House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was libya.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member.

Often when the Conservative Party tries to resolve one problem it creates others. In a way, that is what is going on with the bill before us today. The bills presented by the private members could have easily fixed the situation, but once again the government took advantage of an opportunity to interfere further in the details. Parliament as a whole, the committee and all the parties, have to rebalance this bill. The situation was not complicated: an individual and his employees arrested someone who was robbing his store. That individual was charged and he is the one who has to defend himself in court. People's perception is that criminals are better protected than victims. That would have been easy to fix, but the government has added all manner of detail and now we are also addressing self-defence. We are dealing with that because, once again, the Conservative government is going too far. Let us look at the details.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was wondering what the hon. member would think about the following perspective, that lying behind this particular set of facts that gave rise to this amending legislation was a situation that involved common law defences and the statutorily written defences in the Criminal Code.

I always thought that the combination of the two was sufficient to deal with the actual case at hand. As it turned out, they were sufficient to deal with the case at hand because the charges against the individual involved were dropped or dismissed. In fact, they were not dropped but were proceeded with, which was the big problem, as they occasioned costs and all kinds of potential embarrassment to this citizen, this businessman.

However, I am just wondering if the hon. member would agree that the government is now going back and tinkering with the common law defences, because over half of this bill deals with the common law self-defence provisions. Will the tinkering not hurt the purpose of the bill, which was just to fix the one problem identified in the fact situation?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, again, the hon. member is right. This is a common law issue.

The Conservative Party tends to make mountains out of molehills and ends up putting otherwise minor offences into the Criminal Code. That is what I would call rigid Conservative philosophy and Republican-style justice. It is not the answer. It is not necessary for this individual to be punished under the Criminal Code. On the contrary, the common law applies. However, the Conservative Party tends to twist common law matters into criminal law matters. I think this will create a society where things are not quite right. Hon. members are here to try to create balanced bills that resolve problems without making them worse.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, today I have the pleasure of speaking to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).

I would like to read a summary of this bill.

This bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to enable a person who owns or has lawful possession of property to arrest within a reasonable time a person whom they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

In general, advancing the cause central to Bill C-60 is a legitimate endeavour.

In many cases, the Conservative government puts up smoke screens and takes on the responsibility for finding a solution, whereas in many more cases they create the problem.

This was a real-life situation. However, it was members of the House who attempted to amend the law in order to ensure that citizens, such as Mr. Chen, would not have to go before the courts after legitimately protecting their property.

There was not enough security for his property. I am convinced that Mr. Chen legitimately wanted to protect his property and what he had earned through hard work. It was a huge economic loss for him. In some cases, depending on the situation, it could also be a sentimental loss.

I will get back to the smokescreen and the fact that the Conservatives like to take credit for solutions or let everyone think that they came up with them. However, once again, they have found ways to create additional problems rather than providing solutions.

I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by the hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence, who raised this point. I believe it is important to fully understand that member's efforts.

The hon. member introduced a private member's bill on June 16, 2010. He did so because he thought it was important to protect the people in his riding and throughout the country. He introduced the private member's bill to correct existing errors or, at the very least, improve the measures that were already in place.

Since early November 2010, the government and the Prime Minister have been repeatedly saying that this is one of their major priorities. This was not a major priority since a bill had already been introduced; a private member's bill was introduced by a Liberal member to move this issue forward. The member for Eglinton—Lawrence and his Liberal Party colleagues identified this priority long before the Conservatives did. The Prime Minister was likely asleep at the switch and someone woke him up to tell him that this was becoming a hot and important topic and that maybe he should pay special attention to it because he might gain some political advantage from it. As for my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence, he introduced the bill in order to stand up for a cause and ensure that the people in his riding and elsewhere got the respect they deserved and were able to protect their property.

Despite the elaborate speeches given by the Prime Minister, ministers and Conservative members in November 2010, we still had to wait until February 2011 before they presented any amendments to the House, not only with regard to the specific point we are discussing today—the case of Mr. Chen for example—but also with regard to other situations.

Eight months went by between June 2010 and February 17, 2011, when the Conservative government made its big presentation.

