House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was criminal.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her question, which is quite relevant since she participated in the debate in committee.

On this side of the House, we are convinced that there is a good balance between the objective and subjective criteria. Clearly, no scenario is perfect.

The Canadian justice system is probably the most recognized and effective in the entire world. That is why we are convinced that the legal interpretation that will be done in these cases will ensure that good decisions are made and that the parties involved are protected.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I believe the bill has fairly good support from members of the House, with the exception of a few.

There was some concern raised about the potential cost of implementation of the bill. In particular, I understand there was some concern from provinces. Could the member comment on the degree to which provincial jurisdictions were involved in discussions when the government brought forward the bill?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the issue of costs is always close to the government, obviously. However, it is our position that the costs with regard to the bill, if anything, will be diminished because, based on clear instructions to the jury, the number of possible prosecutions may be limited.

As the law now stands, many of the prosecutors and police officers who lay the charges are uncertain whether there should be charges. Rather than taking a chance on the law as it stands, they put the case before the court, and of course, this clogs the dockets. With the new amendments to the law, there will be much more clarity. For that reason, there will probably be fewer cases that go before the court as a result of uncertainty of the rules. The amendments help not only the citizens, but also prosecutors and the police. It is our feeling that, if anything, costs will be diminished because clarity of the law will unclog the dockets.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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10:50 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. friend for his presentation of Bill C-26.

Some members of the House will know that I had hoped to present an amendment to the bill this morning to deal with the section dealing with citizen's arrest and creating the new possibility of arrest within a reasonable time. This is section 35.3 of Bill C-26, which would seek to amend the existing Criminal Code subsection 494(2).

My question is on this specific point. The concern shared by many, but particularly put forward to committee from the Canadian Bar Association, is that this opens the door to a potentially greater role for private security forces instead of the police and that it creates the opportunity for people to go after someone long after the event. How is the average citizen to know what a reasonable time is? This opens Bill C-26 to considerable abuse.

I would ask my hon. friend why it was that we could not have deleted this one section that opens the door to some mischief that is not necessary for the overall purpose of the act?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, first and foremost, there has always been a concern with vigilantism.

The issue of reasonable time is there because in certain circumstances the police cannot react rapidly, because of distance or where the incidents happen or possibly because they are responding to other emergency situations. One has to remember the number one responder to crime situations will remain the police. No citizen's arrest will be deemed reasonable unless in the person's mind it was not possible for the police to respond in a timely fashion.

As I said before, we have probably the best judiciary in the world. It will certainly not struggle with the issue of what is reasonable time given the circumstances of one particular event.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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April 24th, 2012 / 10:50 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, before beginning my speech on Bill C-26, I would like to mention that this is my first debate as the official opposition's new justice critic. I would therefore like to thank the leader of our party, the hon. member for Outremont, for the confidence he has placed in me.

I would particularly like to thank the hon. member for St. John's East, who has done absolutely extraordinary work on this file, as well as his entire team. Over the past few months, we examined Bill C-26 as a team.

I would also like to thank the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina. Those who have been following this issue know that she is behind Bill C-26. This bill addresses the famous Lucky Moose Food Mart case, which served as a wake-up call for members of Parliament who are now trying to determine how to resolve this problem.

I also extend my thanks to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, where we studied many bills, including Bill C-10 on law and order, which was very thick and had many amendments. I use the term “thick” in reference to the size of the bill and not the content. We also studied Bill C-19 on the registry. We looked at many files, but this was the first time, since I was elected on May 2, that I felt that there was co-operation and that the two parties and all the people around the table, no matter their political stripe, were truly trying to find intelligent solutions to the problems and serious issues raised.

This bill involves amending the Criminal Code, which has been in existence for quite some time and has been interpreted by the courts and the Supreme Court. It is not necessarily an easy task. The member from the Green Party pointed out a problem with citizen's arrest that was raised at the committee hearings. I will come back to that later in my speech.

