House of Commons Hansard #94 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was investment.

Topics

Sustaining Canada's Economic Recovery Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 5:55 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

moved that Bill C-576, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak during this hour of debate to my Bill C-576, which deals with the crime of personating a peace officer.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for seconding this bill. I am grateful to my colleagues in the House who recognize the merit of this minor yet important addition to the Criminal Code.

I was inspired to table this bill following a horrible crime that took place in my constituency. The offender was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced. The case is no longer in the court. But I have had discussions with the victim of this crime and I would like to talk about what I have learned.

Flashing lights and a police uniform were used as weapons to abduct a 16 year old girl. She had just earned her driver's licence and was driving alone, as many of us do. She was held captive for 46 hours and brutally assaulted before she managed to escape from her attacker. She was brave. She survived.

It is a fact that she was abducted because she was led to believe that she had been pulled over by a police officer. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust the authority that comes with it. Personating a police officer is a serious breach of the public's trust, and it has the same effect as using a weapon. It forces the victim to submit.

This crime involved personating a police officer, but I recognize that there are other occupations besides police officers that serve to keep the peace in our great country and they are all covered by the Criminal Code's definition of a peace officer.

As I describe the specific points of this bill, let me start by explaining the definition of peace officer in the Criminal Code. They are positions that demand a significant amount of trust from the Canadian public. Anyone who falsely represents these occupations to commit a crime against a person is committing a serious breach of that person's trust and that of all of us.

The Criminal Code defines peace officers as Canadian officers of customs and excise, immigration, corrections, fisheries and the Canadian Forces. It includes pilots in command of an aircraft, mayors, wardens, reeves, sheriffs, justices of the peace and, of course, police officers.

When I began researching this issue I found that what had happened in Penhold and Red Deer was not a rare crime. This is happening in small towns and large cities all over Canada. Criminals are using authentic police lights and dressing in police uniforms in crimes such as auto theft and fraud in Kelowna; highway robbery in Oakville, Barrie and Brampton; assault and robbery in Ottawa; abductions in Scarborough and Calgary; break and enter and subsequent assaults in Sydney Mines and Oshawa; intimidation in Mississauga; unlawful confinement in Lethbridge; and fraud in King's County, Brantford and Toronto.

This bill has a basic objective. It would make personating a peace officer in the commission of another offence an aggravating circumstance to be considered for sentencing purposes. It would add one clause to the Criminal Code following section 130. Because it is short, I would like to read my bill into the record:

1. The Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after section 130:

130.1 If a person is convicted of an offence under section 130, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the accused personated a peace officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence.

That is all. It does not seek to affect any interpretation of the crime. My bill would simply direct a sentencing court to consider this as one factor when dealing with someone convicted of personating a peace officer.

In carrying out the objectives of sentencing, which are in section 718 of the Criminal Code, a judge can take into account aggravating circumstances, which tend to increase the length of a sentence, or mitigating circumstances, which tend to shorten the length of a sentence.

There are aggravating circumstances that are defined in section 718 that apply to all offences and there are also special cases of aggravating circumstances that apply to specific offences within the code. But to clarify, this bill seeks to be a special aggravating circumstance for a sentencing court to consider for the crime of personating a peace officer.

The decision of what sentence is appropriate always rests with the court, but it is our role as legislators to maintain the Criminal Code and establish sentencing provisions. I note that this offence used to be punishable as a summary conviction and had a maximum penalty of only six months' imprisonment.

This Parliament passed into law former Bill S-4, which increased the maximum penalty for this offence to five years' imprisonment and made it a hybrid offence. I commend the Department of Justice for its work on increasing the maximum sentence for this crime, which came into force on January 8 of this year. I applaud all of my colleagues in the House who voted in favour of Bill S-4 and brought this change into law.

On behalf of the people Red Deer, I was proud to vote for Bill S-4. I am also proud to support all of the government's tough on crime initiatives. Bill S-4 successfully tackled the problem of identity theft and fortunately, it also significantly addressed the problem of lax sentencing for personating peace officers. This was absolutely justified, as predators are deliberately posing as peace officers to lure their victims. I believe that with this increased maximum sentence, we must now also recognize that this crime can have varying degrees of harm as well, and should be penalized accordingly.

