situation we are in this week where we only had one week to deal with these particular amendments.

I do not know why these amendments could not have been moved in committee but I assume there must have been some good reason why the hon. member moved them now at report stage. Perhaps he tried and the government prevented it in some way. However, it is surely the case that the amendments we have now before us mean that this will be carried over until after the break unless there is some procedural way of dealing with this that I do not know about at the moment.

Obviously the NDP has supported the government along with all the other parties in dealing with this situation that the supreme court has put back in the hands of Parliament by virtue of its decision in the Feeney case.

We will be considering very carefully the amendments put forward by the hon. member and will render a judgment in due course.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I just wanted to know whether the hon. member who presented the motion has agreed that we can separate Motion No. 3 from Motion No. 5.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The parliamentary secretary is getting a little ahead of us. At the moment, we are dealing with Group No. 1, Motion No. 1. We will go on to the next ones after that.

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those in favour will please say yea.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those opposed will please say nay.