Having said that, I hope that the members opposite will adopt this new way of doing things because the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights does not meet to engage in petty politics. We meet because we know that these laws will have a direct effect on the lives of Canadians. We discuss criminal acts that have an impact on the lives of people, whether they are the victims or the accused, who benefit from the presumption of innocence. As guardians of the charter, we must ensure that the legal provisions and amendments to such laws are made properly.

Let us come back to Bill C-26. What is it all about? This bill amends a few sections of the Criminal Code, especially on self-defence, whether in relation to people or their personal or real property. It is the main purpose of this bill. The other part concerns citizens' arrest in a very specific context, which was the starting point for the private member's bill introduced by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina.

The first part on the lawful defence of property and persons, especially self-defence of persons, had been requested by the courts for a very long time. Finding a way to amend the Criminal Code was not easy. Earlier, I asked the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice a question about balancing the objective and subjective criteria with regard to the reasonable nature of the force that is used in self-defence. I think people understand what self-defence is. When we think we are being attacked and our lives are in danger or we are going to be seriously injured, we defend ourselves. That being said, it must be determined whether the act of self-defence was lawful or not, what the provocation was, whether necessary force was used and whether the context was appropriate.

It is not obvious. Over the years and decades, since the Criminal Code of Canada was created, the courts have realized that it is not always obvious. Over time, as things have developed, in certain cases defences based on scientific or medical reasons have been used. Take the battered woman syndrome for example.

I remember when I was hosting a radio show some years ago and there was a murder in my region, in Aylmer. A woman had killed her husband with a gun. The entire region was outraged simply because for most people a murder is a murder. We finally learned the facts in the case and found out what had happened. The woman had been terrorized day after day by an abusive husband who beat her and sometimes held a gun to her head. It was atrocious. Nevertheless, people said that did not matter. To them, all the woman had to do was leave home, get out of there and her life would not be in danger, but can we really judge another person's circumstances?

The courts began to develop certain plausible, allowable defences and to extrapolate the criteria mentioned in the Criminal Code, but every time, they came back to us and said that it was up to us as legislators to clarify and tidy this up a bit. This has not always been easy, especially when talking about defence and provocation.

I practised a little criminal law early in my career. One day, a man walked into my office. I am not revealing anything, since no one could ever guess his identity. He was a rather short man and he had been beaten by a woman who was taller than him. He pleaded self-defence, while she maintained that he had provoked her. This gives you some idea of the cases that go before criminal courts. In that particular context, only the gender criterion might have been considered. Basically, we sometimes have an impression, a preconceived notion, that because he is a man, he cannot be abused, or that because a woman is very tall, she cannot be abused by someone shorter than her, and so on.

The courts were often frustrated by these kinds of situations. It was important that the criteria not be too stringent. That is more or less what the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec said in committee. As the parliamentary secretary said, we heard from several groups, such as the Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the Association of Professional Security Agencies—I will come back to this group, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Police Association, as well as universities, lawyers and other groups.

What came up again and again, especially concerning self-defence and the criteria mentioned in section 34 of the Criminal Code, was the importance of striking a balance. There was some concern about the government's wording of some of the clauses and amendments to Bill C-26 concerning a better balance between these subjective and objective elements. For example, the Canadian Bar Association agreed with me in committee that this balance appeared to be lacking, which is dangerous. The bill seemed to emphasize the objective criteria, which could jeopardize defences such as self-defence based on battered woman syndrome, for example.

I want to point out right away that the official opposition did propose seven amendments to ensure a balanced approach. We proposed objective and subjective criteria to enable the trial judge who hears the facts of the case to determine whether actions were provoked, assess what happened between the two parties and analyze the whole thing.

We did not succeed in getting all of the amendments included even though they would have made the provisions much clearer. But we will see. People will have to adjust. We are hearing that a lot these days, particularly in Quebec. We will see how the courts interpret all of this and whether the bill is balanced. I am reasonably confident that the amendments my colleague talked about earlier will ensure that balance.