A number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim. Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider that tend to, but are not guaranteed to, increase the severity of the sentence.

When we look at aggravating circumstances that are in section 718 of the Criminal Code, one of them is evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. This would apply in situations where an offender has an existing relationship with the victim, such as a teacher or a coach, or indeed a bona fide peace officer.

However, those who personate peace officers do not fall into this category. I have many esteemed colleagues in the House who are legal experts. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that offenders who personate peace officers have not abused a position of authority, for they do not have that position to begin with. This circumstance in section 718 cannot be used, since this would apply to real police officers who would abuse their position of trust. It does not apply to those who are posing as police officers.

If I may reiterate, an offender's false representation of himself or herself as a peace officer is intended to deceive and breach trust and authority, but this deceit is not captured by the existing circumstances that speak to these abuses. I hope that my colleagues in the House will recognize this gap in the law and work with me to fill it as my bill seeks to do.

The House is graced with some former police officers who bring valuable experience to our debate on justice issues and many other issues. I have had discussions with these hon. members about my bill, and I appreciate their support, for they have the unique perspective of having served as police officers. They are very busy people, but they have taken the time to read my bill and offer their support, and I thank them for that.

Police officers are often victims themselves. They serve us all with great courage. They keep us safe from those who would do harm and rarely see justice for crimes that are committed against them personally. We know that the Crown sometimes drops charges of assault against police officers to obtain guilty pleas. As victims who have not been vindicated by the courts would surely confirm, it must be an agonizing outcome for someone to personally deal with, no matter who the person is. I want to recognize and honour all peace officers in Canada. They are all affected by the crime that we are discussing today.

People who have been hurt by someone posing as a police officer understandably would become fearful and have difficulty trusting real police officers. This is very unfortunate, as it affects these victims every single time they encounter a real police officer. It also affects police who are trying to do their job.

There was a case in Calgary where a man personated a police officer and used flashing lights to attempt to pull people over to abduct young females. CBC News quoted a sergeant with the Calgary Police Force who stated that the false representation of a police officer was “a very serious offence”. He went on to say, “We cannot have our confidence in the public eroded. It is very important that we are able to conduct our jobs, and if people do not trust the police or they are worried, it can make our jobs very difficult”.

As that police officer stated, this is a serious crime that has far-reaching consequences, which is further proof that the government did the right thing by significantly increasing the maximum penalty for this crime as former Bill S-4 did.

Police will often remind the public how we can recognize if someone is actually posing as an officer. As police have said, they always carry photo ID and badges. People should never be opening their doors or get our of their cars without seeing photo ID and a badge. An officer will show these when requested. If Canadians are in doubt as to whether or not someone is actually a police officer, they are advised to call 911.

For 34 years I worked with children and young adults. As their teacher I shared their joys of accomplishment as well as their concerns about the future. I was always there to help them through difficult times when they had to deal with terrible ordeals, being a receptive ear to their voices gave me an understanding of how difficult and fragile life can be.

As a member of Parliament I have once again heard such a voice. I shared the same concerns as others in our community when I heard of the disappearance of a young girl from Penhold. Prayers were all that I could offer. No one knew why her car would be left where it was. There was nothing to indicate that she would have strayed from the errand that she was on, nothing. Her parents were frantic and our community of central Alberta empathized while we all waited. Finally the news broke. She had been found.

Only then did the pieces of this horrible ordeal start to make sense. The weapons used by her attacker were flashing lights and an RCMP uniform. That is why the car was left where it was. Her trust of the uniform and the false sense of safety and authority that it presented to her resulted in the most horrendous 46 hours that anyone could imagine.

The subsequent trial of her abductor forced the girl and her family to relive this ordeal. Finally a verdict and a sentence was rendered, but two things haunted them: first, the knowledge that the crime of personating a peace officer amounted to only six months' imprisonment, which was the maximum sentence allowed before the passage of Bill S-4; and second, that in the commission of this crime the weapons used to lure her into a trap would not be recognized for what they really were. She had been deceived of the trust she had in the police and the weapon of deceit was considered as more of a side issue than being the catalyst for the crime.

