House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Vacancy

11 a.m.

The Speaker

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely, Mr. Charlie Power, member for the electoral district of St. John's West, by resignation effective January 31, 2000.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed on January 31, 2000, my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Business Of The House

11 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I wish to designate Tuesday, February 8, 2000, as an allotted day.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-202, an act to amend the Criminal Code (flight), as reported (with amendment) from the committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, ON

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Bonin Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-202, an act to amend the criminal code concerning flight. I also rise to thank members from all sides of the House who have worked together to transform this bill into a non-partisan effort. I trust that this co-operative spirit will continue so that we can make Bill C-202 law in the briefest possible time.

A special thanks must go to our colleague from Leeds—Grenville, a strong contributor and co-sponsor of Bill C-202. Of course we owe the largest debt of gratitude to our colleague, the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, for developing, drafting and tabling this bill during the first session of this parliament. Without his determined efforts we would not be here today.

Bill C-202 sets out straightforward principles that are shared by Canadians. Individuals who use motor vehicles to flee and evade police, who cause police chases, who put the lives of police and innocent citizens at risk must learn that such behaviour will be severely punished. By way of Bill C-202 these individuals will learn that Canadians and parliament will not tolerate such behaviour.

Bill C-202 creates a new and separate offence for using a motor vehicle to flee and evade police. The penalties are tough, providing a maximum imprisonment of five years in cases of pursuit to evade police. There is a maximum imprisonment of 14 years where the pursuit results in bodily harm, and when a pursuit results in death the penalty provides for life imprisonment.

Individuals who flee and evade police in cars, trucks and vans are a significant risk to public safety. The penalties set forth in Bill C-202 reflect the seriousness of the problem.

I am pleased that the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and La Federation des policiers et policière du Québec have publicly come forward in support of the bill, a bill that will help protect police officers and make Canadian streets safer.

Those who flee police inflict tremendous human costs on our communities. According to the CAA, in Ontario alone between 1991 and 1997 there were over 10,000 high speed chases that resulted in 2,415 injured people and 33 deaths. These people are our friends, neighbours and the police officers upon whom we depend for our protection. That is why we need Bill C-202.

On July 28, 1999, Sergeant Rick McDonald of the Sudbury regional police was struck and killed by a van fleeing police. He was laying down a spike belt. Our friend Rick was only 38. Words are so inadequate to express the senseless nature of this tragedy. Sergeant McDonald's wife Corrine is also a member of the Sudbury regional police service. Sergeant McDonald's family is represented here today by his sister Marlene Viau. Sergeant McDonald's colleagues and the community he served so proudly all want to see Bill C-202 become law.

I would go even further to say that they need to see this bill become law and they need to know that the tragic death of a man they loved and respected, a man who gave so much of himself, will lead to a law that will improve safety on our streets, a law that will help save the lives of other police officers throughout Canada and a law that will severely punish those individuals who put our communities at risk.

I urge all members of the House to support immediate passage of the bill because we all know that it is the right thing to do for our communities.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to support Bill C-202, an act to amend the criminal code regarding flight from a police vehicle, which was put forward by the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge.

Hardly a week goes by without reading in the papers about the carnage on the highways as a result of an individual fleeing the police. In many cases an innocent person pays with his or her life as a result of this reckless behaviour.

Such was the case in Toronto when Father Ilce Miovski was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Father Miovski was struck and killed by a stolen car being pursued by Scarborough police. A 21 year old man now faces nine charges, including criminal negligence causing death, impaired driving causing death and theft over $5,000. Unfortunately we do not have a specific section in our criminal code which deals with the offence of fleeing a police officer.

The facts of these cases are indeed frightening. Between 1991 and 1997 police entered into more than 10,000 high speed chases in the province of Ontario alone. That is over 1,000 high speed chases a year in Ontario. Six innocent bystanders were killed as a result of these chases, another 33 who were directly involved were killed and 198 were injured. This has to stop.

As I said previously, fleeing police as it now stands is not a separate offence. Bill C-202 proposes a new criminal code prohibition against leading police on a high speed chase and it would add maximum penalties. This is a good first step.

I commend the member for taking this issue forward. I am pleased to say that this bill is endorsed by all parties within the House.

