House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was property.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address Bill C-26, yet another crime bill from the Conservatives. I will begin by just commenting on this preoccupation with crime.

Since the election, we have seen bills introduced in this House on human smuggling. We had the omnibus crime bill, which wrapped together nine separate statutes. We have seen no fewer than eight private member's bills addressing issues of crime and law and order, whether it is increased sentences for someone involved in an unlawful act with their face covered, whether it is taking away rights of people who are on employment insurance, whether it is mandatory minimum sentences over and above those contained in Bill C-10, the private member's bill on hate speech, the imposition of sanctions on someone who proposes to prevent the flying of the Canadian flag.

Crime rates in this country are declining, the severity of crime in this country is declining but we have an ideological focus and preoccupation on crime.

We have some big and pressing problems in this country. We have problems with a patchwork of health care conditions and health care regimes across the country. We have serious poverty issues that are not improving. We have an outstanding report from a committee that has not been addressed in this Parliament. We have unemployment right across the country. Unemployment is a particularly bad situation in my riding. The single most common constituent inquiry that I get in my constituency office is asking for a job. We have the conditions of first nations, in fact that is what we addressed in our last opposition day, where we have Canadians living in third world conditions.

However, here we are with another bill on crime, not poverty, not jobs, not economic development, not health.

What I propose to do in my remarks is initially set forth some of the background, then review the provisions of the law that presently exist, go over the changes that are proposed, talk about some of the concerns that we have and then, as I do expect that this will go forward to committee, address some of the concerns that we have with respect to how legislation has been treated at committee so far in this Parliament.

By way of background, the legislation proposes to expand the legal authority for a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds a person committing a criminal offence either on or in relation to his or her property. This expansion would not affect the role and responsibility of the police. The preservation and maintenance of the public peace remains the responsibility of the police.

The legislation would also bring much needed reforms, quite frankly, to simplify the complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property. It would also clarify where reasonable use of force is necessary.

When we get into talking about the specific offences, we will see that where there presently are multiple sections with respect to citizen's arrest and defence of property, they are being actually streamlined into one, which, on its face, certainly seems like a sensible thing to do.

Quite frankly, in principle, the bill is a good one. We do believe that more discussion is required. We have some concerns about whether the provisions in it with respect to self-defence are overly broad. We do hope that our frank and informed discussion, which is respectful of the views of all at committee, will address those concerns. We hope that there will be some openness that, quite frankly, we have not seen so far, to considering reasoned amendments. That was by way of background.

The bill addresses citizen's arrest and defence of property. The current law with respect to citizen's arrest is found in section 494 of the Criminal Code. In 494.(1) we find that:

Any one may arrest without warrant (a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or (b) a person who, on reasonable grounds, he believes (i) has committed a criminal offence, and (ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person.

In 494.(2) of the Criminal Code, the provision sought to be expanded by the bill, currently provides that:

Any one who is (a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or (b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, 2rrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

“Find committing” is defined under the Criminal Code as meaning situations where a person is basically caught in the act of committing the offence. This extends to a situation where the accused has been pursued immediately and continues, after he or she has been found committing the offence.

Also the law requires that when a citizen's arrest takes place, the individual must be delivered to a police officer without delay. That is the law as it presently stands.

The proposed amendments with respect to citizen's arrest would authorize a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds someone committing a criminal offence that occurred on or in relation to property. It expands the time frame.

This power of arrest would only be authorized where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a police officer.

The legislation would make it clear, by cross-reference to the Criminal Code, that the use of force is authorized in a citizen's arrest, but there are limits placed on how much force can be used.

In essence, the law permits a reasonable use of force, taking into account all the circumstances of the particular case. A person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen's arrest.

A citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain the public peace, nor properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals. In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person's body in an effort to detain the person, or a person submitting to an arrest.

A citizen's arrest made without careful consideration of the risks may have serious unintended consequences to those involved. When deciding to make a citizen's arrest, people should be aware of the current law.

The considerations for people who decide to embark on this course of action can essentially be summarized in three points: first, people must consider their safety and the safety of others; second, they must report information to the police, which is essentially the best course of action instead of taking action on their own; and third, they must ensure that they have correctly identified the suspect and the suspect's criminal conduct.

That is the current state of the law and the amendments that have been proposed with respect to citizen's arrest. In principle, the bill is a sound one in terms of expanding the time frame within which a citizen's arrest can be made.

