House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief remark. I see a pattern with some of the government bills and private members' bills coming from the other side of the House. There is a desire, it seems, to simply change laws and not think about funding programs that actually could effect the prevention of crime. I wonder if my hon. colleague would comment on that.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government in Britain has just that kind of approach right now. It has a goal of reducing the number of prisoners by half through prevention and treatment programs. In our prisons, according to the prison ombudsman, 85% of prisoners cannot get the treatment programs that they are required to take by their own correction plans. That means they stay in prison longer, they plug it up more, and end up with greater re-offending rates. This is a backward approach. The Conservative Bill C-10 is making things far worse.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I noticed that my colleague focused quite a bit on prevention in her speech. That is something I truly believe in. Right now, this government's focus is on fines and consequences of crimes rather than on prevention. Sure, some things are more realistic, but there should be a combination of the two.

I would like my colleague to expand on that.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely agree that both aspects are necessary.

The rate of homicide in a neighbourhood, research shows, is directly correlated with the life expectancy in that neighbourhood for reasons other than homicide, which are things like suicide, accidents, health problems, child mortality and high income inequality. That is the direct correlation with homicide as a crime. We can do everything to dump people into prisons, but we need to be addressing the root causes of crime, which are unsafe neighbourhoods and high income inequality. The government is going backwards on both of those measures.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand in this House to speak to this bill which would clarify in law provisions that many people have been confused about over the last number of years.

As a matter of fact, I should tell members that I represent a large rural constituency. A significant portion of my riding is outside the larger city of Grande Prairie. Right now, I represent, in the province of Alberta, about 20% of the land mass. So, it is a significant territory. In that territory, in my constituency, about 60,000 people live in close proximity to the city of Grande Prairie and the rest of the other 100,000 people live throughout the constituency in small villages and towns and, significantly, in some cases, remote and rural communities.

This bill and its provisions are being welcomed within my constituency because it would clarify in law what is in fact a worrisome consideration for many people who live within my constituency.

Over the last number of years, this House, many members on all sides of this House, have witnessed high profile stories, where individuals who were simply trying to defend their own property or their family's security or their individual businesses have been then victimized themselves by the criminal justice system for doing exactly what I think all of us believe is reasonable, simply defending their property, defending their families, and, in fact, were found to be on the wrong side of the law. That, I think, is what this House seeks to clarify.

Notwithstanding the speeches that we have heard in this House today, I would suggest that there is actually significant support from members in different parties on this because members across this House hear stories from their constituents where they feel that they are not protected by the criminal justice system.

I am fearful that Canadians have become increasingly worried about the criminal justice system. They believe that the criminal justice system has moved from protecting those who are the most vulnerable and those who are innocent to actually working more to protect the criminals. The most evident of those concerns are when people read stories where individual shopkeepers are being arrested because they sought to stop someone from stealing from their store or where individual farmers are arrested for having run people off their property when they were hunting in close proximity to livestock.

These types of things worry people. They send a chill, quite frankly, among those people who really are the most heroic in our communities, those people who would intervene in any circumstance when they saw an injustice happening, those people who would seek to defend their families, defend their businesses, defend their neighbours' property, and defend their neighbours.

It is important that we join together as members across this House and actually support the legislative measures that would clarify this in law.

I mentioned earlier that I represent a rural constituency. Included in this rural constituency are a number of different components and communities. I represent a large agricultural community. Many farmers in my area live some distance from their neighbours and a significant distance from RCMP or police headquarters or dispatch centres. When there is a concern in rural communities of someone stealing from a farmyard, and I should say that in our rural communities we do not have a lot of crime, and we are thankful for that.

However, there are incidents, unfortunately increasingly so, where people come onto farmyards and steal either equipment or tools or, in many cases, gasoline or diesel fuel. There is little that farmers can do if they live hours away from a dispatch centre, other than simply confront the perpetrator and try to hold that person in place until such time as authorities can arrive.

Often, people come unidentified into farmyards. If they do not come with a vehicle, or they come with a vehicle that does not have a licence plate or they come in a stolen vehicle, there are limited identifiers for someone to report the crime and for police forces to follow up. It is important that farmers know that they have the assurance, in law, that they can confront perpetrators who come on their property to steal livestock, tools, gasoline or any other goods, and the farmers will not be found to be in violation of the law by confronting and holding perpetrators until the authorities can arrive.

