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

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-26. It is important that we revisit why we are debating this bill. It is, of course, because this government saw things happening in Canada, in particular a couple of incidents where the laws concerning a citizen's power of arrest, self-defence and defence of property, that needed clarification. That is exactly what Bill C-26 would do.

It does not introduce new concepts with regard to the Criminal Code. It clarifies what powers citizens have and their responsibilities. We always talk about what rights we have but we do not talk about responsibilities. Living in a civil society places responsibilities on every citizen and part of those responsibilities is to ensure that the world in which we live is kept safe so we can all go about our day-to-day lives with a reasonable amount of peace and tranquility.

About a month ago, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-26. The purpose was to expand and simplify the laws with respect to self-defence, the defence of property and to expand the circumstances in which law-abiding Canadian citizens can make arrests. The reason Bill C-26 was introduced is that our government is committed to putting real criminals behind bars. Canadians who have been victims of crime should not be re-victimized.

My mind goes back to instances where people acted in defence of their property and, because the law was not clear enough, police felt it necessary to arrest those people who we, in retrospect, and the courts found there were sufficient reasons that these people should not be convicted of the crimes for which they were arrested. The government and I believe everyone in the House wants to ensure the victims of crime do not themselves end up being re-victimized by finding themselves before the courts.

The purpose, as I mentioned before, would be to build on existing legislation that would authorize an owner or a person in lawful possession of property or a person authorized by the owner to arrest a person within a reasonable amount of time after having found an individual committing a criminal offence either on the owner's property, for example, if the offence occurs in the owner's yard or within his or her place of business, or if property is stolen from a public parking lot or some place like that.

In referring back to my years in policing, I never came across a circumstance where there was a grey area. It was relatively well defined. However, I had a chance to read some journals that we researched where people went above and beyond that. That is why this government wanted to ensure it was inserted in the bill that people need to be found committing offences on someone's property or property for which a person has responsibility.

We know that maintaining public order is a responsibility. We must always remember this. Every citizen and all legislators in this place must remember that there are trained law enforcement professionals who have a duty to maintain public order. However, we also know there is not a policemen on every corner of our streets, every 10 yards, 10 miles or 10 kilometres down the road. Again, I go back to the fact that all citizens have a duty and a right to protect their property and the persons for whom they are responsible.

That is why the government introduced these clarifications to the citizen' power of arrest. The reason I am repeating this is that some people believe that this would give additional powers and it is not. This power only exists if there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible for a police officer to make the arrest. What does that mean? It means that if the citizen does not make that arrest, the perpetrator of this crime will probably never be found. In other words, the citizen did not get a licence number of the car, a description of the person or the offence was happening so fast that the person did not have a chance to get a sufficient description or even a name or possible address for that person. Therefore, it would be necessary to stop the crime or additional crimes from being further committed and to apprehend the person so that as soon as practicable police officers can be summoned to the scene to continue the arrest and begin legal procedures,such as charging the person for the offence that he or she is responsible for.

It is important to say that in all cases a citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. I heard mention in other presentations before us today the fact that a person who is of limited physical ability should not, nor would any member of this place or any police officer recommend that a person with limited physical ability try to institute an arrest. Is there any property that we own worth our life or worth having some serious injuries or injury? The answer to that is obviously that it is not.

Therefore, before people institute their right to protect their property, et cetera, they should have regard for their safety and the safety of those around them. If someone has a firearm and is committing an offence and there are many people in the area, it would be foolish to try to institute that arrest. The responsibility is on the citizen, who is not trained like law enforcement officers, to assess the situation before he or she actually institute an arrest. The government is recommending that no one should take any chances but that, if people feel there is an ability to apprehend that person, they may do so because that is what this law says, this clarification of existing legislation.

It was mentioned here before about people's right to defend their property and to defend their person. Once again, it is important to reiterate that these proposed amendments to the defences would simplify the provisions and make it easier for police and prosecutors. That is very important because we want to make the enforcement and the adjudication of our laws simpler so that prosecutors, police officers and the courts, as well as citizens, understand and are better able to determine their rights and responsibilities with regard to their property.