There are some other concerns that I will address toward the end of my remarks. However, our concerns with respect to the bill and to what needs to be carefully scrutinized at committee, quite frankly, do not come under that clause of the bill.

The other issue that is dealt with in the bill is self-defence and defence of property. Of particular concern to us on this side of the House are the provisions with respect to self-defence.

The existing law with respect to self-defence and defence of property is found in multiple sections of the Criminal Code, which is in need of reform. The bill is on the right track in terms of streamlining and consolidating into one section the provisions with respect to self-defence and defence of property.

The current laws with respect to self-defence can be found in sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code. Distinct defences are provided for a person who uses force to protect himself or herself or another from attack. These depend on whether he or she provoked the attack and whether he or she intended to use deadly force.

The provisions with respect to defence of property are found in sections 38 to 42 of the code. There are multiple defences for the peaceable possessors of property, consideration of the type of property, whether it is personal or real property, the rights of the possessor and of other persons, and the proportionality between the threat to the property and the amount of force used. These are all things that must be taken into account when the defence of property is raised.

I have one final comment with respect to the use of deadly force. The use of deadly force is only permitted in very exceptional circumstances, and rightly so. For example, where it is necessary to protect a person from death or grievous bodily harm. The courts have clearly stated that deadly force is never considered reasonable in the defence of property alone.

The legislative reforms currently being proposed would not make any changes to the law with respect to deadly force, and quite frankly, none are necessary. It is absolutely clear enough and not in need of reform. The courts will therefore continue to make any necessary changes on a case-by-case basis, developing the common law where it is appropriate.

That is the current state of the law with respect to self-defence and defence of property.

As I indicated, the amendments proposed to streamline it deal with the fact that the current law has provisions in multiple sections. The Criminal Code provisions that are being proposed would clarify the laws on self-defence and defence of property so that Canadians, including police, prosecutors and the courts, can more easily understand and apply the law. Clarifying the law and streamlining statutory defences may assist prosecutors and police in exercising their discretion not to lay a charge or to proceed with a prosecution.

Amendments to the self-defence provisions would repeal the current complex self-defence provisions spread over those four sections of the code, sections 34 to 37, and create one new self-defence provision. That would permit a person who reasonably believes himself or herself or others to be at risk of the threat of force or of acts of force to commit a reasonable act to protect himself or herself or others.

The debate, and the discussion in courtrooms across this country, will be on the legal interpretation to be applied to the word reasonable. Plenty of jurisprudence exists now with respect to that within the criminal law. We are not exactly forging new ground by using the word reasonable in multiple places within the Criminal Code.

The amendments with respect to the defence of property provisions would repeal the confusing defence of property language that is now spread over five sections of the code, sections 38 through 42. One new defence of property provision would be created, eliminating the many distinctions regarding acts a person can take in defence of different types of property. There are different provisions for different types of property.

The new provision would permit a person in peaceable possession of a property to commit a reasonable act, including the use of force, for the purpose of protecting that property from being taken, damaged or trespassed upon. Again, the provisions with respect to defence of property do appear to make good sense. This is an appropriate way to add clarity to the provisions of the code.

The provisions of this bill that require the most careful examination at committee are those with respect to self-defence, I believe.

The concerns with respect to self-defence and the concerns with respect to defence of property, citizen's arrest, the concerns with respect to the bill generally, relate to vigilantism. The concerns relate to people taking the law into their own hands and taking unreasonable risks to prevent crime or defend themselves.

I have been involved in a medium-sized business, a business which has 16 retail stores across the country. We would constantly advise our store managers that if they found themselves in a situation where someone is coming in to rob the store, they should not be heroes. They should pass it over, be as observant as they possibly can and then let the police do their job.

This will be outside the actual parameters of the legislation, but I think it is absolutely critical for the government department responsible for this bill, when it comes into effect, to have a pretty substantial public education campaign. People need to know exactly what the impact of the bill is and what the changes are to us in everyday life. Industry associations should be involved.

The biggest concern about this bill in my mind is not so much the contents of the bill but how it is going to be perceived in the public. If it is perceived in the public that now their rights to defence of property, to self-defence and to citizen's arrest are greatly expanded, the unintended consequences could be very severe. It could, quite frankly, be scary.

To summarize, our party will be supporting the bill in principle. We have some concerns about the scope of the self-defence provisions. We agree with the provisions with respect to property defence. It is appropriate for this bill to go to committee.