It should be noted that any time people are intervening in a situation where a perpetrator is committing a crime, obviously what is most important is the safety and security of all people involved, those who are confronting the perpetrator. That is a cautionary note that we should all consider. However, there are circumstances where people's lives are in danger because of the acts of others when they come into a business, a community or a farmyard. It is important that we assure Canadians that if they confront somebody in self-defence, there will be protection for those who are standing up for themselves or their loved ones in a family home.

I represent a large aboriginal population in my constituency. Like my farmers, they are often located in isolated communities. I have heard on a regular basis that they have similar concerns about the necessity and ability to confront a perpetrator in their community and hold that person until such time as the police can intervene. We as a government are working diligently to establish a police presence in communities across this country and increase those resources. However, the police cannot be in all places at all times. I should note that our government recently announced a tripartite agreement in some of my aboriginal communities to see additional police resources in those communities. However, the reality is that these territories are large. Even when the men and women who are responsible to protect our communities, the RCMP members, are on surveillance they can be some distance away from where a crime might be happening. In some cases, their territories cover many miles and it can take hours to get from one side to the other. It is important that these provisions be in place.

What I have heard, and I think all members would recognize, is that there are concerns coming from Canadians. It is not just a rural consideration. One of the more high profile cases where somebody intervened was in downtown Toronto. My colleagues are aware of the story. Many members of Parliament have met with the individuals involved and we know this is not just an isolated circumstance that only occurs in rural communities. It happens likewise in urban centres and therefore it is important that we clarify the law.

I support this legislation. Our government supports this legislation. My constituents support this legislation and I know the constituents of many members across the way support this legislation as well.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:30 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.

He made a number of references to safety issues for his constituents. Would the member be prepared to support amendments from this side of the House, in order to protect the safety of his constituents?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, what is most important is that there be clarification in the law. The bill goes a long way to do that. I have not heard specific suggestions of amendments today that I feel would be absolutely necessary to clarify in the law. As a matter of fact, I have heard some comments about the need for amendments, but no specifics that would address specific concerns without watering down the provisions within the bill.

I believe that the legislation is absolutely clear on the side of protecting one's property, but also on the side of self-defence. This provision found in the proposed legislative changes is clear. I cannot stress enough that there be clarity in the law, not ambiguity. I believe that clarity has been established with the drafting of the bill.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I see the merit in the bill, but there are a number of concerns. I represent a rural riding like my colleague from Peace River. I have been to enough community policing meetings where the police know that everyone has a cellphone now. The police want that to be our first reaction to a crime taking place.

Let us use the scenario of two guys who are stealing a barbecue from a backyard. These guys do not want to cook a steak. They are hepped up on crystal meth or whatever the drug of the day might be, and they want to get more of the drug. They are not hosting a block party and looking for something to cook the burgers on. They think differently than John Q. Citizen thinks.

Then there is a citizen who is armed with this piece of legislation. He may be motivated by anger. He has no police training, but he watched Charles Bronson years ago and he is going to be a vigilante. He is well-intentioned, but all of a sudden we place this citizen in harm's way because the only thing he has to throw at the thieves are the new provisions in this piece of legislation.

I am hoping that, as well-intentioned as this might be, the Conservatives will entertain amendments at committee as we support it to go to committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important that we as members of Parliament make it very clear that, when people find themselves in situations like the member describes, their first response should be to call the police. But there are people who find themselves in situations where the response needs to be, for the sake of someone's safety, an immediate reaction to actually stand in the way and provide some protection for their loved ones. It is important that we not have those people questioning what they are going to do simply because they are worried about what the law might state.

We need to have clarity that, if someone uses reasonable force when it is absolutely necessary, there will be protection for those folks and that they will not be victimized by the court system simply for doing the heroic thing. I believe the legislation actually spells that out. We as members of Parliament and as community members need to remind Canadians that their first response should always be to contact the authorities. But in a very small number of cases where that may not be an option, or the option may be something people cannot resort to immediately, they still have the right to protect their families and loved ones.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and talk about Bill C-26. This legislature has been preoccupied with a lot of crime initiatives over the last part of the session. The Conservatives have been pushing a whole crime agenda. There is some consensus around this one though. It is nice to see the issue from the member for Trinity--Spadina addressed in this particular bill. I will get into the Lucky Moose Food Mart story later.