The maximum penalty for evading a police officer in a motor vehicle will be raised from two to five years. The maximum penalty for injuring an individual while trying to flee police will be raised from 10 to 14 years. Anyone who causes the death of another person is liable to imprisonment for life. This is testimony to the emphasis put on this issue and the gravity of these offences.

The solicitor general for Ontario is very supportive of this bill, in particular for its criminal code implications. Ontario's solicitor general has tabled his own code of conduct for police officers involved in high speed chases. In my own province of B.C. the attorney general introduced new rules in September, specifying that police can only close the distance and chase without lights and sirens if an officer has reasonable grounds to believe the vehicle has been involved in an indictable offence. Officers in that situation have to regard public safety before starting a chase.

While these actions attempt to address the growing menace of our highways, they do not stop the behaviour of the criminals who take on the police. The criminals must be stopped.

Bill C-202 sends a message that society has simply had enough of this carnage. Leading a police car in a chase is akin to taking a lethal weapon in the form of a two tonne vehicle and driving it with abandon.

Here are some of the more disturbing facts about high speed chases. From 1993 to 1997 high speed chases on the island of Montreal killed three people and injured 59. In B.C. the RCMP and 12 municipal police forces were involved in over 4,000 high speed chases from 1990 to 1997. Twenty-one people were killed and another 748 were injured. This problem is growing.

Some of these pursuits can cover great distances, as one in Ottawa did recently, where a young intoxicated person with his 16 year old girlfriend took the Ontario police on a 50 kilometre chase. That same week a 21 year old Brampton, Ontario woman who was pulling out of a parking lot was killed by a drunk driver travelling at 140 kilometres an hour trying to evade police. This is the situation we have at the present time. Just last week a teenager in Aldergrove, B.C. died while driving a stolen van in a police chase.

Some people would paint the police as causing the deaths. The police are not the problem. The people driving the cars are the problem. Telling police not to chase, hands these criminals carte blanche. For all intents and purposes, it says “If you want to carry out a criminal offence, simply get in a car and drive fast. The police won't chase you”. We do not want that to happen. This is hardly the way to attack the problem and in fact it avoids it.

The Department of Justice is currently studying the problem of police pursuits. The justice minister seems to realize that in many cases the police are able to lay criminal code charges, such as for dangerous driving, but in other cases the offender just receives a slap on the wrist. This is wrong. Society has had it with these people and it wants to have the problem put to an end.

Bill C-202 does just that. The problem is escalating and we simply must act.

Bill C-202 proposes necessary amendments to the criminal code which will deter individuals from taking police on high speed chases and endangering or taking away the lives of innocent bystanders. I fully support the bill and hope that it has speedy passage through the House.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Madam Speaker, as every previous speaker has already said, there has indeed been all-party support for this bill. The Bloc Quebecois made up its mind some time ago. We have supported the hon. member from the start. A number of members even signed the forms to speed up the process.

As far as the object of the bill is concerned, it is obvious that the various parties support it because it meets a significant need. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard a number of witnesses. They told us that there was something missing from the Criminal Code, from the legislation, and that a change like this one would fulfil a need.

What happens today if someone steals a car, tries to get away from the police and is finally arrested? At most, he will be charged with theft. If there really has been a police chase, if it can be proven that there has been dangerous driving, he will also be charged with that offence. But for there to be a conviction for dangerous driving, there has to be very strong evidence of it.

With a specific clause in the legislation, we are going to have a precise response to an offence. Its addition to the Criminal Code will meet a crying need.

I will not cite statistics, as all of the parties have already done so. These statistics tell us that there have indeed been a number of court cases in Quebec and in all of Canada. Unfortunately, these proceedings are not all listed.

This is why we do not have specific numbers regarding this situation. I want to make it clear that we support Bill C-202. In so doing, we are not supporting the party opposite, but the police officers who have asked repeatedly for this legislation.

I know that we will also be asked to speed up the process. The House will submit a request to all parties, asking that this bill be referred to the Senate as quickly as possible.

Since the introduction of Bill C-20 by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Bloc Quebecois has decided it will not co-operate with an undemocratic government. That was our approach in December and it is still our approach today. However, there are exceptions to any rule, and the bill before us today is one of them.