This is surprising given the Conservatives' claim that they are champions of law and order—the reality is clearly different. When something happens in our country and someone tries to make things better for our constituents, the government takes eight months to react and present to the House, not a speech, but a concrete document on what it is offering to Canadian parliamentarians, those who make decisions for all Canadians.

Eight months earlier, my Liberal colleague for Eglinton—Lawrence had already found a way to improve the situation. The self-appointed champions of law and order said that it was not important, that the public was not really concerned with the issue and that they were not going to worry much about it. When things started to happen, when Mr. Chen's case came before the court in October 2010, the Conservatives saw that many people were paying attention to this issue and felt that it was important. It is normal for citizens to want to protect their property, whether we are talking about businesses or individuals, economic goods or property with sentimental value, or anything else.

My Liberal colleague had already identified the problem. This is where we see the Conservative government speaking double-talk. One day, it says it is here to protect the public, but when the time comes to do it, how much time does it take before it starts to do something? When it presented its bill in February, there was a panic because it could not prove to the public that it was the party that had identified the problem. Now this has to be dealt with overnight, when it could simply have given the credit to our colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence. He could then have had his private member’s bill passed easily and quickly. It was a very simple bill that contained what we expected to see. No one could have thought that they were going to get backdoored by the Conservative government’s bills.

The matter could have been dealt with very quickly in September, even before the court heard Mr. Chen's case in October. But no. The Conservatives always find a way to complicate things and give the impression that they are the great champions and saviours of the world. During that time, members working for the welfare of their constituents had already taken a position. That is the big difference between Liberal Party members and the Conservative government. The government wants to blow smoke and take the credit, while we are working for the welfare of our constituents.

I hope the government is going to learn a lesson from all this, and next time a member proposes an idea to meet the public’s needs, they will listen, regardless of political party. There is only one goal: to present or amend legislation so the public will have a better quality of life and a better structure to protect it.

We have seen smokescreens that did not produce much. A few years ago, in 2009, the Minister of Immigration said that the government would have to amend some of the regulations. It is fine for them to spend their time making speeches, but as long as there is nothing concrete, nothing is being done for the public. We have seen 2009, 2010 and part of 2011 go by, and the Conservatives still have not done anything. I would like to congratulate my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence and thank him. His actions are the reason we have been able to understand the problem and find solutions.

I hope that the Conservative government will now open its eyes and ears, and come up with a solution.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, one of my observations about the current government is that it brings forward piecemeal amendments that are just a hodge-podge of little things here and there surrounded by fancy titles and are, in many cases, for what I call the retail side of politics.

All of this could have been accomplished with just a few amendments and some decent, indepth legislation that would have given us a greater idea of how we want to battle crime in this country. The government wants to be tough on crime but it is certainly not smart on crime. The comprehensive debate that we have had here comes down to a few adjectives here and there thrown about like they are substantial. In this particular case, it has taken way too long. I wonder if the member could comment on that.

I wonder if the member could also comment on just how lackadaisical this legislation seems to be despite the fact that it is well-intended and principled.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Newfoundland and Labrador for his comment and question.

Indeed, that is exactly the way things are. It has now become clear that the Conservatives are masters in the art of complicating the uncomplicated, when all Canadians want is results. And yet there are no results. As I mentioned, this could have been resolved in September. It probably could have been addressed in June, had there been the political will to do so, when my colleague from the Toronto region introduced his private member's bill. The matter could have been settled expeditiously on June 16. It was an important issue, but the Conservatives are masters in the art of complication. All the while, it is Canadians who pay the price and end up being not as well protected. It is not difficult to see where Liberal and Conservative Party members differ, and this is all the more evident when it comes to the Conservative government, which has a knack for making life complicated for itself and, ultimately, for Canadians.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not let this pass without thanking my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche for giving me such credit. I will return the compliment by complimenting his constituents on having such a great member of Parliament.

My colleague has pointed to a very important issue in this bill. There are three grave shortcomings in the legislation. First, Mr. Chen and others like him were victims of a criminal act. Second, they became victims of the law and the way it was applied. Third, they became victims of government indifference at their own cost in order to rectify an unjust situation.