This is an amendment to the Criminal Code to deal with modern situations that are taking place and to clarify for the courts not only apprehension of individuals by citizen's arrest, but also protection of private property.

It is important to back up a little though and talk about the overall issue of crime in Canada. We know that crime in Canada is actually down right now. I know that the government's official position is that unreported crime is up. I do not know how unreported crime can be up, but apparently that is the government's position. It seems to know the unreported crime rate. However, we know through statistics that it is not the case. In fact, sometimes when we hear the rhetoric coming from the other side of the House we would be concerned to let our kids out at night. The reality is that Canada is a relatively safe nation and we have good police forces with well-trained men and women who serve the community.

In this particular case we are looking at amending the Criminal Code to deal with some issues that have emerged. The case of David Chen and the Lucky Moose Food Mart is an important one. For those who are not familiar, he was being robbed again by a routine thug. He decided to apprehend the individual to stop the theft because it was too difficult to have that type of atmosphere in his store. Because he detained the individual, he was later charged by the police. Because he had box cutters, which is often the case in a grocery store, he was also charged with a weapons offence.

This was a sad situation that was finally resolved many months later and the case dropped. However, it brought to light the real problem that some people face with restraints on some of our public services, where those services often do not have the capability to respond. I am a former city councillor. I can say that there is not unlimited support to provide our police with the proper time and availability. It becomes challenging, so often some people feel they have no other choice. This is why we saw the apprehension take place and we saw the unfortunate result. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to deal with that.

We have to be careful about whether we want to create a vigilante society. This is one of the things we need to hear from witnesses about at committee. Often, we have seen instances where the replacement of law enforcement by citizens has been a negative thing.

One such case is the Minutemen. The Minutemen have taken over different areas of jurisdiction on the Canada-U.S. border because they feel there is not enough law enforcement and not enough policing of the border. They have organized themselves. I have had debates with Congress officials about these groups because often they are actually armed. Because they are in the United States, they arm themselves. They are looking for people up and down the Canada-U.S. border. They are also on the southern border. There has been quite a lot of talk about what they do and how they do it. There is a lot of concern among law enforcement officials on the U.S. side because the Minutemen are not well trained and they use extreme tactics. Just for crossing illegally or crossing at an area where one is not supposed to cross, there has been violence. We have to be careful about those situations. The Minutemen are a good example of vigilantism going too far.

We have also seen in North America, and even in my constituency of Windsor West at one point, the Guardian Angels patrolling the streets. There were issues with the way some of them apprehended people. Not all of them, there is no doubt about that, but there have been situations where these chapters have come and gone.

A bill like this can feed into the frenzy of the idea that we do not have a safe community or that crime is rampant in Canada. The government has done that with its crime omnibus bill, which will not pass in this session of Parliament, ironically because the government refused to move the necessary amendments for it to be legal. Now we have consequences as well with the upcoming budgetary allocation for the bill.

We need to recognize that resources will be stretched. This goes back to groups like the Guardian Angels. They were formed in Los Angeles. They went across the United States and then chapters came to Canada. However, they have not sustained themselves, and there are lots of reasons for that.

This bill would amend the Criminal Code in a way that would provide some clarity for specific situations. That is the big difference. I look at this bill, and maybe other members do as well, as being able to help people like David Chen. It will help representatives, like the member for Trinity—Spadina, to address issues such as those that took place at the Lucky Moose.

As well, there is the protection and private property. That is an important factor. There have been a number of cases that have come forward under the Criminal Code. Chief Justice Lamer stated that sections 34 and 35 were unclear with regard to private property. We want to see greater clarity about what will happen and who is responsible. At the same time, we want to know if there will be some reciprocity to the individual when that takes place.

When we move this bill forward, it will be interesting to listen to witnesses who come forward. In my opinion, it will be important for the government to be open to the consideration of amendments. We want to ensure that there will be balance in this. The bill proposed by the member for Trinity—Spadina is balanced. There is some more clarity required on the private property element.

However, to be realistic, we need to ensure that we do not make people feel they are no longer safe in Canada, that rampant crime has taken place across the country. It is just not the truth. The truth is that crime is down in Canada, but we need to modernize some tools. This is one thing we can do, which will not be at a cost to the Criminal Code.