Personating a police officer to force someone to do something in the hands of a criminal is just as effective as pointing a firearm. It is no less aggravating than breaking and entering with the knowledge that a residence is occupied nor many of the other situations that fall into the category of aggravating circumstances. It is no different to a victim than having been abused by a real, existing position of authority.

Crimes involving firearms and break and entering with intent to encounter a resident necessitates special circumstances in the courts. They are rationalized as aggravating circumstances to ensure that they are treated as seriously as they should be. This is what my bill is designed to do.

As it now reads in section 130 the crime is in the deception of the public about a person's status as a peace officer. It does not differentiate whether or not it was for a specific purpose of facilitating another crime or whether or not another crime is actually attempted or committed. In cases where the deception is intended to and in fact does facilitate the commission of another more serious crime, this is an extremely serious instance of the offence of personating a peace officer and therefore deserves an appropriately high sentence. This bill would give the sentencing courts the tools they need to apply appropriate sentences in these cases.

The day that this brave young lady and her mother came to me for help was the day I knew that my receptive ear that was necessary as a teacher would also be part of my job as a member of Parliament.

I appreciate the help that has been provided to me by representatives in the justice department, the Minister of Justice and the rest of my caucus. I would also like to acknowledge the great work of the talented researchers in the Library of Parliament. I also appreciate the support and understanding that I have received from my colleagues in other parties.

It is my hope that all of my colleagues can recognize the importance of this bill and will see that it is worth supporting.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank the hon. member for bringing forward this important piece of legislation. I am supporting it. I would like to congratulate him on his very heartfelt speech. He shared some emotional stories with us, stories that he is quite familiar with, and I want to thank him for sharing them in the House.

As I am not as familiar as he is with this issue, I have one quick question on a technical point. As far as the aggravating factor is concerned about impersonating a peace officer, would the judge in any particular case allow the sentences to run concurrently? I would ask him to answer that. Otherwise I would just like to congratulate him on the work that he has done on this issue. Indeed I will be supporting his bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his support. I truly do appreciate it.

Consecutive sentencing is something that does happen, but it is something certainly that is up to the courts. There are things that a person can do to show the significance of the offence and truly, by turning this into an aggravating circumstance, it gives that momentum to that particular type of sentence.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Red Deer for Bill C-576. I believe that we will be supporting the bill as well. I believe our critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has spoken to the member about a potential amendment that may be able to be accomplished at committee.

Before I had researched this subject, I was only familiar with this sort of activity relating to the St. Valentine's Day massacre, John Dillinger and issues in Mexico and so on. When I looked into it, I was surprised to find many recent examples of this activity going on. I did not expect to find that many cases, just in this year alone. Clearly, it has either been a problem that has been around a long time or we have just become aware of it in the last little while, but certainly his bill is on the right track.

I would ask him to tell us whether there have been many more examples than what we currently know about.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I had the same type of opinion when I first looked at the issue. I knew how serious it was and how terrible it was for our community, but then when I started to research it and I was looking for information, there was page after page of cases, some of which I alluded to in my speech. Most of them were simply the ability to disarm a person and that really became the significant component.

Amendments that would further the public's confidence when it comes to supporting victims of crime are all worth consideration, and certainly I would take those things under advisement.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too want to congratulate my colleague for a great speech. He started out with a very heart-wrenching story, but the problem, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, is that this is not an isolated incident. The government's primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, so I do applaud my colleague from Red Deer.

My question, as I am listening to this dialogue, is how do the criminals access the gear that they use, the uniforms and the flashing lights? I would like the hon. member to shed some light on how these are so readily available.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

November 4th, 2010 / 6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, again in the research that I did, I came across a story the Calgary Herald ran about this on March 4, 2009 which found that people are going online to buy official gear. In interviewing police officers and looking at the materials that are publicly available, it was found that people can buy lights at security supply stores that look an awful lot like the lights that are used on police cars, and uniforms can be bought on eBay and altered to look like authentic police officers' uniforms.

People can buy just about anything anywhere. That is significant, but again, the key thing for the public to know is that police actually carry photo ID and badges. People should make sure that they take appropriate care.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise and speak to this initiative. It is a very case-oriented position.