The discussions and the conduct of the justice committee with respect to Bill C-10 do not inspire confidence. The imposition of time allocation with respect to such an important bill, the automatic defeat of any opposition amendment without substantive discussion or consideration is something that we sincerely hope will not be repeated with respect to this.

If there is a discussion, if there is open consideration of constructive amendments, then we do have a chance to do something good here. I hope we do.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the benefits of the discussion on this bill is the fact that there are those who may have been in situations where they were reticent to act simply because the law was somewhat fuzzy and people were more concerned about being on the wrong side of the law than actually taking the action that should have been taken.

My colleague sort of muddied the waters when he started off his speech by talking about the preoccupation of this government with crime. He said that crime rates were dropping. In fact, in many areas of criminal activity the rates are actually on the rise. Even if they were not, does the member feel that the current levels of crime are acceptable in the areas of child sexual exploitation, drug trafficking near our schools, selling drugs and destroying the lives of children and young people? Is the member actually satisfied that in those areas of criminal activity the current rates are acceptable?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, this gives me an opportunity to provide my colleague opposite with something that was just printed in The Economist today, which states:

The crime rate in Canada fell last year to its lowest level since the early 1970s, and the murder rate is back where it was in the mid-1960s.

My response to my colleague is this. There is no doubt with respect to the evidence. The evidence does not seem to matter. Crime rates and the severity of crime are falling in our country, yet there is an absolute preoccupation with the law and order agenda on the part of the government and that has been reflected in the workings of the House since the election.

After spending 60 days going door to door in Charlottetown during the election campaign, the crime agenda did not top mine. It was about poverty, jobs and economic development.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened with care to the member's speech. I share his concern about the detail of the new legislation, particularly on self-defence. It is already a complex area of the law and there has been 100 years of traditional interpretation. If we are starting down a new road with a different approach, I wonder how long it is going to take to get the proper understanding of that law through the courts. I share his concern that there ought to be a detailed study in committee, but I also share his worry that it might not get the kind of consideration it deserves.

Has he received any comfort from the comments of any government members today that they will take a proper approach to this legislation, do the kind of detailed study that is required, listen to experts and be willing to modify the legislation if it is needed?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say yes, but, quite frankly, I have not. Actions speak louder than words. I am the associate justice critic for the Liberal Party, so from time to time I am pressed into duty. So far in this session of Parliament, in the limited time I have spent in the justice committee, what I seen does not inspire confidence. I am primarily involved in the veterans affairs committee and the conduct of the party that controls the committee is such that there is not room for consideration of amendments from the other side.

It strikes me that some of the amendments presented in Bill C-10 were rejected by members in committee, but are now adopted as their own. Let us hope that something like that will not be necessary and that it can be dealt with in committee. There seems to be a will on that side of the House. Let us hope that a new leaf will be turned.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I want to deal with the area that the member for Charlottetown raised as a concern, and that is how the public may perceive the bill. I also should mention not only are the crime numbers dropping, and the last thing the government wants to see is the facts, but in the last Parliament, when the member for Charlottetown was not a member, the government destroyed the greatest rehabilitation program in the federal system and that was the federal prison farms. That was a huge mistake and it will cause problems down the road. It was the greatest system within the prison system for rehabilitation. It taught prisoners skills that they could use in any occupation, not just farming. I sat on the committee and the government members did not want to see any of the evidence. They discarded that program and now we have lost another good program.

My question relates to the concern that the member raised about the perception of the bill with the public. Are people really thinking they have the right to take the law into their own hands? That is a very legitimate concern and would have unintended consequences.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the single biggest concern with respect to the bill is how it will be perceived by the public. If it is perceived in the public as opening the door to vigilantism, we will have done a disservice.

There are good aspects to the bill. I believe that it will become law given the will that is expressed in the House. If and when it does, it is extremely important that the public understands just exactly what it means and that there be an awareness campaign. As I indicated, if we have shopkeepers feeling that it is open season in terms of protecting their property and that their rights have been vastly expanded, we are going to create more problems than we have solved by this.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment and a question for my colleague. First, I have to point out my utter disappointment that the party, which once said how important it was to clarify the people of Canada's rights through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does not seem to be interested in debating the merits or the challenges of this common sense bill, a bill that clarifies people's rights if they are personally attacked or their property is attacked. Instead the members are focusing on other bills and other arguments for other days.