Interestingly there are no mandatory minimums in the bill. There are no automatic penalties. However, the bill does give clarity. That is an important difference with this bill versus the government's current omnibus bill, which will come with a hefty price tag. There are lots of issues with it.

As a former coordinator at the multicultural council, I worked with youth at risk. We found that if they were given an opportunity, they looked forward to a job or an education rather than repeating an offence. It is critical that we have those types of programs in place. We had 16 youth at risk, 8 who were new to the country and 8 who were long-term Canadians. The eight who were long-term Canadians had made bad mistakes, whether it was shoplifting, assault, some small crime, maybe a charge related to drugs or some other small theft. We mixed them with new Canadians and put them in programs to fight racism issues and to promote community programs.

With that program, we had a success rate of over 90%. We have found that those kids with problems understood that the new Canadians just needed to learn the process to advance in their lives. They knew the system and they would teach new Canadians about a number of different things. There would be a program with resume writing, skills development, life skills and a whole series of things. That was much more progressive, and we had a 90% success rate. We found that people did want to get jobs.

I will conclude by thanking the member for Trinity—Spadina for raising this issue in the House of Commons. It is important to note that, for a change, we will see the government working in consensus, trying to improve the system, as opposed to conflict.

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I draw the attention of my colleague to the fact that this government has invested heavily in crime prevention programs and anti-drug strategies. We are very much aware of the need for prevention.

The member also mentioned the fact that the crime rate was going down. He may not have heard this, but earlier today his colleague, the member for Winnipeg Centre, commented that, by far, the most common concern he heard from his constituents was the issue of crime.

Crime rates may in fact be falling, although that is debatable, depending on which crime rates we are looking at. Some violent crimes have actually risen over the past years.

Does the member not hear constituents in his riding asking that the government take action and bring balance back into the system so the needs of victims are not ignored, as they have been for far too long?

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the vast majority of citizens in my riding are asking why the government has not completed the border deal or put in a jobs action program and why it has allowed the manufacturing industry to languish.

We have the lowest amount of manufacturing jobs since we started taking those statistics in the 1970s. We have seen the hollowing out of these value-added jobs. That is why we have constituents calling about that. Yes, issues related to crime come up, just like with everything else, but the vast majority of the issues we deal with right now relate to why people cannot get employment insurance even though they have paid into the system. It is their money. Their employers have paid into the system. They have been laid off through no fault of their own. When they call, all they get is an answering machine and therefore the processing is not done.

This is what we hear from people and that is the difference. We have a significant problem with the economy right now and it is not being addressed by the government. There are some programs for crime prevention, but at the same time some of those programs have recently been cut, including the one on which I used to work.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very eloquent speech.

In the fight against crime, there are certainly measures to be updated, but we have to do more than just punish criminals. We must also take preventive action. I would like my colleague to tell us how this relates to our government's current attitude. Earlier we heard that crime rates were going down. But could they go up if we never take any preventive action?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely prevention is key when we look at crime. Another with respect to public safety is fire prevention, which is critical for fire departments. If the situation is prevented from happening to start with, there are no subsequent costs, loss of lives or injuries.

It is the same with crime. Right now most Canadians are interested in finding a decent job and doing better next year than they did the previous year so they can move on with their lives. There are some who will always be a problem, which is an aspect we will have to deal with, but the vast majority of people want at decent life, decent accommodations and a decent job. That is what they are seeking. We need a jobs plan so people can move out of poverty and have hope and opportunities. We have not seen that with the government. That is a real problem. We have continued corporate tax cut reductions for the oil companies and the banks and that money is not being reinvested into the economy. We know that statistically from the audits. That is why we need to have investment on those issues.

Youth at risk, in particular, are a worthy investment. The programs that we have had in the past are very well-run. It is a shame that the government has cut some of these and is considering cutting more of them.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-26. I have heard a number of my colleagues speak on both sides of the House. At the risk of repeating some of the things we have heard today, I want to highlight the things that are unique to this bill and that would be great for Canadians.