Of course, the words of caution we have used here time and time again is “where it is reasonable” and therefore could provide a defence to a criminal offence. Police officers have powers of arrest but those powers have limitations and they are trained to know what those limitations are. Average people need to know there are limitations to their powers and that is why we were careful to say found committing a criminal offence in relation to their property and the property for which they have a responsibility.

The defence of property provisions have been greatly simplified because of the instances that stimulated the government and actually brought the situation to light. The stories were in all our newspapers. We were bombarded with them every day. We saw the need to clarify this law because a person who found someone committing an offence against his property all of a sudden found himself before the court charged with an offence. We, as a government, must respond to the needs of our community and of Canada. We saw that it was necessary to clarify and simplify the law concerning a citizen's power to arrest in relation to his or her property and in relation to--

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Saanich--Gulf Islands.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:40 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I think all members of the House have a lot of sympathy with the intention behind Bill C-26. People have been sharing personal stories. I will not forget the time that our gift shop on Cape Breton Island was being robbed. We called the RCMP and they said to stay out of the guy's way and they would see when they could get there. We were not able to do anything about the fact that we were robbed. This is a typical story on Cape Breton Island, and nothing against the RCMP, but they tend to take hours to show up.

My own sense of how we respond to this now is that, given technology, the most useful thing in apprehending criminals is the advent of things like cell phone videos. There is an ability to get the evidence and give that to the Mounties later.

I agree that we must provide a statutory defence so that people who try to protect their business or their life and limb are not charged with a criminal offence. The concern I have is that it goes beyond prosecutorial discretion here and, by providing the idea of citizen's arrest, no matter how much we say there is caution, how do we avoid people putting themselves at risk, feeling empowered to make a citizen's arrest without the training to know how to handle a dangerous situation?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member mentioned something that is a very sensitive issue, and that is the length of time it takes police officers to attend the various occurrences to which they are called. I know police officers would like to be there instantaneously. That is the desire. As a former member of a deployed police force, the Ontario Provincial Police, I know that in rural parts of Canada there are vast areas that need to policing. The member comes from an area that is rural in nature and I know it takes some time.

The hon. member raised some other very good points. We do have tools in a modern age at our disposal that can assist law enforcement agencies to find the perpetrators of crime. If possible, people can snap a picture. We see many convenience stores with cameras, et cetera. Therefore, if there is a camera in the store and a person is readily identifiable, no one should put themselves or their customers in jeopardy.

The government does intend to have a degree of public information so that people know their rights, responsibilities and limitations.

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11:45 a.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his speech, but I remain somewhat troubled.

Unfortunately, the government seems to have adopted a habit of shutting down debate in the House and in committees. This bill, like most legislative measures, requires careful analysis. The NDP will continue to demand that this government respect the legislative process and that it allow Parliament to study the bill.

A majority are definitely in favour of this bill. My family and I were victims of a break and enter. Other members of my family have been traumatized by similar experiences. Many people have returned home to find criminals looking for money.

I want to know if the government will listen to the opposition's recommendations.

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11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, that is what we are doing right now. We are exchanging views and we are talking about it. If we want to score political points and talk about other things rather than just Bill C-26, we can do so.

However, the member brought up another important point. She said that she had personal experience with a break and enter. She came home and found people in her house. Thank goodness, I have never had a break and enter at my residence, but I have had close friends and fellow police officers who have.

I recall one police officer telling me that when he came home, the thieves had urinated and defecated in his house, once they found out it belonged to a policeman. They took things that were not of great value to other people, such as grandma's old ring that she had given to his daughter. His daughters were unable to sleep at night because they were afraid the bad man would come.

I understand the tremendous psychological issues that go along with the perpetration of crime and how we continue to be—

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:45 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:45 a.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I am proud to speak to this bill which will introduce reforms to the Criminal Code so we can have the clarifications required in the courts to know when it is appropriate to make a citizen's arrest and when it is appropriate to conduct self-defence.

I come from a rural riding. We know that policing services are often quite well removed from people who live in the country. We have heard a number of members of Parliament speak today to the problems that are often encountered in having the RCMP get to a remote rural location. There are rural detachments that are often 20 miles or 30 miles removed from the communities they serve. Often the individuals who are staffed at those attachments are busy performing other policing services, such as patrolling highways or responding to public safety issues. Therefore, it is important that Canadians know there will be clarification with respect to what they can do to protect themselves, their families and their property.