If we are not reacting as members of Parliament to real situations that happen in our communities, and reacting in a compassionate and thoughtful way, then what are we doing here?

The bill seeks to amend section 130 of the Criminal Code, which provides for the offence of personating a police officer or a public officer. The phrase in the Criminal Code has existed since the inception of the code itself. The code states:

Everyone who

(a) falsely represents himself to be a peace officer or a public officer, or

(b) not being a peace officer or public officer, uses a badge or article of uniform or equipment in a manner that is likely to cause persons to believe that he is a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be,

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

That offence originally carried a maximum penalty of six months. In 2009, it was amended to carry a maximum sentence of five years by indictment and no time limit for a summary conviction. I am drawn by his example of Penhold. I am curious.

The Liberal members of the justice committee have decided to support this bill and send it to committee. At committee, however, we will have many questions.

This bill was driven by a desire to address the Penhold incident, in which the criminal pretended to be a police officer in order to persuade a person off the road and into the woods, where he committed a heinous crime. We have to make sure that this bill reacts to this incident appropriately.

In the Penhold case, we have to examine whether the criminal received concurrent or consecutive sentences. He was convicted of the much more serious offence of aggravated sexual assault and received a very long jail sentence. He also received a sentence of, I believe, six months for personating an officer under section 130.

I want to explain why this is important. Usually, in my limited experience with criminal law, a judge will look at the most serious offence and will say, “We need to remove this person from the community because he or she committed a very serious offence.” In this case, I believe it was 16 or 18 years, indicating that the judge thought it was a very serious offence and removed that person from the public subject to statutory release.

He also accepted that the accused was guilty of personating an officer, which at that time carried a sentence of six months. Did the judge make them run concurrently, the 6 months and the 18 years, or did he take the 18 years, 17.5 years, and add the 6 months?

My experience tells me, looking at the case briefly, that the sentences would run concurrently, not consecutively. In other words, the fact that there was a guilty finding on the personation aspect of the case did not lengthen the sentence.

The amendment to the code, which says there should be aggravating circumstances considered in the section 130 offence of personating an officer, could lengthen the sentence in these situations. But if the judge still makes the two sentences run concurrently, even if there were two years given for personating in the same situation, and 18 overall for the violent sexual assault, there would still be an 18-year sentence.

This is one of the questions we have to ask at committee. We have to do our due diligence in support of this bill to make sure that it is delivering the goods to the good people involved, the victims. That would be one of our first questions at committee.

The motivation for this was due to the victim's bewilderment, perhaps the general public's bewilderment, in regard to the case. The thing that started it was the personation, and that got only six months. There is something wrong with that, because it was such an egregious offence.

The amendment came in 2009, and we now know that the maximum is five years. If we were pretending to be judges, would we give the personation aspect of this crime five years, with 18 years for the aggravated sexual assault, which lasted for some 46 hours? It is difficult to know whether these sentences would be different under this law. I think the drafter of the bill intends that they would be. In these circumstances, the uniform and the cruiser lights should be an aggravating factor in the section 130 offence of personating an officer. Without the personation, the sexual assault would not have happened.

I understand the motivation for the bill. But we have to remember that a police officer and a prosecutor can lay an indictable charge for this offence, and that a judge can impose a sentence of up to five years for personating a police officer. We have to think of all the situations that do not lead to egregious offences. Someone who personates a police officer with no resulting crime is very unlikely to get a five-year sentence.

Clearly, the drafters on the government side increased these maximum sentences to five years. It was a government bill. They had the idea that these offences alone could be very serious, but that the important thing was to deter the commission of further offences. Why else would someone personate a police officer? There are many cases, other than George Leahy on Trailer Park Boys, in which some clearly unstable people personate police officers. But some people personate them without any ulterior intent of doing serious harm. In this case, it was used to do very bad things to Canadian citizens.

In cases where someone is not going to use the personation to do something further, there would not likely be as harsh a sentence. However, I believe the government was thinking that, if personation was coupled with another offence, the judge, the prosecutor, and the police ought to have the discretion to make this a very serious offence.

