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 project.

Topics

Anaphylaxis
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Kelowna—Lake Country will have six and a half minutes left to conclude his remarks the next time the motion is before the House.

It being 12:04 p.m., the time provided for the consideration of private members' business has expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from March 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-60, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor has 10 minutes.

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Noon

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak to this particular issue about citizen's arrest and the events that precede it.

We are here today to look at an amendment to section 494 of the Criminal Code. In my opinion, we are righting a wrong by doing this. I fully support this idea and fully support this bill.

There have been several episodes in history where this has been looked at and analyzed as a way of fixing an issue that has arisen due to one particular case that was featured in the city of Toronto. That was the story of David Chen. There has been a lot of media attention around this situation and his particular circumstance. If I may, I would like to talk about that very briefly.

In his security videos and from his own personal observations Mr. Chen noticed a particular individual time and time again stealing certain merchandise. The perpetrator was known in the area for having committed certain crimes. As a result, he appeared very suspicious.

The perpetrator went to Mr. Chen's place of business and stole a particular item. He then returned a half hour later only to be confined by Mr. Chen. The police moved in right away, but they went after Mr. Chen, not the perpetrator. As a result, there were several charges laid that we have talked about in detail. I will get to that in just a moment. The important fact is that Mr. Chen made the citizen's arrest after the incident had taken place. Therein lies the meaning of this particular legislation, and I am sure many Canadians would agree, that a certain period of time be allotted to act upon this or that there is a reasonable amount of time allotted wherein one can make a citizen's arrest.

The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to allow private citizens who own or have lawful possession of property to arrest a person they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property within a “reasonable amount of time”. This power of arrest is permitted only in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible for the arrest to be made by law enforcement officials. Therein lies the other part of this, which is to say that in the case of Mr. Chen, which is the example we are using, he was put in a position where he was called into action. There were no peace officers there at the time. Therefore, in the absence of law enforcement officials, his judgment call was to make a citizen's arrest on that particular person he felt would steal something from his business. I imagine most of us would feel that his acts are justified.

As a result of this action, therein lies the crux of this particular amendment, which talks to the reasonable amount of time one has to do this. Currently, the legislation deals with the acts or actions one may take in making a citizen's arrest within a specific period of time. Therefore, the emphasis is on the particular amount of time that one has to make a citizen's arrest.

If a person, having witnessed a crime wherein the perpetrator has left the scene only to return, in David Chen's case it was 30 minutes, feels that he or she must take action, I believe the majority of Canadians feel that making a citizen's arrest at that time is indeed justifiable.

This has been an issue since I believe September 27, 2009, when the minister originally mused about it. As a result, almost two years later we are now looking at the legislation being tabled as we debate it in the House.

There does not seem to be a tremendous amount of debate here as the government put this bill forward and the Liberal Party and the NDP have endorsed it. Of course there have been private members' bills from the Liberal Party, by my colleague for Eglinton—Lawrence, and also my colleague from the NDP in the riding of Trinity—Spadina reflecting this issue.

As many people can imagine, there are some concerns around the term “a reasonable amount of time”.

Every time we talk about legal issues and legislation that makes an amendment to the Criminal Code, we always talk about and sometimes consider what is a reasonable amount of time and actions that are deemed to be reasonable in a court of law. Therefore it is open to interpretation.

Because we are at second reading of the bill and by accepting this in principle, it would now be sent to committee to find out what is a reasonable amount of time and to flesh out some of the parameters around this piece of legislation.

There is a certain amount of ambiguity that constitutes what is a reasonable amount of time between when an act of violence is committed and when a citizen's arrest is made.

We know that some police officers have raised concerns in the past about this legislation. We certainly look forward to hearing what input they bring to this and I will get to a few examples in a few moments.

Many months ago this issue was moved on when we saw the situation with David Chen. Private member's Bill C-547 was introduced by the member for Eglinton—Lawrence. We now find ourselves debating a government bill but two years ago we were dealing with all kinds of amendments to the Criminal Code. How this issue did not manage to pop up in the debate over the two-year period is slightly questionable.

The amendments that are being made, whether they be mandatory minimums, whether they be Internet crime and things we have seen over the last little while, especially when it comes to mandatory minimums, there has been a lot of debate in the House regarding amendments to the Criminal Code.

I am not a lawyer, but nonetheless I have heard from many legal experts who have said that the Conservatives could have done all of this in a much shorter period of time if they had done the amendments through, say, four, five or maybe even six bills as opposed to the 15 to 20, in that range, that we currently have. This could have been done two years ago, or the Conservatives could have accepted my colleague's private member's bill at the time. That probably would have been the most prudent way to go. Nonetheless, we find ourselves in the House today debating this legislation.