Does the hon. member have specific issues with Canadians being expressly clarified as to how they can best protect themselves and have a justice system that will stand behind them? I would like to know what those are and I would also like to hear his thoughts on property rights and how the bill addresses that.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, there are some good things in the bill. First, the provisions with respect to citizen's arrest are good. The provisions with respect to defence of property are good. The provisions with respect to self-defence, require further discussion because they may be too broad. There may be some other language required other than multiple use of the word “reasonable” and that is where a reasoned discussion at committee should take place.

Although the question would seem to imply that we are at polar opposites with respect to this debate, quite frankly, we are probably much closer to the government's position than the question would imply. The specific provisions that need further study are with respect to the broadness of the self-defence provisions of the bill.

Message from the Senate
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill: Bill S-201, An Act respecting a National Philanthropy Day.

I also have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired: Bill S-1002, An Act to authorize the Industrial Alliance Pacific General Insurance Corporation to apply to be continued as a body corporate under the laws of Quebec.

The bill is deemed to have been read the first time and ordered for a second reading at the next sitting of the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues who have spoken so eloquently on the bill today.

We on this side of the House generally support the thrust of at least one-third of the bill dealing with the so-called Lucky Moose event a couple of years ago in Toronto. My colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, introduced legislation to deal with that unfortunate incident some time ago. It was collected up by the members opposite in Bill C-60, which, unfortunately, failed to pass and died on the order paper.

First, I want to thank my colleague for Kitchener—Conestoga because I believe he said that the government would be willing to listen and to make amendments to the bill. I hope he said that because so far we have not seen a whole lot of willingness on the part of members opposite to accept any kind of reasonable amendments to any of the bills that have been before us.

My other comment has to do with the apparent priorities of the members opposite and the government. It appears that we have an inordinate preponderance of bills dealing with guns, crime, punishment and defence of personal property, but we are not spending a whole lot of time dealing with other very serious issues in our country, such as jobs.

The number one complaint I hear from my friend from Prince Edward Island is that his constituents need jobs. The same is true in my riding. People seem to have given up in large measure looking for jobs because there just have not been any for so many years in my riding.

We also have a serious first nations issue that appears is being glossed over by the government. Apparently no action is being taken to help the citizens of Attawapiskat, except to blame them.

We have reported cuts to services for seniors and for persons seeking EI such that they cannot even get answers on the telephone to their issues. They come to my office, as I am sure they do in many other members' offices, saying that they cannot get through and can I help. Our role should not be to replace the civil servants of the country.

I am hoping that, once this bill is disposed of, we can start moving into some real priorities and move away from the crime, punishment and gun agenda that seems to be dominating what we have been talking about.

The bill contains two essential ingredients. One is to give better permission to a citizen's arrest. There already is permission for a citizen's arrest in the Criminal Code, but citizens have to apprehend people in the act. They cannot find them later and arrest them. That is essentially what the bill hopes to accomplish.

It seems to be fairly clear on the surface. We look forward to the day when the committee will have a chance to study the bill in some depth, have representations from witnesses and experts in the field and to make amendments to make it absolutely certain that what we do will not have any unintended consequences.

I have a personal experience with citizen's arrest. It was a dark and stormy night, if members will pardon the use of the term. One night a couple of years ago, it was pouring with rain when I pulled into my driveway and saw a brand new bicycle sitting at the end of my neighbour's driveway. It seemed quite out of place. I picked up my cellphone and called my neighbour. He did not answer right away, but I heard his car door slam. I thought he was putting the bicycle in his car.

When I went over to his car, I discovered that it was not my neighbour, but somebody else who was about to get on the bicycle. I stopped the gentleman and asked him what he was doing. He said that he flat tire, that he had been at a friend's house and that he was trying to find a way to fix it.

He was quite drunk too. By that time, my neighbour, who had seen that I had phoned but had hung up on him, came out to the street. I asked him if it was his bike. He said that it was not his bike and asked what the gentleman was doing there. I looked at my neighbour and told him that he was just fixing a flat. However, the gentleman with the bike had a little box in his hand. The little box was a very unique piece of equipment for resting the tip of a welding torch that came from Princess Auto.

My neighbour looked at it and said, “I bought one of those today. Where did you get that”? The gentleman said a friend of his had given it to him. My friend went back to his car and looked, and it was gone. He accused the man of stealing it, which he denied. We ended up discovering that not only had he stolen that, but he had a couple of other things from my friend's car. At that point he got on his bike and tried to ride away, and I stopped him. I said, “No you don't. You're not going anywhere”.