I want to make it clear that section 34 of the Criminal Code, as amended by the bill, starts out by saying that a person is not guilty:

34. (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if

[This means that all of the criteria must apply.]

(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;

(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and

(c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

[This one, (c), is often problematic.]

(2) In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court shall consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including, but not limited to, the following factors:

A list of factors follows. We appreciate that the government agreed to include our amendment. We want to ensure that offences are analyzed based on the perspective of the person directly involved rather than on that of someone who was not involved at all. Sometimes, it is by putting ourselves in someone else's shoes that we come to know what that person saw and we can really understand the impact of his action.

The physical capabilities of the parties to the incident were added. As I mentioned earlier, to look only at size, age and gender could cause confusion. I know people who are only 5' 2'' who have black belts in karate and, let me tell you, they could do some damage to someone who is a sturdy 6' 4'' but who has never played a sport in his life. We therefore wanted to avoid this type of prejudice.

Paragraph 34(2)(f.1) refers to the history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident. Some people have difficulty understanding what that means, but those who are very active users of social networking sites, who are involved in blogging and who talk to different people understand what this means.

I once had a written conversation with people I did not know. I did not even know where they lived. I must say that, at the end of that conversation, I had the willies. I hoped that those people did not live nearby because I was seriously concerned.

Since we have new technologies, we have to adapt to this type of situation. Sometimes, people can be terrorized by means of written messages or threats delivered in other ways.

Given the amendments that were made in this regard, I am confident that we have managed to find a balance. The courts will still have access to the committee's work and to the report, and they will be able to make informed decisions when they are called upon to interpret the new clauses on the protection of property, clauses 34 and 35. At least that is what I hope.

As I told my clients, those who came to see me, if we had a perfect knowledge of law and wrote perfect legal provisions, there would be no need for lawyers. Since laws are often drafted by lawyers, to date, I have yet to see a provision that is so clear and straightforward that there is no room for any interpretation. Likely, down the line, we will discover additional factors that should be added to clause 34.

With regard to the legitimate defence of property, as was expected by the legal community and the courts, no distinction is made between personal and real property. An attack on real property was always considered to be of greater consequence. If a person suffered an assault in their home or something like that, the courts tended to be a bit more strict in their assessment of the factors, when the person claimed self-defence.

In the case of the theft of a cassette from a car, we might say that self-defence was not necessary. We must always look at the concept of necessity.

I would now like to examine the most difficult part of the bill to understand: the amendments proposed by the government. I would like to point out that what I find the most worrisome is that the government has not accepted any suggested amendments at all.

The comment or the point I would like to make is as follows. Section 494(2) of the Criminal Code deals with citizen's arrest, which was the reason for Bill C-26. That is why we cannot withdraw clause 3 of Bill C-26, because it would completely gut the bill.

I am fully aware of the fact that there was the political will to amend the bill because of what Mr. Chen went through in Toronto.

These are the facts as we heard them. Mr. Chen was working at his convenience store when the store was robbed. A short time later, the shoplifter had the nerve to return to Mr. Chen's store. However, Mr. Chen recognized the shoplifter and stopped him before he had a chance to commit a second theft. The store owner, Mr. Chen, tied up the shoplifter and put him in a van—the only place he could keep him until the police arrived. Believe it or not, it was the store owner who was charged with forcible confinement, among other things. The justice system amazes me sometimes.

I worked in the media long enough to know how sensational this type of story can become across the country. The story made it all the way to Gatineau. That being said, legal experts have told us that notwithstanding Mr. Chen's case, the Criminal Code, as currently drafted, should have given plenty of latitude to the police, who could have chosen not to arrest Mr. Chen. This could have been resolved without charges being laid against Mr. Chen.