Knowing that my colleague has been at the forefront of a movement in this place to bring to account both the government and its agents of Parliament, some of them have become agents of the government rather than agents of Parliament, and because he is familiar with hush money put aside for one particular individual, I wonder if he thinks that this might not be yet another case where the government, instead of putting forward hush money, it actually contributed to the cost of having had Mr. Chen proceed through the courts in order to establish the principle of a citizen's arrest under reasonable grounds.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

March 21st, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would once again like to thank my Liberal colleague. Quite clearly, had the Conservative government got its priorities straight, rather than negotiating a half-million dollars in severance pay for the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, it could have focused on coming up with solutions regarding Mr. Chen and his specific situation.

My colleague is right. Mr. Chen was battling a criminal. He then had to battle a particular piece of legislation and ultimately—and this is the worst part—contend with a government that deliberately threw a monkey wrench into the works with the aim of making the process grind to a halt, only to ultimately devise pretexts to get the ball rolling again.

However, as I said, instead of hammering out a half-million-dollar deal with the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, why did the government not instead focus on coming up with solutions for individuals like Mr. Chen?

Why did the government not choose to back my colleague, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, to advance his cause? That would have benefited all Canadians, even though it was perhaps not advantageous for the Conservatives at the time.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am obviously pleased to be speaking today. This may be the last time we see each other before the upcoming election.

Bill C-60, as it is called by the government, has to do with self-defence and citizen's arrest. These are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives, but they can also involve diverse and extreme situations. How do we interpret legislation like this? How do we determine how far people can go in defending themselves and making arrests?

To give you a little background, the legislative summary of Bill C-60 states the following:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to enable a person who owns or has lawful possession of property, or persons authorized by them, to arrest within a reasonable time a person whom they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property. It also amends the Criminal Code to simplify the provisions relating to the defences of property and persons.

The bill significantly broadens the notion of self-defence and slightly broadens that of citizen's arrest. As I said earlier, the question revolves around the scope of these two notions, how this can be interpreted or how far people can go. Should we be setting the stage for abuse that is not prescribed and certainly not desired: abuse of the ability to defend oneself or abuse of the ability to make a citizen's arrest? Regardless, every person in our society should expect to have the full use of their property without having someone try to steal from them. That is obvious. Every person in our society should also expect to be able to move freely without worrying about being attacked and put in danger.

If someone tries to rob you, that is one thing. If someone tries to physically attack you, that is another thing. In these two cases, there are also elements that dictate how far we can go. That is why the Bloc would like to examine Bill C-60 in committee. It has to do with self-defence, which is a very sensitive and important subject.

For the Bloc Québécois, people have a basic right to defend themselves and their property within reasonable limits. This is already the case under the current legislation, but it is too restrictive. We are therefore in favour of a statutory amendment to allow honest citizens to defend themselves and their property or defend other people. However, we do not want to see an increase in the amount of violence in our societies. Quebec must not become the far west of old. Everybody would lose.

Some provisions are disturbing and could result sooner or later in situations that no one wants to see. We are therefore eager to study this bill in committee.

I am not a lawyer. I am not an expert in crime and certainly not a criminologist, but when this bill refers to defence of property or self-defence, certain things come to mind. For example, it was said that people could not use excessive force, or more force than necessary, to defend themselves or their property.

I have also heard it said that people could be prosecuted and sentenced for failing to assist someone in danger. When we speak about defending others, the following questions arise. What is excessive force when I am protecting my property? What is the extent of my responsibility to assist others in danger? There is my responsibility, but there is also my ability to do something. The context is important and must be specified, if we want to avoid excesses in either direction.

On February 17, the government introduced a bill broadening the concepts of self-defence and citizen’s arrest, especially to protect one’s property. This bill was in reaction to an incident that occurred in Toronto, where a shopkeeper was arrested and charged for having captured and detained a man who had stolen from him. The public was outraged by this arrest of an honest citizen, who had requested police help several times without always receiving it. In Toronto, and in Quebec as well, many people have the feeling—it is just a feeling, but it is an important factor nonetheless—that criminals are mollycoddled and the law does more to protect them than to protect honest citizens.