From the perspective of a person who represents a vast rural riding, the Yukon Territory, there are geographical gaps in terms of the ability to police to have appropriate numbers of officers in such a vast riding. That is no different across rural Canada in general. When crimes occur and there are citizens available to act on them, it is a tremendous shame that people who do so find themselves on the opposite side of the law. As one of my colleagues pointed out, these heroes have stepped forward to protect Canadians and property and to what is right. This bill seeks to clarify that when people act as heroes, people who step forward and do what is right to prevent crimes, we ensure they are not punished for those responsible steps they take as Canadian citizens.

A number of programs across Canada already celebrate the role citizens play in crime prevention, programs like Crime Stoppers, Neighbourhood Watch and Citizens on Patrol. These programs are examples of encouraging average citizens to become the eyes and ears for police. Without their assistance, police officers have a very difficult time doing their jobs and completing their required tasks, given the responsibilities they have, the vast distances they need to travel and the limited resources they have in certain regions of our country. They rely heavily on these exceptional programs.

We see advertisements in Canadian newspapers that provide Crime Stoppers tips and ask for the help of Canadians. They publish pictures of people who are wanted for various offences. When they do that, they are obviously asking for the public's assistance from the perspective of not necessarily looking for these people, but to observe, record and report what they see to try to get police to situations as quickly as possible. That is certainly something our government is continuing to promote.

I have definitely heard the word “vigilante” on both sides of the House today and the fear that people will all of a sudden, with this new-found authority, engage in vigilantism, as if Canadians do not have better things to do than run around the streets and pretend they are police officers. I do not think any expanded authority or protection, which might be the more appropriate term for people who act as heroes versus expanded authority for them to go out on Canadian streets and act as police officers, is not the intention of this bill. We are encouraging all Canadians to utilize police as the first line of protection, the agency that is mandated to protect Canadian streets and deal with crime in our country, and that Canadians observe, record and report to police when they see crimes occurring.

Whether it is during statements by members or in debate on other bills and issues, I hear members on both sides of the House say that they want to stand up against bullying and impaired driving in our country, that they denounce violence against women and domestic assault and that we cannot tolerate this. The bill would allow the protection for people who have the skills, knowledge, ability and at times just the courage to step forward to stop that. It would prevent them from becoming victims of an unclear legislation.

Can anyone imagine any of us walking along our community streets and hearing a cry for help and, in this current day, being concerned that our intervention, if physical intervention were required, could get us arrested when we were merely trying to do the right thing and help somebody?

We know today that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying from occurring is to step up and speak out. However, imagine if we stepped up and spoke out and then ended up having to use a reasonable level of force for intervention to protect a fellow citizen, but then being arrested and charged for it. This has happened in our country, which is a shame because it discourages Canadians from doing the right thing. It discourages them from stepping forward, not just to be a hero but to do what is right, what is expected and what we should do as Canadians.

It is a little ironic that we are brave and courageous here in the House to say that we will not tolerate bullying, impaired driving, domestic abuse or violence against women but we allow laws to exist on our books that criminalize Canadians who do have the courage, skill, knowledge and ability to step forward.

I draw the House's attention to a marvellous book written by Amanda Ripley called, The Unthinkable. In her book she talks about the first person most likely to be involved in saving another person's life. She says that, whether in an urban or a rural setting, the first person will be one's fellow citizen, the average Joe walking the streets. It does not matter if one is in a big city or rural Canada.

We heard a member on this side of the House talk about fire prevention as an example. It does not matter if one's house is burning, if one is injured and requires ambulance services or if there is a crime, the first person most likely to intervene or be there to do or say anything about it will not be the fireman, will not be the paramedics and will not be the police. The first responders will be average Canadian citizens who are, day in and day out, the heroes saving lives, whether it is a fire, a medical emergency or a criminal offence. We want to ensure that we have a body of legislation that reflects the role we expect, want and hope Canadians to play without making them a criminal in the situation.

I recognize the concern on both sides of this House that this may encourage vigilantism but I do not necessarily see that being the case. I do not think people will read into the legislation that they have an expanded authority. As I said, I do not necessarily see this as being an expanded authority for Canadians. I see it as being an important level of protection that we need to provide Canadians.

We already have sections under the Criminal Code that talk about the use of force and where force is justified. Under section 37, everyone is justified in using force to defend themselves or anyone under their protection from assault if they use no more force than is necessary to prevent that assault or repetition of it. That exists now but we need to ensure that it is clear so that we do not see vigilantism and abuse of that authority. I believe the bill would allow us to do that.