We have been discussing the case of Mr. David Chen and the issues that he endured as a result of his making a citizen's arrest in Toronto a couple of years ago. When that happened, I went through sections 34 right through to sections 42, 44, 45 of the Criminal Code and read everything that related to self-defence, citizen's arrest and protection of property. I found it extremely confusing.

There has been a number of decisions and judicial commentaries made with respect to the need for a reform of the Criminal Code. This section of the Criminal Code was put in place back when it was first written in 1897. Therefore, it is over 100 years old and does not provide the clarity that prosecutors need or that police officers require to make decisions concerning investigations of criminal activities and the laying of charges. As well, it definitely does not provide the clarity that judges need to make proper rulings. Therefore, this is timely.

When we look at the problems we have in rural Canada, one of the criminal elements being experienced right now is with youth, often those who a lot of us would call “punks”. They coming out to the farms and steal property. They are not after little things. They are not running into the houses and stealing watches and jewellery. They are grabbing quads, trikes and snowmobiles from the garages. They jump on them and drive them down the road.

There was a situation in my riding a couple of years ago where one of my constituents gave chase to a couple of young guys. In his situation, he was able to get an ID, make an apprehension and charges were laid. We definitely do not want people to take unnecessary risks that would cause them to endanger themselves. Nor do we want to see them get involved in vigilante movements. This bill would clarify that this would not be tolerated. We will not have a bunch of posses formed, with people running around doing their own self-policing. We are still telling people to, first and foremost, contact the police, or phone 911, to ensure police officers are aware of the situation so hopefully they can respond quickly.

However, we see a lot of criminal activity especially in rural areas, although we often see it in urban centres as well. As the member for Winnipeg North stated earlier, Winnipeg is a dangerous community. We are leading the nation in auto thefts and are near the top with respect to the number of murders, home invasions and sexual offences. Therefore, when citizens are put in harm's way on such a frequent basis because of these criminal elements, we have to empower them so they can take the necessary measures to protect themselves, their families and their properties.

Therefore, I applaud the Minister of Justice and our government for bringing forward this legislation.

When we look at the definitions of what the courts will use to determine whether an individual has used excessive force, the current code provides for that clarification. Therefore, we do not need to go into any more detail. If someone is breaking into a house, essentially going in unarmed, we are not going to have people running around shooting these people. That will not be tolerated.

If we have a situation where people come in and every reasonable peaceful means is taken to apprehend the individuals, if people are in peaceable possession of the property and do not want it to be removed, whether it is in a business or a home invasion, those individuals who conduct that activity need to know that Canadians will not tolerate it.

I believe by empowering Canadians in this way, it will send a strong message to offenders who commit these crimes. Canadians will be prepared and willing to take action if they feel they are physically able to protect themselves, their families and their property.

We want those criminals to think long and hard about this type of behaviour. We want to ensure they know they will unable to have some lawyer lay charges against those who try to apprehend them for a citizen's arrest. Criminals need to know they will be held accountable under the new, stronger justice measures that we have instituted, not only through this bill but through Bill C-10 and the other criminal justice bills that are being moved into law. They need to know they will be held accountable, that they will do the time for the crime and that this type of behaviour and criminal element will not be tolerated in Canada.

The number one issue for Canadians, from coast to coast to coast, and especially in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake, is they want to be safe in their homes, on their streets and in their neighbours. They do not want young offenders and the criminal element in our society overtaking their lives.

As was pointed out earlier, all we hear about in the news in Manitoba is criminal offence after criminal offence, murders, sexual offences, property damage, gang violence and drug activity. Those elements are there. The police are overwhelmed in dealing with those types of criminal elements in our communities.

Because the police are so overwhelmed and are often well removed from where a criminal offence takes place, it is important that we allow citizens the opportunity to protect themselves, their property and their families.

I personally have not had a situation where I have had to deal with it, but I know in my heart of hearts that if somebody tried to endanger my family or if the person came onto my property to steal, in the absence of police services being available, I would be prepared to take the necessary measures. I would not want to put anybody else into personal harm, but I would make that citizen's arrest. In speaking to so many people in Selkirk—Interlake, I know they are prepared to do the same.