It is not surprising that the hon. members for Trinity—Spadina and Eglinton—Lawrence introduced bills to broaden the concept of citizen's arrest. However, these two bills only slightly broadened the notion of citizen's arrest whereas Bill C-60 substantially broadens the notion of self-defence.

As for citizen's arrest, Bill C-60 would amend the law to allow a property owner to make an arrest. Basically, a property owner would be given the right to arrest, within a reasonable time, a criminal who committed an offence, if the property owner has reasonable grounds to believe that it would not be possible for a peace officer to make an arrest under the circumstances.

Bill C-60 does not make many changes with regard to citizen's arrest, even though that is the pretext for the bill, but it makes sweeping changes with regard to self-defence. It takes away the requirement of necessity—the requirement of not killing an attacker unless absolutely necessary—and adds the possibility to defend oneself in reaction to a threat without defining what type of threat is likely to lead to legal violence. That is why I referred to determining the amount of force that can be used for self-defence and to the ability to defend oneself. Either way, we need to evaluate the ability to defend oneself as well as the force that can be used in these kinds of circumstances.

One potential concern about citizen's arrests is that the amendment could be misunderstood and things could get out of hand. In fact, Halifax's deputy chief of police has suggested that the federal government urge caution in the use of citizen's arrest. This is not only to ensure that a well-intentioned person does not commit a crime, but also to remind people that an arrest involves risks and that an ordinary person is not as likely as a police officer to be able to get control of someone who has committed a crime.

I would like to use the minute I have left to repeat what I said earlier, which is that everyone has the right to possess property without the fear of having it stolen from them by other people, and everyone should be able to live freely and without fear in our society. For this to happen, we need a responsible government that can ensure prevention, information and rehabilitation. This comes by integrating people socially and economically into society.

It was surprising that people did not resort to looting in Japan, which has suffered such terrible catastrophes, although that is often what happens here in North American society.

Thus, this happens through education, prevention and rehabilitation.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the debate a lot of concerns have been expressed about the concept of what constitutes reasonable time and reasonable force.

These elements tend to beg the question of how an ordinary citizen is supposed to understand the concepts involved, and there is a possibility that what we may in fact be doing is opening up a situation where people will simply understand that they can arrest someone without knowing or being able to make that judgment. When these incidents occur, they are usually instantaneous opportunities.

I wonder if the member has heard any of these concerns and the need for clarification of reasonable time and reasonable force in the legislation.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the very essence of my speech was clearly about our concerns regarding the fact that the use of force is open to interpretation and regarding the reasonable time. I find it hard to imagine someone who is robbed, or the victim of an attempted robbery, spending the rest of his days trying to track down and arrest the robber, and physically defending himself under all kinds of pretexts.

We must be very careful about how this bill is implemented. Above all, the public must clearly understand that these interventions have time limits, of course, but also limits in terms of the amount of force that can be used, whether during a theft or a physical assault, very simply.

The Bloc has said so again and again: we want this bill to be examined in committee to measure its impact and the potential that the public could misinterpret what it is allowed to do.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for Sherbrooke because, just like the members for Richmond—Arthabaska and Saint-Jean, he got right into the details. They have shown the courage and the will to resolve the problem with the principle of this bill.

I want to ask my colleague from Sherbrooke a different question if I can. In this instance we have at least one individual who was engaged in court action to defend his person and property against the very court system that was put in place to defend him. All the while the government knew that he had a very solid position, as evidenced by the court in the month of October.

In fact, the Minister of Justice stood here in front of all his colleagues and said that in the fall of 2009 he had already reached an agreement with the attorneys general of all the provinces, including the province where Monsieur Chen had found himself before the court, that they would change the law in the same way that my colleague from Trinity—Spadina and I had already proposed.

Does he not think there should be a political willingness to do justice and to help the victim by reimbursing him for the thousands of dollars he had to spend?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, obviously when a citizen is wronged and this results in significant expenses, everyone tends to think that they should receive some compensation. I would like to come back to the idea of necessary force, whether in the event of a theft or personal and physical attack.

Will we go so far as to consider someone innocent if they shoot a thief over a bag of chips? There are limits. We must create very specific limits. The use of force to protect property or to defend oneself against a physical attack remains a grey area and it must be clarified.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to stand in the House this afternoon to say a few words in this debate.