There are reported cases in our communities of people personating police officers to get entrance into offices, homes, and private businesses. They are personating police officers to gain the trust of young people. They are personating police officers to steal money from charitable organizations. All these things are happening and they are serious offences. There are gradations, however. And though they are not as serious as the Penhold case, I think Parliament was thinking that the five-year sentence would be imposed when the personation led to a serious offence. We need to make sure at committee that this is enough.

Bill C-576 simply says that the judge “shall consider this as an aggravating factor”. It is not permissive. It is not “may”. It is something the committee might want to look at. In the end, we have to have faith in our judicial system and in the judges who apply it.

In conclusion, I commend the member for drawing the attention of the House to section 718. Every justice bill that comes through the House should be in the lens of section 718, which sets out the principles of sentencing. These are based on denunciation, the removal of a convicted person from the community, rehabilitation, deterrence, and restitution. Without this balance, none of these laws make sense. I commend my friend for bringing such a thoughtful bill to the House, and we will certainly send it on to the committee.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that when I saw this bill my first reaction was to think it was useless. I cannot imagine that anyone uses a police uniform or other articles for anything other than committing a criminal offence. It is true that people are somewhat fascinated by police uniforms.

In fact, I remember seeing someone walking around the Montreal courthouse in a uniform that he had probably had made for him, and it really looked like a police uniform. He had a marshal's baton and was always impeccable. He really enjoyed talking to people. He had a straight-back demeanour. Everyone figured he was a little crazy but not dangerous. No one ever thought of accusing him of impersonating a police officer. His uniform did not really look that much like a police officer's. His baton looked more like a marshal's baton or one that belonged to a commander of a military establishment on parade.

It seemed clear to me that if someone was dressing up as a police officer, they must have dishonest intentions. And that is already covered in the Criminal Code.

I have to say that I am impressed with the research that has been done by the member who introduced this bill. I think that, as he said, his proposal fills a gap in the Criminal Code. As a consequence, we will support it.

I am not as impressed with some of the reasons he gives for supporting it. I even started questioning whether or not we should support it when he said that the bill is important because we need to be tough on crime. That is the answer to everything.

When will the government understand that being tough on crime and lax on arms gives results like those in the United States? The incarceration rate in the United States used to be comparable to Canada's, but in one generation it has become seven times higher than Canada's. What has that achieved? Why are their homicide rates three times that of Canada and five times that of Quebec?

It seems to me that this combination of tough on crime and lax on arms should convince everyone who knows that they are going in the wrong direction. We must not be tough on crime; we must be smart on crime. And smart on crime can mean giving harsh sentences when they are warranted, but it can also mean giving restorative sentences, sentences that promote rehabilitation, when they are warranted. In general, the public tends to support harsh sentences in theory, but in practice, it tends to favour rehabilitation, especially when they learn that children they know have ended up involved in a crime. They would like judges to take that into account.

We are balanced in Canada. Our incarceration rate is fairly comparable to rates in western Europe. England has a slightly higher rate than we do, as does Scotland, but generally, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands all have lower incarceration rates than Canada. Our crime rates are generally comparable.

However, the free country, I will say, that has the highest rate of violent crime is the same country that has the harshest sentences. Also, people seem to forget that it also has the remarkable distinction of having beat out Russia. No one ever would have thought that the United States would incarcerate more people than Russia. But it has. Today, the United States is at about 730 prisoners for every 100,000 inhabitants, while Russia is at about 680.

It is even said that half of all inmates in the world are found in American prisons. Frankly, are people any safer in the U.S. than they are here? Some people will say it depends on the neighbourhood. If there are some safe neighbourhoods in the U.S., then, considering the crime rate in that country, that means that others are extremely dangerous. Why do people in the United States feel the need to carry a weapon to protect themselves? That does not give the impression of a safe society, even though it has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

I would love to see the member forget about his tough on crime principles. I prefer his patient, precise and intelligent work. He discovered a weakness in the Criminal Code and then exposed it and documented it. He has convinced us that his work was far from useless. That is why we will support him. He deserves our congratulations and our thanks for this work.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-576, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer). The bill seeks to amend section 130 by adding the following:

If a person is convicted of an offence under section 130, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the accused personated a peace officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence.

I want to acknowledge the good work that the member for Red Deer has done on this. I am sure the pain and suffering for the family would have prompted the member to take some action.