This is not a government bill, but a private member's bill. It was drafted at the request of the witnesses heard by the committee.

We on this side of the House are democrats. The Bloc Quebecois has always reacted in a very democratic fashion and it listens to what Quebecers want. And Quebecers have said, through, among others, police officers and the Quebec police federations, that they want parliament to pass Bill C-202.

We will make an exception and agree to this accelerated process. I do hope that the government opposite will take its cue from us and will set its politicking aside when it comes to issues regarding which Quebecers are unanimously opposed to the adoption of certain bills.

I will mention only two that are extremely important to me. The first is Bill C-3 on the young offenders, which Quebec opposes unanimously. I would hope there are democrats on the other side of the House who will do their work and tell the Minister of Justice that the bill is not wanted in Quebec.

The second is, naturally, Bill C-20. The great democrat sitting in the seat of the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs should come and visit Quebec to hear what Quebecers have to say about Bill C-20.

I would hope he will rise in this House, as I am doing as a democrat today, and say “Quebecers do not want this bill, and I have decided to withdraw it”. I would hope that the government opposite will say yes to Quebec's demands, as the Bloc Quebecois did to Bill C-202, which it supports, and it will work with the House to expedite its passage so that the police in Quebec and the rest of Canada may have it at their disposal in order to act effectively and, most importantly, offer Quebecers and Canadians greater security.

In conclusion, I thank the police in the gallery listening to the debate. They have done a fantastic job, and I mention among others Yves Prud'homme of the Fédération des policiers du Québec and thank him. He enlightened me further, although I already supported the bill. This is why, among other reasons, the Bloc Quebecois is supporting this bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today in favour of Bill C-202, an act to amend the Criminal Code and strengthen the laws involving criminal flight from police pursuit.

I will begin my remarks by recognizing the efforts of the policing community in bringing this matter to fruition. This is a very practical and admirable amendment. Those congratulations must also extend to the hon. member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge and his supporting mover from Leeds—Grenville. They have both displayed exemplary perseverance and a non-partisanship that is uncommon and remarkable in this place. The member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge obviously recognizes the need for greater good in areas of justice and public protection. I offer him our unconditional support. Chapeau, monsieur.

The Conservative Party has always supported crime prevention and police forces across the country. We have continually demanded that government correct the problem of underfunded and overworked police forces that are trying to deal with the growing violence that exists in the country, especially amongst youth, biker gangs, organized crime and cross-border terrorism. The example we saw in Washington state in December 1999 exemplifies some of the problems that exist in law enforcement in the country. Human smuggling and other issues are the daily tasks that face our men and women in blue.

The RCMP Public Complaints Commission, speaking specifically to this bill, issued a report last December calling on police to take measures to reduce death and injuries caused by dangerous police chases. This has highlighted the problem that exists in the country and highlights recent government neglect of policing and public safety. Funding cuts to the RCMP and indirect cuts through transfer payments have also affected municipal police forces. Other problems have been created because of government policy in the area of prisoner release, like dangerous prisoners being placed in minimum security prisons. I note for the record that Gary Fitzgerald is still on the loose from Ferndale prison. We also have a weak youth criminal justice system.

The government has consistently shown that combating criminal activity is not a priority. Yet we see a backbench member, the hon. member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, bringing forward what is obviously a very informed and exemplary piece of legislation.

I understand from a reliable source that this is the first time a backbench member has been able to achieve this level of change within the criminal code. He has obviously come up with a good piece of legislation. It is surprising and disappointing that his party was not able to do so through the Minister of Justice. Perhaps the hon. member on the back bench should be on the front bench.

While the Liberals have misplaced billions of dollars at HRDC, the RCMP cannot even investigate major fraud files in British Columbia because of a lack of resources. Simply repeating bland generalities, as we have heard from the solicitor general, does very little to help frontline police officers. I suggest that it increases the growing cynicism and sense of frustration in those brave men and women. Hopefully the RCMP will not be forced to engage in its own fundraising efforts similar to what we saw in the controversial true blue campaign in Toronto because of the lack of government support.