This was not an act that was very smart because who knows whether this guy had knives, guns, or whatever else, but it was an instinctive reaction. That is part of what we are trying to deal with here. The instinctive reaction was that he should not go.

I picked up my cellphone and dialed 911 while I was holding his bike. He was too drunk to ride it anyway. I got 911 on the phone. The response was, “Police, fire, ambulance”.

I said, “Police, there is a man breaking into a car and I have apprehended him”.

They said, “Are you sure”?

I said, “Yes, he's standing right here. Do you want to talk to him”?

They said, “No, but we'll send somebody right away”.

Well, within two minutes, there were six police cars in front of my driveway. Clearly, the message is that if we tell them we have apprehended somebody they will come quickly.

Then an ambulance arrived because the guy had a cut on his hand. Then the fire truck arrived. I asked the fireman driving the fire truck why they had come. He said the guy might set himself on fire and they would put it out.

My point is, I acted out of instinct, not out of having read the law that says what I can do in a circumstance like that. That is part of what we are trying to deal with here, to make a reasonable instinctive reaction lawful. If my neighbour had not been there with me, if I had just apprehended this man while he was stealing from my neighbour's car, I would have in fact been in violation of the law. That will not be the case any more under this change, I think. It is a little unclear.

In retrospect, I probably should not have done what I did because who knows what he might have had. As it turns out, when the police did arrive, it was still pouring rain. They made him take off his coat and when they emptied it they found all kinds of stuff that he had already stolen. The bicycle was something he had probably already stolen. He had been out of jail only two days. He really wanted to go back there because it was dry and warm, and this was his way of getting back into jail and to someplace safe in the riding. He was actually, in some way, trying to be a better person because they discovered that he had put some air freshener, that he had stolen from the local drugstore, in his underwear.

The point of the story is, as citizens we react instinctively, not because we have read the law. It is that which we have to keep in mind as we craft these things. We do not actually act, necessarily, in our best self-interest when we are reacting to what we see and know is a crime.

The other story that I mentioned a few moments ago happened a year ago in my riding. An ice cream truck was robbed at gunpoint in the middle of a sunny afternoon, with children and parents all around the ice cream truck, and two very obviously bad people with a gun. The only person, at that point, in any immediate serious danger would have been the ice cream truck driver/operator, who was facing the wrong end of, we assume, a loaded gun.

The current laws on self-defence have given people the ability to defend themselves under the current legislation. They have the right, maybe, if they feel an immediate threat, to pull their own gun, if they have one. I do not know of too many ice cream truck drivers who carry around guns, certainly not in Toronto. Maybe they do in some more rural areas of Canada, but not in Toronto.

The issue then is, at what point does this become dangerous to the rest of the people. The concern I have is that the bill would change the rules from someone who is feeling their own personal threat to a threat of force being used against them or another person. We would expand the notion of self-defence to include another person.

Maybe the jurisprudence actually covered that in the past. I cannot find that on a layperson's reading of the law. I am not a lawyer. I do not have the kind of background that some of our colleagues do. We hope that through committee they are going to be able to tell us that this legislation would actually just repeat what used to be there. However, when I read it, I immediately thought of that incident with the ice cream truck.

If this law had been in place, and if everybody had read it, which I am going to say most law-abiding citizens do not go around reading the law, but if they had read it or if it was common knowledge that we could defend the life of someone else, then the concern I have is that we end up with someone across the street who sees the ice cream truck being held at gunpoint, or who thinks it is being held at gunpoint, maybe they do not actually see clearly enough to know what is going on, and they reach into their cupboard to get their unregistered long gun. I am hearing cackling from the other side of the House.

That unregistered long gun then becomes a use of deadly force in a situation involving children, in a situation involving ordinary civilians. We have now created a situation that should not have been created. We have now escalated this into what is perhaps going to become a deadly shooting spree. We do not need that to happen. We do not need vigilantism. We do not need people to feel they have the right to use force in situations that endanger themselves and endanger others as a result of a bill that may have been written with some unintended consequences in it.

I hope that as a result of serious thought and serious study at committee, the bill will in fact have possible flaws like that one corrected, where we create problems where there are none, where there are unintended consequences, where the mere notion that the law permits someone to use force to defend someone they do not even know and someone that maybe does not need defending, and create a sense of vigilantism.