I want to refer to the section that is being amended. Section 130 states:

Everyone...who

(a) falsely represents himself to be a peace officer or a public officer;

or

(b) not being a peace officer or public officer, uses a badge or article of uniform or equipment in a manner that is likely to cause persons to believe that he is a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be....

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

The member for Red Deer ably outlined the terrible circumstances that led him to propose his private member's bill. It stemmed from an incident that took place in his riding in 2009, where a 16-year-old girl was abducted and sexually assaulted by an individual who posed as a police officer.

The individual pleaded guilty to several charges and was given an 18-year sentence for kidnapping. He was also sentenced to six months for personating a police officer but, and this is the piece that is troubling for people, that sentence would run concurrent to his other sentence. Many in the community felt that it should have been made consecutive.

There is one thing each and every one of us takes to heart. As a mother, when my son was young, I used to tell him that if he ever was separated from me, he should go to a police officer. We talked about what a police officer looked like and I showed him pictures. What becomes really important is this element of trust. It is fundamental to our justice system that we look to our police officers to protect us and to be safe people so we can tell young people to go to them when they need help.

The kinds of incidents that we are seeing are, sadly, not isolated incidents, and I will talk about a couple of others. If they were isolated incidents, we could take care of it. What we are doing is undermining the trust people have in our police forces.

The other element of this, before I talk about some specific cases, is this is a really important opportunity to educate people. As the member for Red Deer rightly pointed out, every police officer has certain protocols and procedures that he or she undertakes when stopping people, such as showing identification, having a badge and a number of other things.

It is an important aspect of the debate in the House to remind people that they also have rights when they are being stopped by who they believe is a police officer. They should always be comfortable in taking the step of contacting their local station or calling 911 to verify that the person they are interacting with is actually an officer.

I want to touch on a couple of other instances. One example was in the Hamilton Spectator in October. A man was stopped by a woman and the woman who pulled him over was not dressed in an officer's uniform, but her demeanour and questions led him to believe she was a police officer. The fake officer demanded that the man pay the speeding fine on the spot. He did not have enough money with him and subsequently went to an ATM to withdraw cash. It is also a good reminder that people personating police officers are not just men. They are also women.

In Kelowna in May, police were trying to find out who was responsible for stealing a car by impersonating a police officer and trying to defraud the car owner. The women called to report the theft and also reported that a so-called police officer on the phone had asked for her bank card and personal identification number so he could secure her bank cards. The real police officer who responded to the theft report knew that questioning about bank information was not what police would ask in an investigation and told the woman to cancel her bank cards immediately.

That is a really important reminder. As the article in the Kelowna Capital News reports, the fact is no authentic police officer will ask someone to hand over cold, hard cash on the spot, nor will he or she ask for bank card information.

There is the case in Mississauga where a Mississauga councillor candidate is charged with impersonating a police officer and trying to intimidate a rival candidate to abandon her campaign. Sometimes we have public figures who are, sadly, misusing their position to do something like intimidation.

There was another case in Alberta where a man impersonated a Mountie and used his phoney authority to terrorize two university students. He has been sentenced to two and a half years in jail. Around 4 a.m., he entered a 7-Eleven store, identified himself to the clerk as a police officer and asked to use the phone. The clerk became suspicious and immediately contacted the Lethbridge Regional Police. Here we have an example where somebody who was suspicious about whether or not this person was a valid police officer. The clerk took the steps, and we need to encourage people to do this, and contacted the Lethbridge Police Department to ensure that the store was dealing with somebody who had the authority to be there.

The Globe and Mail talked about an officer is defrauding students. I know many of us have probably seen these emails that go around, asking people to send money because somebody is in trouble. In this case, the police were warning the public to be on the lookout for a man who was pretending to be a Chinese police officer and was defrauding Chinese students. The police allege the man contacted his victims and then, under the guise of conducting a security check or investigation, asked for personal banking information, such as a PIN numbers or security codes.

There are a lot more of these circumstances.

Others have pointed out that some questions need to be raised at committee.