One business has received repeated break and enters and the theft of quads and snowmobiles. Unfortunately the RCMP has been unavailable when those offences have taken place. The business owner has gone through the process of working night shifts, staying at his business to catch those individuals who have repeatedly attacked his property and stolen from him. He knows full well that he will replace that property and the criminals will return and steal again.

I encourage all members of the House to support the bill to ensure that we have the right reforms in the Criminal Code to provide the clarification that the justice system needs so badly.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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Noon

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened to the reasonable and informed commentary on the bill by the member for Selkirk—Interlake. However, I also listened to the member for Northumberland—Quinte West. What really struck me is that one member is saying that the bill is essentially a set of clarifications. It is almost housekeeping, no new powers and no new concepts. Other members talk about the issue of crime, the fear and concerns that people have and the importance of this, that and the other. There are two divergent explanations of what the bill is about.

The bill which the Liberals support does nothing to reduce or deal with any of the root causes of property crime or crime against a person.

If the member for Selkirk—Interlake believes that addressing crime is an important priority for society, does the bill deserve the same level of consideration and debate as we saw with Bill C-10, which has a much broader reach? Is this really the answer to reducing crime?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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Noon

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can tell my friend that the bill deals with reforms and clarifications that are needed in the Criminal Code as it pertains to citizen's arrest and the protection of property and protection of self.

What we are doing with Bill C-10 and other legislation in the House is providing more tools to police officers, more tools to our court systems so that we can address the issues of property crime, sexual offences, home invasions. This is just one part of the overall picture.

In the absence of having police officers nearby and in pursuit of criminals, the clarification and reforms regarding citizen's arrest, which were well presented by my colleague from Northumberland—Quinte West who is a former police officer, will provide the tools to individuals. Even though not everyone has the physical capability or the training to make those arrests, those who feel empowered enough to attempt a citizen's arrest would know that the Criminal Code had been clarified within the justice system and that they would not be prosecuted by the crown because of an arrest they would have made.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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Noon

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague on his response to the last question about what it is our government is trying to do in terms of providing tools.

Most of us have examples in our communities of situations where citizens have become involved because they are outraged by the fact that things have happened to them repeatedly.

In my community a shop owner repeatedly had to deal with theft from his shop. He decided to spend extra time at the shop in the evening, and sure enough, the perpetrators showed up and he took action. In the current scheme of things, he became the victim. He was eventually charged, taken to court and suffered a penalty as a result of trying to protect his business from the thieves who were repeatedly taking his goods.

This bill is another item in that toolbox not only for the law to be enforced, but also for criminals to realize there are other legitimate means that do not overstep the bounds, but strike the right balance, which could lead to their being apprehended for their crimes.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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Noon

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is no question we are dealing with a criminal element who know they essentially have free access into any business or onto any property, whether it is a private home, a yard or a farm, with very few repercussions coming from citizens. Often criminals are accessing and targeting rural, remote farms, homes and communities knowing that the policing service is well removed.

As the member for Brant said, this is going to provide the opportunity for citizen's arrest for Canadians who feel they are capable of undertaking that and who are often angry enough because of the repeated offences that have been caused against them. This is a chance for them to put an end to being victimized over and over again.

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December 15th, 2011 / 12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-26. The bill would amend subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code to enable private citizens who own or have lawful possession of property, or persons authorized by them, to arrest within a reasonable time a person who they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

As the Liberal critic said, the Liberals support the bill in principle, but we have some concerns about the scope of the self-defence provisions. They need to be further examined in committee.

I note that in this debate some Conservative members have assured the House that potential amendments will be discussed and considered and maybe incorporated. I want to point out that has certainly not happened in this 41st Parliament so far. All of the bills that have come forward have been rushed through, including Bill C-10, a very substantive bill that needed amendments. Even the minister recognized that amendments were necessary. He tried to put them in later and failed because they were rejected out of hand at committee where they should have been accepted.

We are optimistic that the Conservative government will shift its process of unilaterally pushing through its bills. We are optimistic that the government will start listening to the opposition parties and the diverse voices from different parts of the country.