That is not what we want in this country. We are not a country of vigilantes. We are not a country of people who go around raising arms against other people in order to defend life, limb and property. That is not what we do in Canada. That is not how we behave.

I am not trying to justify, in any way, any criminal acts by people with guns at ice cream trucks. It was one of the most disturbing stories I had heard in a long time about the level to which the violence in my riding has gone to. It is not something that I appreciate. The police are well aware and the police, I believe, have now arrested the perpetrators. They are in jail and we can rest a little easier.

However, my concern is I do not want to have a situation where we pass a law that somehow gives people the thought that they can enter into a fray like this and start shooting. That is not what we want. That is not what we expect from our ordinary law-abiding citizens.

As it turns out, no one was harmed in that robbery, except the owner of the truck who lost some money. However, there were no guns fired. There was no violence and no damage to anyone. Yet, this law might give some the thought that they should enter into this with guns blazing. That is not the country we live in. That is not the country we want. That is not the country I think I want to belong to.

So, we have a situation where this bill ought to go before a committee and be studied in a reasoned and unpressured way. The last two bills that the government brought forward were rushed to the point where closure was invoked on several occasions and in the case of Bill C-10, there were 208 clauses dealt with in clause-by-clause analysis in two days. Two days is not an appropriate amount of time to give serious sober thought to a bill that has enormous consequences.

We understand that the committee was rushed to the point where witnesses were crammed together, were not given sufficient time to answer questions, and questions were not able to be put to these witnesses in a thoughtful and reasoned way because there was so much rush put on this. I hope, based on the statements made by my friend from Kitchener—Conestoga, that the government is actually going to sit down and listen, pay attention, and accept reasoned amendments to this bill put forward by the opposition.

As I understand it, on both Bill C-10 and Bill C-19, many amendments were put forward, but—

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. The hon. member for York South—Weston will have three minutes remaining for his speech, and five minutes for questions and comments when the House returns to debate this motion.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

December 1st, 2011 / 5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Roxanne James Scarborough Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to deliver safer streets and communities with our tough on crime agenda. That includes holding offenders accountable and building a correctional system that actually corrects criminal behaviour. That is why I am particularly pleased to rise today to talk about this important piece of legislation that will help complete part of that task, a task which Canadians have sent us here to do.

My private members bill, Bill C-293, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (vexatious complainants),, would correct a costly problem that currently exists in Canada's correctional system.

Correctional Service of Canada receives approximately 29,000 grievances a year from various offenders. Out of a total of approximately 23,000 offenders in CSC custody, a small group of approximately 20 offenders file more than 100 grievances per year. This accounts for a whopping 15% of all complaints filed. In fact, there are even a few cases where offenders have filed in excess of 500 grievances.

The increased volume of frivolous complaints significantly delays the process for other inmates to have actual legitimate concerns addressed. High complaint volume also ties up resources and has become taxing on our hard-working, front line correctional officers.

Bill C-293 would allow the Commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada to label an offender as a vexatious complainant when the offender submits multiple complaints or grievances that are of a vexatious or frivolous nature or not made in good faith. The bill would enable CSC to minimize the impact of those who file such grievances and it would ensure that the grievance process maintains the integrity to accomplish its intended goals.

I will explain for my colleagues the fair grievance process we currently have here in Canada. Currently there are four levels through which a complaint may progress. Complaints may be resolved at any stage. However, it is the inmates who get to determine if they are satisfied with the outcome of the decisions made by a warden or regional deputy commissioner.

The first level in the grievance process is called the complaint level. A prisoner fills out paperwork at the institution, which is then reviewed by the department or section manager and, if unresolved, makes its way to the warden. For high priority cases, the file will be reviewed within 15 working days or in 25 days for routine priority files.

CSC distinguishes high priority complaints and grievances as those that have a direct effect on life, liberty or security of the person, or that relate to the griever's access to the complaints or grievance process. Once reviewed, a decision will be made by the warden who will either approve, approve in part, or deny the inmate's claim. Should the prisoner be unhappy with the decision, the prisoner has the right to appeal.

Grievances at the complaint level can be an extensive process. Documents are filled out by the offenders and placed in mail boxes. Submissions are collected by a grievance coordinator who assesses and assigns it to a department. The complaint will then be logged into the computer system.