It is an interesting debate that I have been following very closely. It really blends in the issues that have been around a long time. First is the issue of self-defence. In other words, a resident of Canada has the basic right to protect his or her person, family or property and use whatever reasonable force is necessary, depending on the circumstances.

It follows in the continuum to the next issue of the right of someone to make a citizen's arrest. Generally, the law has been that a citizen's arrest is made during the commission of an offence. If we move along the continuum, we get into the whole issue of vigilantism, where someone or a group of people takes the law into its own hands. Of course, that principle is not supported in a free and democratic society.

This legislation arose from the case of Mr. Chen in Toronto. Certainly, no Canadian I have ever spoken to or heard from has expressed anything but support for Mr. Chen and the circumstances he found himself in. He obviously is a small business person who works hard, plays by the rules, pays his taxes and was the victim of a crime.

Unfortunately, he was not able to effect a citizen's arrest but did identify the victim. Lo and behold, a day or two after the commission of the original offence, the offender reappeared at Mr. Chen's place of business and the latter then effected a citizen's arrest. Unfortunately, at one point it looked as though he would be subject to sanctions from the authorities. Certainly every Canadian did not agree with that position, which was unfortunate, and the response has been overwhelming.

Since then, there have been a number of private members' bills and Bill C-60. This legislation would change the statute, but not substantially. Rather, it would broaden the statute and add the concept of a citizen's arrest being made not only on the commission of the offence but also on a reasonable time thereafter. Of course, that begs the question, which other members have spoken to, of what is a reasonable time.

At first blush, I believe most members of Parliament support this legislation, and I support it and its referral to committee. It is important to get this legislation to committee so that committee members can hear from some police officers, criminologists and experts who deal with this issue on a day-to-day basis.

It will be a very interesting debate in the committee and perhaps the committee will decide at the end of the day after hearing witnesses that the law does not require any changes, but it would appear now that there seems to be a fairly broad level of support for this particular initiative. I support it very cautiously, and I certainly will be deferring to others who are more knowledgeable in this area than I am and will be following the debate in committee very closely.

We get into this whole issue of what is reasonable. Do not forget that if anyone is ever charged with the offence of unlawful arrest, the Crown would have to be in a position to prove that offence beyond a reasonable doubt, which is an extremely high threshold. We could envisage all sorts of circumstances where a person or child was offended, assaulted or whatever, and then two weeks, three months or six months later, he or she decides to make an arrest without the powers, authority and respect that peace officers have.

That would lead to the next question of whether the person making the so-called citizen's arrest is entitled to use whatever reasonable force is necessary in the circumstances. Is he or she allowed to enter a private dwelling? Is he or she allowed to go to the person's workplace? There are some issues that will be given a full airing when the matter goes before the committee.

Again, it is extremely interesting. It is an issue that members should proceed cautiously on and whether the law requires tweaking or amendment, I believe, should be considered after the committee has had a good, long, hard look at this particular legislation.

As I said before, I will be voting for this legislation when it comes up for a vote at second reading and I will be following the issue extremely carefully before committee.

That basically concludes my remarks. I have summarized where I stand on the particular issue. It is an interesting issue that requires a little more discussion, review and analysis when it does go before committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate and respect the erudite position put forward by my colleague, who is steeped in law and has great courtroom experience. However, I want to take him to the other issue that has arisen as a result of Bill C-60.

He has followed the debate. He knows that the government did not act, as it promised, back in 2009. Then we found out in this debate that the Minister of Justice had actually struck an agreement with his provincial counterparts, including the one in the province where the David Chen case arose. The minister knew then that the case would not be decided negatively and waited while Mr. Chen ran up legal bills in the tens of thousands of dollars to protect his person and property. He knew that and wanted to ensure that the courts reinforced the decision that all the attorneys general had already struck.

I would like the member from Charlottetown to give his perspective on how expenses should be dealt with in all fairness when a private citizen is subject to the courts so that the government can accomplish its objective of testing something that it should already have done on its own and on which it already knew what the result would be. What is his view on that?