I hope Bill C-202, which has been delayed since December, will receive no further delays. There have been attempts to amend and improve the legislation, which has been embraced with open arms by the hon. member. It must be underlined that this bill is far too important to be engaging in partisan politics or to be holding it up. It is important for frontline police officers and innocent civilians who could be injured or killed as a result of high speed chases.

Bill C-202 will serve as a deterrent. Many of the substantial changes, which have been outlined by previous speakers, are: up to five years in prison for evading a police officer using a motor vehicle or injuring someone in the process; up to fourteen years for a person killed in a pursuit by irresponsible driving; or, a life sentence for those who engage in such an activity. We should have no qualms about codifying in our criminal code that escaping from the police, who are in pursuit of a person, poses a danger to everyone on our highways and roads.

Whether it be in a community of a small town or a large city, it goes without saying that this type of activity is extremely dangerous. Whether a person is injured with a knife, a gun or any type of weapon, or a car that is used in a irresponsible fashion, the criminal code has to be amended and codified so our judges and our justice system can respond appropriately and proportionately. The judges of this country must be given leeway to respond to and reflect on the gravity of these types of offences.

These amendments, which we are supporting, toughen up the original draft and allow more judicial discretion. We know judicial discretion is a wonderful thing if it is properly exercised. The amendments surrounding flight, and the type of carnage, injury and death that can result, are aimed at doing just that; toughening up response and responding appropriately with general and specific deterrents aimed at both treating the offender with a firm hand and sending a message to the general public that our system is adequately responding and responding in a way that is appropriate.

Minor aspects of this bill involve those who cause police chases. They are now being charged with crimes that include crimes under the Highway Traffic Act, offences which vary from province to province. Dangerous driving and criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death are already there but this singles out and puts the focus on a specific problem. It also brings about a greater form of continuity and a common response from the provinces across the country. We all know that consistency and an even-handed approach is what the criminal code should try to portray.

Issues of flight from police came to the forefront last year, particularly in Toronto. March 21 marked the death of Father Ilce Miovski, age 50, and March 27 marked the death of Valeri Kovaliv, age 41. Both were pedestrians, innocent victims, hit by runaway vehicles fleeing the police. It was only March and he was 1999's fifth victim of a police chase in or around greater metropolitan Toronto.

Enacting tougher legislation would reflect the public's abhorrence to such reckless and dangerous acts and would deter flight from police. It would make an example of criminals who place innocent lives at risk through such thoughtlessness.

Lives at risk often include the lives of police officers who often drive outdated unsafe police cruisers due to cutbacks. Innocent bystanders on the street are most at risk when killed in the midst of a car chase.

Criminals may be fleeing from an unpaid parking ticket or a speeding charge which has led to such a chase. Many flee because there are legal consequences for relatively minor criminal offences.

We all know there are other instances where high speed chases are a result of criminals who know that when they are taken into police custody they will face serious ramifications for outstanding warrants or other criminal acts that they may have committed prior to becoming engaged in the chase.

Many in the country feel that police chases using such tactics as roadblocks, spike belts, helicopter surveillance et cetera would be a more effective approach. In reality, increasingly we find that the lack of funding impacts greatly on the ability of the police to engage in other types of responses. These devices do not always help.

A very real example involved Calgary police Constable Richard Sonnenberg who on October 8, 1993 used a police spike belt to stop a car from fleeing police. The car was driving, as I understand it, at 170 kilometres an hour. The car veered away from the police spike belt and hit the officer killing him instantly.

The police are very often faced with making split second instantaneous decisions. We must remember that anyone is at risk, anyone can be killed when these types of chases begin.

A further tragedy was that in the case of Mr. Sonnenberg the criminal was given a six year sentence for criminal negligence causing death. This underlines the importance of the provisions of Bill C-202.

We know that life does not mean life in this country, but I would suggest that the recognition of this type of offence resulting in the loss of life and it being codified in the criminal code sends a very important message to all. The need to give our justice system the ability to respond appropriately to those who escape justice does send that message.

Increasingly police are faced with this difficult situation. We know that the public complaints commission has released some very pointed and useful responses that the government should be quick to embrace.