Bill C-26 does not contain any new powers or concepts, as I noted previously in a question in this debate and as was said by the member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

However, Canada's self-defence laws are complex and out of date. This bill would bring provisions with respect to self-defence that are spread over four sections of the Criminal Code into one defence provision.

The Liberals have some concerns about the bill which we feel need to be thoroughly explored in committee. Our critic, the member for Mount Royal, has laid out those concerns clearly. They boil down to what could be seen as gender discrimination in the bill. The reasonableness of someone's self-defence action refers to size, age and gender of the parties to the incident. We contend that size and age may be critical factors, but gender could reinforce the concept of “the weaker sex”, which is an anachronism in today's world. It is not appropriate. Women are just as capable of wading in as anyone is.

I have a personal incident with respect to a property crime. The member for Winnipeg Centre described his difficult situation, but mine was resolved much easier.

I returned to my company's office late at night, which many parents of young children do after the children are in bed and everything has settled down. This is a large building of 5,000 square feet and contains a number of offices. Clearly it had not been properly alarmed. When I went into the office I encountered a hefty individual probably in his late twenties. He did not belong there. He had been rifling through the petty cash and the drawers and personal effects of my staff. Alone at night in my office, I was completely shocked to encounter this individual. I used a very potent weapon to deal with this situation, my tongue. I reacted by telling him all of the reasons he should leave right away. I told him he had no right to be there as it is a family business where we work hard to provide a good service. Essentially, I succeeded in shaming the individual and he left.

However, I later realized he might have had a gun or a knife. He might have decided he did not want to leave because he had not completed his efforts to secure funds for whatever purpose. He might have resisted and I would have had to take a different measure, which I would have done in defence of my property.

I appreciate that the laws should be clear and that people, who are in situations where they are defending property or persons, should not have to worry that they may be charged under the Criminal Code because of confusion. I support this.

Many of the members on the Conservative benches have talked about their broader approach to crime. I have deep concerns about the Conservative government's broader approach to crime. It is partly because it does absolutely nothing to help prevent these very incidents of property and personal crime for which Bill C-26 provides citizens with a recourse.

Why are we not finding ways to reduce crime? Why is the government actually committing billions of taxpayers' dollars to a crime agenda or regime that goes completely contrary to the evidence and advice from states like Texas and California that have experimented with the kinds of provisions built into the Conservative government's approach to crime? They have failed, they have been costly, they have reduced justice, and they have actually increased crime. The government is going down that road.

As the member for Northumberland—Quinte West has already said, there are no new concepts or new powers in this bill. It clarifies an existing law that protects citizens in situations where they must defend their lives, and so forth. Furthermore, we are being given the same amount of time to debate this bill as we were given to debate Bill C-10, which included nine bills. Bill C-10 has very serious ramifications that would radically alter how youth are treated by the law. A number of professionals said that it was a bad bill, but we did not have time to debate it in this House, in this 41st Parliament, with the new MPs. Bill C-26 is much smaller than Bill C-10 and yet we were allocated the same amount of time for debate in each case.

I want to know why we are not seeing prevention but the warehousing of mentally-ill Canadians and Canadians struggling with drug addictions, who should be provided funding for treatment and prevention. In Vancouver, the youth skills connect program has been cut, so prevention programs for youth are being cut. The balance is completely out of whack and will be tipping over Canada's justice system in a very negative direction.

Liberals support this bill, but certainly not the overall approach to crime by the Conservative government.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member just raised some rather interesting questions about this bill. My concern is that we are giving citizens a role that is already the responsibility of the police. There have been times when I had to get involved in situations where I had to physically restrain someone who was being aggressive or the like. Those situations are always serious. They endanger our lives, and emotions are running high. Is there not a risk that people who feel that they have their wits about them enough to take control of a dangerous situation will be tempted to act a bit like a judge and to take things a little bit further?

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question.

I agree that it is more important to prevent crime. I am favour of making clarifications, but this should not be the government's main goal when it comes to crime. In fact, there are many things that need to be done, as the hon. member mentioned.

I was very disappointed when I found out that the government invested $122 million over five years in prison security—dogs, technology, experts—because prisons are too full. Yet the government cut $2 million from rehabilitation programs for drug users. That does not make sense. The Conservatives are doing things backwards.