The NDP will be supporting the bill going to committee. I know the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has talked to the member for Red Deer and has told him we support sending it to committee. However, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said that he had some concerns that the present wording would not likely achieve the desired outcome, particularly as most judges would already consider personating a police officer as an aggravating circumstance.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh is proposing amending the bill to require the judges to provide a rationale if they did not make a section 130 offence consecutive to any other offence. The reason he has proposed this is it would make the action explicit. When judges made the sentencing, they would explicitly state that they had considered the aggravating circumstances and that there was a rationale for making the sentence concurrent rather than consecutive. Also, he wants to maintain the confidence the public has in the justice system, that there is some credibility. It should be explicitly stated that the judge has considered the aggravating circumstances when making the sentence and it would be part of the decision being rendered.

I acknowledge the good work the member for Red Deer has done on this matter. It is an important matter to raise in the House. When it goes to committee, I am sure there will be opportunities for witnesses to come and talk about the impact on their lives and their families. We will also hear from other members of the House about how the bill can be improved to ensure it has the intended effect, which I am sure the member for Red Deer is interested in achieving. We will be supporting the bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-576, which deals with the offence of personating a peace officer. The offence essentially criminalizes the act of pretending to be a peace officer or public officer when one in fact does not hold such an office.

This offence, located at section 130 of the Criminal Code, was a straight summary conviction offence until recently. Summary conviction offences carry a maximum of six months in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000 or both. Our government hybridized these offences in former Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (identity theft and related misconduct).

Bill S-4 made a number of important changes to the Criminal Code. In particular it enacted a new offence called identity theft, which prohibits the obtaining or processing of another person's identity information with the intent to use that information in the commission of another criminal offence. It also changed the name of the existing offence of personation to identity fraud. Personation is an offence for pretending to be another person with the intent to gain advantage or cause a disadvantage.

Identity theft is usually followed by identity fraud. First one obtains another person's identity information. This is identity theft. Then it can be manipulated into false documents or combined with other information to create a false identity, and finally, the information is used to deceive someone about the identity of the person in front of them.

Identity crime is flourishing, as we all know, and these criminal law amendments are a crucial element in the struggle to keep Canadians' identities and their property safe.

In addition to these important amendments, Bill S-4 also hybridized the offence of personating a peace officer or public officer. As of January 8 of this year, personating a peace officer is no longer a straight summary conviction offence. It is now a hybrid offence. When prosecuted on indictment, this offence is now punishable by up to five years in prison.

It is interesting to note that in many countries like Canada, peace officer personation is still considered a relatively minor offence. In a number of U.S. and Australian states, as well as the United Kingdom, peace officer personation is punishable by a maximum of a few months or a year or two. Only in a few jurisdictions does the maximum penalty rise to five years.

This new sentencing regime for police personation in Canada is therefore above average for similar jurisdictions.

As of the passing of Bill S-4, this offence is no longer treated as a minor offence. It is now a serious offence, which protects the integrity of important government institutions and offices and guards against the many harmful consequences that could flow when a citizen is misled about whether a person has the authority to act in an official capacity.

For instance, a motorist who has just witnessed an accident might report the accident to someone he or she believed was a peace officer but who in fact was not. The good Samaritan might genuinely believe he or she had fulfilled a civic duty by reporting the incident to law enforcement and might believe that the matter would be acted upon and any injured persons would be provided with adequate care. But the impostor likely intends to move on without taking any action to assist those involved in the accident. This kind of situation poorly serves everyone involved. The importance of public trust in the police can never be underestimated.

Fortunately, charges for personating a peace officer are relatively rare in Canada, but I must admit they are increasing in numbers and severity.

But still there are concerns about this kind of crime, as Bill C-576 reminds us. Sometimes people impersonate the police for the simple thrill of feeling powerful or for other relatively minor objectives, such as obtaining information.

But other times, as we have heard here tonight, police personation is closely associated with other offences. In these cases, a criminal will pretend to be a police officer in the hopes that this deception will make it easier to commit other crimes. Most members of the public will acquiesce to the authority of someone they believe to be a police officer. The personation of police in these cases is an attempt to exploit a person's trust and confidence in law enforcement. These kinds of situation are the most troubling and are especially deserving of condemnation by sentencing courts as well as this Parliament.

This is precisely what Bill C-576 does by making it a mandatory aggravating factor on sentencing for the crime of personating a peace officer if the offence was committed for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence. Bill C-576 draws attention to this rare but devastating practice.