To ensure that this does not happen again, the government introduced Bill C-26. At the time, my colleague from Trinity—Spadina also introduced a very similar bill. I will read the proposed subclause 3(2):

(2) The owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property and

(a) they make the arrest at that time; or

(b) they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.

I am sure that the infamous reasonable grounds are going to be interpreted in all kinds of ways.

I have a few problems with this clause because when it says “or a person authorized by the owner”, it obviously refers to security guards, and that bothers me.

In committee, we heard from witnesses from security agencies. An entire sector of the economy collectively jumped for joy over this new opportunity. The guards said it was finally their turn to shine.

To their credit, I must say, they are already working in stores, but not in small convenience stores. It is not the Mr. Chens of the world who will benefit from this, but rather superstores like Walmart and Target.

What worries me is that some of them like to pretend they are police officers, as though they are replacing the police. However, the defendant must be able to demonstrate that no peace officer was available to make the arrest. We were told that, quite often, it was hard for police officers to respond immediately to a call concerning shoplifting, because it was not necessarily a priority for them.

We also need to think about rural communities. Personally, I am a city girl. We often forget that many people live in rural settings, where there is not necessarily a police officer posted on every street corner.

That is all I have to say about the notion of a reasonable time.

However, we were definitely convinced that defining the notion of a reasonable time would prevent the court or the judge from using their own judgment in that regard. With that in mind, even though we have some reservations and we are anxious to see what will happen with all of that, the NDP plans to support Bill C-26. In its current state, it already answers many questions people had, which the courts often referred back to us as legislators. In that context, we hope this will do what it is meant to do.

In closing, regarding section 494 and citizen's arrest, one thing is clear: the government committed to ensuring that convenience store managers know that it is not open season for them to start making arrests left, right and centre, without thinking carefully first. No one is asking or recommending that they do so. We must leave this up to the professionals, the people who have been trained to do so. Otherwise, there could be serious consequences, especially if someone makes an illegal arrest. That is all I have to say, and I now welcome questions.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Ryan Leef Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, my colleague raises some excellent points, and we heard this in previous debate, about Canadian corporations and people working in the security industries, perhaps wanting to take advantage of what they might view as expanded authority under this legislation and ending up with some unintended consequences or doing things that we as legislators do not want them to do.

Would my colleague comment on whether she sees it as our role, as members of Parliament and the people who create legislation, to send the message to Canadians that this is expanded protection instead of expanded authority and that we differentiate between the two so we do not have the concerns that she highlighted in her speech?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:15 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question and the comment. I agree that that is the message we need to send. My concern is mainly that a representative of the association of security agencies lobbied the committee. I found that somewhat inappropriate, because it was not specifically about powers mentioned in section 494 of the Criminal Code. It was about increasing those powers because there is a shortage of police officers. If I could say one thing to the government, I would suggest that if it really wants to stand up for victims and justice and the rule of law, maybe there should be more police officers instead of more penalties.

That is what the police association told us. The police would like to respond to calls about shoplifting and so on. But they do not have the resources, so they have to decide which crime is more serious. That sometimes puts individuals in the position of having to arrest people themselves, which should not be recommended. I hope that this will not be a growth industry because the government decides to leave it to individuals instead of trained police officers who receive ongoing training, who know what do to in such situations, who know the laws and the charters and who know how to carry out arrests.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:15 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Gatineau for her excellent speech. I share all of her concerns. I cannot support this bill because I find that it creates a system with serious problems with respect to citizen's arrest.

However, I do agree that the amendments improve things. The bill as it is now is better than it was at first reading, but I now have more concerns. I cannot support this bill because of citizen's arrest.

Why does my colleague now think that she can agree to this bill?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:15 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I had this thought: it is perhaps because I have had the benefit of participating in all the committee meetings, listening to all the witnesses, thinking things through, knowing what the Criminal Code looked like before, and seeing what has become of subsection 494(2). When I say that I am reasonably satisfied, it is because the bill does not make things worse.