I look forward to what will be talked about at committee. I talked earlier about the ambiguity surrounding this. In the circumstances, we do have a legitimate concern to be addressed, but nonetheless, the principle of the bill is a sound one, which is the ability for citizens to make arrests. The situation with David Chen in Toronto is really an illustration of why we are debating this and why, I assume, most members of the House accept the bill in principle.

The incident of David Chen took place in October 2010. At that time there was a lot of debate and it received quite a bit of notoriety from coast to coast to coast. As a result of that, the debate became apropos of the times. Citizen's arrest is something we talked about. It has not been as publicized as it is now. The David Chen video tapes became news everywhere. I am from Newfoundland and Labrador and it was a big story there as well. It was featured prominently. It was not just a local Toronto story. Therefore, the issue gained that much more weight as a result of it.

The Criminal Code allows for a citizen's arrest as it stands right now. The amendment to section 494 would address that, but where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime on a person or property and a citizen immediately detains the subject, therein lies the current state of the Criminal Code which addresses a citizen's arrest. The provision allows for an arrest to occur without having to wait for law enforcement to arrive on the scene. There are several examples over the years that would address this. Certainly an amendment to section 494 would address the situation regarding a reasonable amount of time. There is no doubt in my mind that a reasonable amount of time, which was illustrated by the David Chen case, perfectly justified a citizen's arrest. I believe the time was 30 minutes after the first encounter.

Therefore, in that particular case, it illustrates that a reasonable amount of time would be justified by this amendment. However, to put the parameters around this particular piece of legislation requires it going to committee and I look forward to hearing the debate on that.

The bill would also expand the scope of a citizen's arrest to allow for such detention to occur within a reasonable amount of time. It is not clearly defined what constitutes the reasonable amount of time, which will certainly be debated. The bill states clearly that no individual is entitled to use excessive force in the process of detention of another individual.

There have been other groups and stakeholders who want to discuss this as well and I am sure they will be given ample opportunity once they arrive at committee. I implore all my colleagues to support this bill in principle and send it to committee.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I compliment my hon. colleague for having had the energy and eloquence to address some of the issues in Bill C-60.

He quite rightly pointed out that this is a bill that emanated from private members' initiatives, mine in particular, and the one by the member for Trinity—Spadina. It is important to say both parties because the Government of Canada—I am sorry, the Prime Minister's “SH” government responded with great tardiness. I notice that some people smile at that, but he wants it to be known as that.

It responded with great tardiness to a situation that was egregious. It was egregious because a repeated victim of theft by a convicted felon was penalized by the justice system. It is a government that constantly talks about its crime and justice agenda, but allowed Mr. David Chen and others like him to languish for the better part of 18 months while it did absolutely nothing.

Worse, it caused that individual to assume the costs of defending himself in court in order to prove something for the benefit of the government and the government mucked that up as well. Look at this piece of legislation. I wonder if my colleague would comment on that.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I think the member is a little angry. I want to congratulate him on his private member's bill. In the course of this debate a lot of it has been fleshed out over the course of time.

Another issue I noticed about this piece of legislation is we seem to have a little here and a little there when it comes to amendments to the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code seems to have garnered a lot of attention around here and in many cases justifiably so. The only problem I have is that sometimes we sensationalize these things to the point where they become overdone. Sometimes other pieces of legislation, whether it is with regard to crime or other social policy, get left behind, which is unfortunate.

My colleague talked about this particular piece of legislation and the principle by which we are accepting it. Senior police officers in Halifax have urged caution about the legislation. That is one thing we must bear in mind and that is why it should be sent to committee for further study. I look forward to that.

Again, I congratulate my colleague from Eglinton—Lawrence on his role in all of this.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the member is aware, parts of this bill mirror the bill tabled by the member for Trinity—Spadina trying to address what occurred to one of her constituents, the arrest of Mr. David Chen.

My colleagues, including the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, have raised concerns and I am wondering if the member supports the concern raised by my colleague in the House to the effect that members would like this bill to go to committee for consideration and discussion, but that there is the potential for expediting the amendments to section 494 to address what happened to Mr. Chen and clarify the issues on the occasion of a robbery and one's property is impacted.

Does he believe that we should be exploring the separation of additional provisions not raised in the Chen case dealing with provocation, justification and claim of right?

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12:20 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, the member questions me often and does it to great effect, so I look forward to her question each and every time.

I have two things. The NDP addressed the situation in Trinity—Spadina, which is a good illustration of where this happened. I used to live in Trinity—Spadina near where the incident took place, so I know the area well.