I want to conclude by saying that we can do more, but this bill certainly addresses part of the problem and it is a big part that we in this House can all embrace and pass quickly. It is a very smart and reasonable step in the right direction, a direction that recognizes the attempts to address the serious problems with flight from police. I urge all hon. members to support this bill and others aimed at improving Canada's criminal code.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to reiterate the New Democratic Party's support for this bill.

Much has been said today indicating that it is a non-partisan bill. I believe it has the support pretty much of all members of the House which we will see when the vote takes place.

The highlights of the bill indicate that it creates specific offences for anyone who while using a motor vehicle fails to stop for the police. It sets the penalty for committing the offence as imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

There is no question that something had to be done to address the problem, to give police the tools to work with to stop the high speed chases. We also had to put in place laws that will make it a criminal offence so that the police are able to do their job properly. So often, as the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough indicated, this government has failed to do that.

Certainly the laws of Canada are questioned a number of times as to whether or not they are severe. Parliamentarians are often torn as to how to protect civil liberties and the rights of people against the rights of victims. There is no question that there has been agreement on this bill.

In many cases the problem is the government's support of its police forces. We have seen a number of classic examples in the last months of not enough funding for the RCMP to carry through on cases. I am talking about cases dealing not just with petty theft but with million dollar extortions. If we do not give the RCMP enough funds to proceed with those cases, how on earth do we expect it to act on each and every piece of legislation that comes through?

I want to reiterate our support and thank the hon. members who are going to support this bill. As well I want to thank the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge for putting forth this bill. I also want to thank those backbenchers, one of whom has come up with this bill, and ask them to put pressure on the government. We in the opposition will continue to pressure the government to put enough support into police forces so they can enforce these laws.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and very honoured as a member to be speaking to the first bill to be debated in this House in the new millennium.

I would be remiss in saying that it is certainly a proud moment for all of us as parliamentarians but it is struck on a sad note. The extraordinary circumstances which bring us together and unite us as parties are underlined by the fact that extraordinary sacrifices and the sad loss of family, friends and loved ones are really at the root of creating this bill. With the help of the justice minister and her department we have been able to craft a piece of legislation which will send out an important message which I believe transcends politics and ensures a greater measure of public security.

Rick McDonald, whose wife and sister are here today, Richard Sonnenberg, Sarah Bowman, Dominique Courchesne, Ilce Miovski of my riding are all individuals who have paid the ultimate price in order to ensure that this bill passes. There is no pride nor pleasure in knowing that while we pass a bill unanimously, which I believe I am hearing from all members of parliament, it nevertheless does not take away from the tragedy that has taken place.

I suspect what we are trying to do here for the love of God and for the love of humanity and mankind and all those around us is to do our very best as legislators to ensure that this parliament is relevant not just on the front benches or in the discourse and the debates at two o'clock in the afternoon, but also here on the backbenches from which we rarely hear. Politics in this country can be relevant if we work hard to understand the pain and anxiety which people go through day in and day out.

I want to thank my two colleagues who from the word go were very helpful to me in crafting this legislation. I am referring to the hon. member for Leeds—Grenville and the hon. member for Nickel Belt. It is not always the case that politics and policies are top down; sometimes they are bottom up. Indeed when they are bottom up they receive the consent of the House.

I am honoured to know that several individuals also worked very hard to make sure this legislation could pass. I am referring to people like Sergeant Charlie Green, Doug Corrigan, a good friend of mine from the Toronto Police Association, and others in the Durham police and right across the country who have spoken so eloquently to this need. Words cannot replace the tragedy and indeed the investment of the blood of thousands of people and hundreds of injuries in order to make this bill what it is today.

As we send this bill to the Senate there will be equal concerns and equal considerations. Because the House of Commons speaks with one voice, and it is extraordinary circumstances under which it does so, I think that the Senate too will see in its wisdom the importance of ensuring this parliament passes relevant laws for the people whom we represent.

I am honoured that we are going to proceed with the bill. It sends a very important message that this is a parliament that will achieve extraordinary ends if we only work together.

With that in mind I hope this will be the final speech on Bill C-202 and that with the consent of the House we may heretofore pass it into its rightful place in terms of sending it to the Senate and making it relevant public policy from the backbenches of this parliament.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)