If I had one comment to make to my colleague, who is also a lawyer, it would be to tell her to think of the bill in this light: it does not make section 494(2) worse in terms of citizen's arrest. It creates a number of criteria to which I have no fundamental objection. I do not think that it is awful; it is simply a little vague.

What does the bill mean where it says, “make the arrest within a reasonable time”? For a government that wants to replace judges more often than not, it is again a case of leaving it up to the court to decide what a reasonable time is and believing, on reasonable grounds, that arrest by a peace officer was not possible.

The wording is, notwithstanding, sufficiently serious given the types of cases that will arise and considering the fact that it has been confirmed that these are not situations that occur frequently. The fact that the bill also refers to “a person authorized by the owner” indicates that it cannot be just any old person. Once again, the other criteria must be met.

If we vote against Bill C–26 because it is not perfect, we will be depriving ourselves of an extremely important tool. I would like my colleague to think about that before it comes time to vote.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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11:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, this is an interesting debate. I have looked at the provisions and I wonder if the hon. member could speak to the kinds of issues I see.

The first one would be how the government will convey these new provisions to the public. If we look at the recent sad incident in the United States, where a youth was killed and late in the day, only because of public pressure, charges were brought against the person, presumably on reasonable grounds, for attacking somebody for going on the person's property. It will be very important to convey this to the public. Would the member agree with me that this is not a provision that would now specifically empowers ordinary citizens to intervene? It simply would provide additional defences for people who were charged for supposedly using inappropriate undue force and for detaining someone too long.

I also wonder what implications these provisions might have for good Samaritans. There was an incident in my riding recently where one of my constituents was attacked by a man. She went into a shop and the shop owner and others then managed to remove the man and called the police. The police did not come until several days later. She does not know if the guy is still at large and is suffering psychologically. Both may have implications for potential civil actions against others who do not detain or intervene.

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11:20 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, those are excellent questions. Indeed, these are the kinds of debates that occur when it comes to amending the Criminal Code.

On the first point, it comes back to what I said in committee. The government members who sit on the committee have assured us that steps will be taken—I do hope that we will see this soon, once the bill is passed—to ensure that people understand that it is not open season and that they cannot make arrests willy-nilly, for example, in the corner store, if they come across somebody who looks a bit suspicious and may have stolen from them yesterday, or something along those lines.

There is still a charter and rights that apply. You cannot detain someone without due cause in just any old way. It is not something that we are recommending that people do. Instead of putting advertisements on television every half an hour about Canada, Action Plan Canada on TV, the government should perhaps screen some public service announcements like these.

The impact when it comes to good Samaritans has not really been addressed here. Could this have an impact? Once again, it might be more likely to have an impact in the case of self-defence, for example, if something happened when someone helped someone else. My colleague referred specifically to something that I often heard when I was on the radio, which is that people no longer even want to stop when there is an accident because they are too worried about the consequences. This will not have any impact on that type of situation. This is still a problem that is not clear in the context of the existing legislation, and this bill will not change things overnight.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, I welcome the member for Gatineau as justice critic for the New Democratic Party. We have worked together in committee on this bill and on other matters of common concern. I welcome her expertise and experience in this regard.

I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-26 at third reading. While I have often taken issue with the government's approach to criminal justice, I do support the principle behind the bill, which would simplify and update the Criminal Code both with respect to self-defence and defence of property.

As I noted during debate on the bill previously, the current Criminal Code provisions on these matters are complex and judges have noted that the law at present is as confusing as it is confounding.

In particular, the Criminal Code contains four provisions on the issue of self-defence and six defence of property provisions. The legislation we are debating today would simplify these provisions into two Criminal Code sections, one on self-defence and one with respect to defence of property.