We had several renditions of this private member's bill, including from my own colleague, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence and, I think, from the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. My colleague, a former professor, also spoke to this.

--courts pay attention to what Parliament says when they look for direction in law.

I think that was from the Minister of Justice, and—

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12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I will have to stop the member there as he is out of time.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska.

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12:20 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).

I will summarize what the bill is all about. The bill 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. Bill C-60 also amends the Criminal Code to simplify the provisions relating to the defences of property and persons.

More succinctly, the bill significantly broadens the notion of self-defence and slightly broadens that of citizen's arrest.

I have had the opportunity to review some of the speeches about Bill C-60. One of my colleagues also talked about this bill.

It will come as no surprise that the Bloc Québécois supports sending Bill C-60 to committee. Today, we have heard that the scope of the bill raises certain questions. I will talk about the notion of self defence a little later. There are many questions about the problems that could be created by Bill C-60.

A Liberal member said that when an event gets a lot of media coverage, parliamentarians immediately want to solve the problem, which is quite commendable. Everyone in the House undoubtedly acts out of good faith when it comes to solving a justice-related or other problem. However, we must ensure that the scope of these laws does not give rise to other problems. That is what we fear with Bill C-60.

Two members introduced private member's bills to address citizen's arrest. In the Toronto area, the owner of a convenience store took the law into his own hands and was arrested. The public believed that the arrest made no sense because the owner of the convenience store had acted in good faith to protect himself and his property.

Bills were introduced in this regard. Then, the Conservatives introduced a bill on the same topic but with a much larger scope that also addresses the issue of self-defence.

For the Bloc Québécois, defending oneself and one's property, within reasonable limits, is a fundamental right. We do not see any problem with this. It is already permitted by law, but the law is too restrictive. Mr. Chen's case is a good example.

Bloc members support a legislative amendment that would enable honest citizens to defend themselves, their property and others. However, we do not want to implement a populist approach reminiscent of the wild west. No one here was alive during that time, but we have all seen movies in which people take justice into their own hands. Clearly, we do not want violence to escalate in such a manner or we could find ourselves in a situation where the lives of individuals and groups are endangered.

As legislators and as people who want to defend their families and their property, we do not want to create other, more serious problems and we do not want to contribute to an increase in violence. Certain provisions in the current bill could give rise, in the short to medium term, to situations that neither the public nor the police would want.

Bill C-60 was introduced in response to the incident in Toronto that I mentioned earlier. A business owner was arrested and taken to court for catching and detaining a man who had robbed him. This arrest of an honest citizen, who had repeatedly asked for police help without any response, outraged the public.

Two private member's bills were introduced immediately following this incident, and then Bill C-60 was introduced. Bill C-60 includes the vision of the political parties that introduced the private member's bills to address the issue of citizen's arrest. The Conservative government introduced a bill that seeks to amend the self-defence provisions of the Criminal Code.

Questions are being raised about the changes to the Criminal Code. The deputy chief of the Halifax Regional Police urged the federal government to caution the public about making citizen's arrests, because we want to prevent well-intentioned individuals from committing crimes themselves. He also pointed out that an arrest carries risks that a citizen has little chance of responding to as well as a police officer can. It is not our job to take on the role of vigilante. However, out of necessity, there are some situations in which citizens must be allowed to arrest someone who is in the process of committing a crime or harming property, a loved one or even a stranger. We even have a duty to intervene when we see someone in danger. We cannot stand by and do nothing, even if there is clearly a risk in intervening. It could jeopardize the life of the victim or our own life. Necessary force must be used. The changes made to self-defence with Bill C-60 could cause problems. Some situations that are currently illegal could become legal. We are not convinced that this would be desirable for the well-being of the community. Some situations covered by Bill C-60 were discussed by those who spoke before me, but I would like to give some examples.

There is a spat between neighbours: John is unhappy because he lent Jim his lawnmower and has not gotten it back yet. So he starts to threaten Jim and his family. He may even go as far as to threaten to kill them. Jim does not want to take any chances and decides to kill John before he attacks Jim or his family. When Jim is arrested, he tells the police that he could not guarantee his own or his family's safety because of the threats they had received. This may seem like an exaggerated, ridiculous example, but if we just look at what happens in court or read a newspaper, we will see a number of similar examples where people are trying to justify what they have done, even if their actions are unforgivable. How does one prove that John truly endangered the lives of Jim and his family? It will never happen, because one person killed the other.