It is true that sentencing judges already have the discretion to consider any and all aggravating factors that might be applicable in any given case. The codification of aggravating sentencing factors does not really allow the courts to do anything they are not already empowered to do. Each factor that is mentioned in the Criminal Code adds to the complexity and size of it, so this is not a form of legislation we should endorse as a matter of routine practice.

Bill C-576 is worthy of support because it speaks to a horrific kind of criminality, which has so many negative consequences. Using someone's trust in the police as a weapon against them is extremely disturbing to us all.

There are the direct consequences suffered by a victim of such a deception, whether it is the theft of their property, an invasion of their home or a violation of their sexual or bodily integrity. The victim may also suffer a host of indirect harms, such as loss of trust in the police. Society at large suffers a reduction in its ability to trust public institutions if this crime becomes more common.

It is premature to say that this crime is increasing in frequency, but there have been a number of incidents reported in the papers in the last few years. There was a case involving drivers being stopped by a police impersonator and requested to pay immediately for an alleged speeding offence. We heard that just recently. Another case involved motorists who were followed after leaving a casino and then pulled over and robbed of their winnings. There have also been profoundly disturbing cases involving police personation in order to get someone into a car to kidnap them.

The case in the sponsoring member's riding of Red Deer was a devastating case involving the abduction and sexual assault of a teenaged girl. The perpetrator in that case was apprehended, pleaded guilty to a number of offences and is currently serving an 18-year sentence. There are occasionally other stories of sexual assaults that have been facilitated by police personation, and I am aware of several myself.

All Canadians should be concerned about these cases. However, we do not want Canadians to become suspicious of all police officers. This will make the work of law enforcement even more difficult. Nor do we want Canadians to be at an elevated risk of being victimized by blindly trusting the mere assertion of authority. It is a difficult balance to achieve.

The exercise of a little caution is a good thing. An attentive citizen who is approached by someone representing himself or herself as a police officer should look for suspicious behaviour, such as unusual requests by the officer or unusual actions. It is reasonable and acceptable to ask questions of police officers or to ask to see their badge or warrant card specifically and closely verify that the uniform they are wearing bears the name of the locality one is in, rather than just being a generic-looking uniform. People should look for specifics.

This kind of verification process should always be done respectfully and cautiously, but in general, Canadians should not be afraid to seek confirmation that the person who claims to have a certain authority actually does have that authority.

Raising awareness in Canadians of this tremendous and horrific crime of personating a police officer and then using that to commit a crime should be supported by everyone in the House, and I certainly do, as does my friend's Conservative caucus.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to start my speech today regarding Bill C-576. The bill amends the Criminal Code to establish that personating a police officer for the purpose of committing another offence shall be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.

When I first read the bill, I thought initially that if it was that important it should be a government-sponsored bill, but the more I think about it, the more I think that the member's taking this on is actually the proper approach to take. We heard the member from the Bloc indicate that he too was suspicious of it in the beginning, but the more he thought about it, the more he recognized that the member has had an excellent idea, something that he can support, so perhaps the member will have success where his entire government is having no success at all on its crime bills that it rains down upon the House on a daily basis. This member's bill may be the one bill that actually gets through the House.

I had indicated in my question that initially I really thought this kind of thing only happened in the cases of John Dillinger and the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, but we have all heard stories about Mexican police. We have heard stories about police in Peru. In other parts of the world on a constant basis people personate police in an effort to take advantage of others, steal money from them and do much harm.

It should not really be a big surprise that it is an increasing activity. As the previous member pointed out, not all of the cases we have uncovered actually involve physical harm to individuals. We have had several cases where people have been pulled over by the fake police, who have attempted to collect speeding fines from the people. Obviously they have been doing this on a continuous basis and using it to raise money.

There was a case in the United States where a young person was pretending to be a probation officer and broke into a police headquarters, stole a bunch of equipment and ended up taking a bunch of youth who were on probation out for a drive in some stolen cars.

Not all of these examples show serious criminal intent, but there is a rising tide of these things. I do not know whether it is encouraged by some of the television programs and movies we see, but nevertheless it is increasing. I have a—

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona will have seven minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.