Next, the individual responsible for the area of the complaint will seek out more information and may interview staff or the offenders as required. The complainant will then receive a formal response from the institution. The status of a file will be noted in the computer system, depending if the offender believes that the complaint has been resolved.

It is important to note that offenders can request an interview at any time during this process. This can quickly increase the processing times of complaints due to staff and scheduling constraints.

Complaint processing initially occurs at the lowest level possible, which means that this whole process can cascade three times from the individual involved, the department or section manager and then to the warden.

While every effort is made to resolve an offender's grievance, it is apparent that the complaint level of the grievance process requires a great deal of resources to properly administer. Many institutions will also provide offenders the opportunity to be hired as inmate grievance clerks. These offenders are interviews and, if hired, will be provided the appropriate training and education.

Inmate grievance clerks play a role in reducing the number of complaints as they are attempting to resolve the situation without resorting to the formal grievance process.

CSC deals with hundreds of complaints per day which are dealt with by this very informal manner. This is a useful tool for standard grievances. However, dealing with these situations informally is not always enough for some offenders who make it a hobby of filing complaints.

The second level of the grievance process occurs at the regional level. CSC has five regions and the files from the first complaint level are sent to the appropriate regional office. The regional deputy commissioner will review the files and in the same timeframe as the initial complaint level. Once again, if unhappy, the prisoner is granted the opportunity to appeal.

At the next stage, level three, the senior regional deputy commissioner will review the prisoner's grievance. This person must now assess the original grievance and additionally consider the responses provided by the institution warden and the regional deputy commissioner. Due to the increased volume of documents, the review times at this stage are 60 working days for high priority and 80 days for routine priority files. Again, if unsatisfied with the decision of the senior regional deputy commissioner, the inmate may appeal, which moves the claim to the fourth and final stage.

It is important to note that, up until this point, grievances can be in the system up to 150 working days. If appealed, the level four grievance means the prisoner's claim will be sent to the commissioner of CSC. At this stage, grievances will again be approved, approved in part or wholly declined. This is a much shorter review timeframe since the commissioner's office will receive summaries from all other levels to assist in making the final decision. Furthermore, the timeframe is much shorter because the commissioner's office has a greater number of staff and expertise as its disposal.

It is important to also note that, throughout the entire grievance process, prisoners may also approach federal courts, the office of the correctional investigator and tribunals as methods for addressing their complaints. These other avenues for addressing grievances require that the offender has exhausted the complaint process currently available in their own facility.

This process is generous, extensive and provides three opportunities for an inmate to accept solutions to his or her complaints. The current system does not prevent all inmates from filing frivolous grievances and, as such, prevents the necessary jurisprudence to allow CSC personnel to do their jobs appropriately and efficiently.

The current legislation is not as efficient and fiscally responsible as law-abiding Canadians deserve and expect it to be.

How does the current process fail us? I will explain this in six brief points. First, the current system does not require that grievances be filed in good faith. Section 90 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act states:

There shall be a procedure for fairly and expeditiously resolving offenders’ grievances on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner....

A system required to process all claims regardless of merit diminishes the fair and quick resolution of legitimate complaints.

I am certain that by amending section 91, the labelling of vexatious complainants, it would improve offender access to section 90, fair and timely resolution, of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is central to the purpose of this bill.

Second, the current system is a financial burden on the taxpayer. An incredible amount of resources and tax dollars are wasted when inmates are able to control a system that moves through four reviews and up to 150 days of processing time.

Third, the system allows prisoners to act like they are the victims. Proceeding through the correctional system with a sense of victimization is a problem. Our government was given a mandate to support Canadian families and law-abiding citizens, and this means supporting those who are the real victims of crime.

Fourth, allowing prisoners to file numerous frivolous complaints detracts from their ability to focus on their rehabilitation. Inmates should be focused on their correctional plan, the end result of which will mean their more effective reintegration into society. Making a hobby of filing meritless grievances makes a mockery of our correctional system and the entire grievance process.

Fifth, the present system creates a negative impact on the morale of staff involved in managing the grievance process. The knowledge that inmates are continuously filing grievances to cause trouble is not helpful to the morale of staff. On my recent visit to a prison, front line prison staff expressed the challenges of spending large amounts of time processing meritless complaints, especially when offenders choose not to seek resolution through informal channels.