Or consider this scenario: someone steals a pack of cigarettes from a convenience store. The cashier has a firearm under the counter and if he pulls it out, any number of things could happen: he could accidentally kill the man who stole the pack of cigarettes just by pointing the gun at him; he could say to himself that the man is a thief so he is allowed to take the law into his own hands and he decides to shoot; or the thief takes off and the other man decides to shoot and seriously injures or kills him because he wanted to stop him. We do not know whether he intended to kill the thief or not, but we do know that he pulled the trigger. I would remind hon. members that the man stole a pack of cigarettes. The shopkeeper may also decide to kill him because he has been robbed too many times and the police do not act quickly enough. So he pulls the trigger and kills the thief.

In either scenario, society does not win. Indeed, there is always a delicate balance that must be struck between going too far—even if one's intentions are good in proposing reforms that could have a negative impact—and taking action to protect one's property, one's family or unknown individuals. A balance must be struck. There is no doubt that the Criminal Code does have some shortcomings at this time, as we saw with the example of the shopkeeper, but the committee needs to examine certain things much more thoroughly.

In closing, situations like this often come up. When I was a teenager and still living at home, thieves broke into my parent's house. I was in the basement with my girlfriend at the time, and no one else was home.

When I woke up, I heard voices, so I knew there was more than one thief in the house. To scare them away, I told them I had a firearm. They ran away, but I definitely would have had a problem if I really had had a weapon and had decided to fire on them when they were running away across the lawn. That is why we must not go too far.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

I have a few questions for my colleague, who gave a pretty thorough summary of the bill before us.

I wonder whether my colleague would find it strange, if not deceptive, that the government, which waited for 18 months after it promised David Chen that it would look at an egregious situation, comes forward with legislation that not only looks at the issue of reasonableness, which, by the way, was already addressed by the court as it dealt with David Chen's case, but adds on to it a whole series of extraneous items that it says are absolutely important and crucial to understanding the concept of reasonableness in a citizen's arrest situation.

I would like the hon. member to give us an indication of whether he finds that the government took so long in order to come right up face to face with the prospect of not having to deal with it at all. This bill will go to committee but we do not know if the committee will be heard. However, David Chen will have expended a lot of energy, a lot of resources and a lot of money.

Does the member not think that the government should reimburse him for what he did in order to upgrade the criminal court's case study of situations like his?

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12:30 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

Let me come back to the famous delicate balance that is needed when it comes to self-defence. I concluded my speech rather quickly a moment ago, talking about my own experience.

The government is playing around with the issue of self-defence by removing the whole notion of necessity. Everyone knows we have the right to defend ourselves and that that is enshrined in the Criminal Code, but that only the necessary force can be used.

I want to come back to my previous example. The thieves were in my parents' house. I managed to chase them away by screaming “I have a gun”. It was not true, but they did not know that. Fortunately, they believed me. When I saw them running through the neighbour's yard, I noticed there were three of them. I was glad that I had not come out swinging and that I had not tried to fight with them. I was with my spouse at the time and I did not want to leave her alone.

However, if I had had a gun and had decided to shoot the thieves as they were running away through the neighbour's yard, I do not think I would have been using necessary force or that I could have argued that it was necessary to kill someone who had entered my parents' home. If the thieves had entered the room I was in and jumped me, or started hitting me or my spouse, I think I could have used necessary force in that case.

That is the difference. The problem lies in identifying what the government wants to do with Bill C-60.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must insist because the issue that caused the bill to come forward is essentially one of a citizen's arrest, in other words, the right of an individual to protect himself as well as his property but, most important, his property at this stage of the game. The government has come forward with legislation that unnecessarily deals with, as the member has noted, a series of issues even though the courts in the David Chen case addressed his issue, which was the reasonableness of the time and the continuity of the actions where, under any normal and reasonable expectation, someone would have found that David Chen actually did protect his property by using all the means available to conduct a citizen's arrest.

Under those circumstances, would he not think that the government is really trying to thwart the will of the courts?

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12:35 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member has hit the nail on the head. He has been here long enough to know that the Conservative government always tends to adopt populist measures, especially when it comes to justice.

It was easy, especially given the bill he himself introduced and the bill introduced by the NDP, to move very quickly to resolve the problem in the Criminal Code. We see that. That is why we agree with sending Bill C-60 to committee. There are changes we can make without unravelling everything.

However, to introduce this populist measure is to suggest that this is what people want and that the government will move forward with it without considering the consequences. In wanting to resolve a situation involving Mr. X, in this case Mr. Chen, the government is using a bazooka when all it really needed to do was to make a very quick change by passing either the bill introduced by my colleague or the one—

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate.

The member for Don Valley East.