Finally, the current system is too generous when it comes to the initiation of grievances. Inmates are attempting to manipulate a fair correctional system. Prisoners are in jail for one reason and that is to pay their debts to society. This certainly does not include bogging down the system with undue administrative hardships. It is evident that vexatious complainants are attention-seeking inmates who wilfully abuse the fair complaint process and prevent it from functioning properly.

Do members know that offenders are currently permitted by law to file a second complaint while a first is already in process? Often this second complaint will be an exact duplicate of the first. Offenders may do this because they are displeased with an initial response or they may not believe that their matter is being addressed in a timely fashion.

One particular example of this was an inmate who had an issue regarding a radio that he owned which, after his transfer to a new institution, no longer worked. He filed a complaint and while this grievance was in process he began to work through claims against the crown process as well. He then filed another complaint on the same issue while his first grievance was still being evaluated in conjunction with the institution that he had been transferred from.

When corrections staff attempt to resolve inmate issues in a timely manner, offenders should not be breathing down their necks for an answer or bogging down the system. Solutions take time and this procedure should be respected.

CSC staff noted that the offender saw the grievance process as a game and was determined to take advantage of it. It is important to note that staff feel the complaint process is an extremely important and useful tool but only when it is used for legitimate complaints.

As I said, our government believes in delivering a correctional service that actually corrects. There are key programs with CSC that have a real impact in the effective rehabilitation of inmates, for example, CORCAN. CORCAN is a key rehabilitation program of Correctional Service of Canada. CORCAN's mission is to aid in the safe reintegration of prisoners into society while providing employment and employability skills training to offenders incarcerated in federal penitentiaries and sometimes even after they are released back into the community.

Inmates who co-operate within the system also have access to an adult basic education program. This program offers inmates the opportunity to pursue a grade 12 education and is available year round in Canadian correctional institutions. This program is offered to offenders who have education in their correctional plan or who require upgrading in skills as a requirement for either continuing education or reintegration programs.

Correctional plans are professionally developed and implemented documents that outline an inmate's needs and what he or she needs to do to become responsible and accountable individuals in society. Under Bill C-10, the safe streets and communities act, these correctional plans would play an even more fundamental role in the way inmate rehabilitation is structured. As they pay their debts, these are the efforts inmates ought to be taking for reintegration into society. It is important to realize also that these programs come at a substantial cost to taxpayers and should not be taken lightly.

What are the exact changes proposed in my Bill C-293? In simple terms, the bill would allow the commissioner of Correctional Service of Canada, or his assigned representative, to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant. Once this has occurred, the offender would be held to a higher standard of proof for future claims.

Additionally, someone designed as a vexatious complainant could have his or her complaint shut down in the initial stage if the institution decided that the claim was vexatious and not made in good faith. Bill C-293 would considerably improve how grievances are processed in our correctional system.

Who exactly would benefit from the bill? Vexatious complainants themselves would benefit from the bill. They would be held accountable by focusing more attention on paying their debts to society. Their time will be better spent completing their correctional plan. This bill would work within the existing process to ensure prisoners are learning responsibility for their actions. Continuous complaining is counterproductive to those goals.

Taxpayers would benefit from a system that no longer forces correctional staff to process large volumes of meritless complaints, resulting in better use of tax dollars.

Correctional staff would also benefit. They would be freed from processing claims made in bad faith.

Our existing system would benefit. The existing grievance process would function more effectively and in the manner that it is supposed to. It would be able to resolve grievances in the way that it was intended to and actually focus on legitimate complaints.

By cracking down on vexatious complainants, Bill C-293 would help to make offenders more accountable, ensure greater respect for taxpayers and take the unnecessary burden off hard-working front line correctional officers.

I hope that all hon. members will support this legislation.

Corrections and Conditional Release Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech by the member for Scarborough Centre and I have closely examined her bill. I have some comments to make about this bill.

This bill has the laudable goal of reducing the number of complaints by offenders who repeatedly make complaints that are not in good faith. Correctional Service Canada has indicated that about 20% of all complaints are made by offenders who make multiple complaints. During a discussion we had with the correctional investigator, he mentioned that the vast majority of these people are not making complaints in bad faith to discredit the correctional service. They are people who have a much higher level of education than the others, who have low levels of education, and they make complaints on their behalf. Many of these complaints are written by these individuals. Few of the measures in this bill set clear criteria for the commissioner of Correctional Service Canada.

Why does the government give the commissioner greater discretionary powers in this bill to designate an offender as a vexatious complainant?