I am a long-time supporter of law reform, and during the period that I was minister of justice and attorney general I called for a comprehensive and principled approach to law reform in our country. We need a comprehensive review and simplification of the entire Criminal Code, which is long overdue, and I have stood in this place before to regret the fact that we have yet to embark on such a comprehensive and principled approach to law reform.

Some of the government's actions have taken us away from an approach to principled and comprehensive law reform. I refer, among other things, to doing away with the Law Commission of Canada, which was a principled instrument that assisted the House and me when I was minister of justice and attorney general of Canada with regard to a principled approach to criminal law reform, as well as, regrettably, the elimination of the court challenges program. That program supported access to justice and representation on matters, including those that dealt with principled approaches to criminal law reform. We are missing that instrumentality as well.

Therefore, I hope the bill signals a perspective shift in the government's approach to criminal law, namely that it will support sensible approaches to criminal law reform and to the simplification of the criminal law and move us away from what has been an ill-founded focus not only on punitive and incarcerative approaches to criminal justice, but in a legislative approach that is organized around an ad hoc response to the criminal justice case du jour rather than, as I said, a comprehensive and principled approach to the overall issues of criminal law reform. This would allow us to revisit the notion of the introduction of newer mandatory minimums or enhancing existing mandatory minimums, notwithstanding the fact that the evidence has been clear with respect to the fact that such mandatory minimums do not serve as a deterrent, are ineffective, end up being prejudicial and have a disproportionate prejudicial impact on vulnerable groups in our country, let alone the manner in which they may end up prospectively in breach of rights protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the 30th anniversary of which we celebrated just last week.

Bill C-26 would be a useful addition to the criminal law in the manner in which I indicated before, and will proceed again to elaborate upon. It would provide greater clarity for prosecutors, judges and juries presented with cases that involve self-defence or defence of property. It would also help private citizens understand the situation in which they may defend their person or property. In this regard, I look forward to the government's plan to educate citizens on this area of the law in an effort to ensure that vigilantism, of which concern has been expressed in debate this morning and heretofore, is not encouraged by the passage of this legislation.

Certainly there might be some who may see this bill as an opportunity to take the law into their own hands. Again, I reiterate that citizens should always seek the assistance of our trained and uniformed emergency services personnel when possible, rather than risk their own personal safety or engage in ill-advised approaches in vigilantism.

One thing that should be made clear to Canadians is that it is not as though without this bill there would be no right of self-defence or the right to make a citizen's arrest. Both exist as a matter of the common law. Self-defence has existed in that regard for centuries. Both have now been codified as statute. Indeed, even if we did not have a statutory basis for these elements of our criminal law, we could nonetheless embark upon the legislative reforms before us today.

As we are now at third reading, I would like to address three particular issues with respect to this bill. The first is that of private security firms, which took up a good deal of necessary discussion and debate before our Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The second is with respect to the bill's use of “gender”. The third is the amendment proposed by my colleague, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Simply put, with respect to the first issue, that of private security firms, the concern is that these individuals are private citizens who by virtue of their employment often take on police-like functions. Arguably, the bill can serve to enhance their powers and this may not necessarily have positive consequences in that regard.

As the Canadian Bar Association stated in its submission:

We believe that anything which could unnecessarily expand the (perceived) mandate of private security officers and ordinary citizens to make arrests should be avoided.

Indeed, the CBA goes on to express its concern that the legislation might “encourage unjustified arrest by private security personnel, not subject to public oversight”, noting that:

Such personnel often lack the necessary range of equipment or adequate training to safely and lawfully make arrests in a manner proportionate to the circumstances, in the regular course of their duties.

This was a recurring issue during our committee hearing. I do believe the government should be quite mindful of this issue, both in terms of its efforts to educate individuals about the ramifications of this bill but also with respect to the potential introduction of legislation specific to security personnel, such as to ensure proper training and understanding of the law.

I noted earlier in my remarks with respect to the anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we must ensure that these security personnel are well-versed in the protections inherent in the charter and court pronouncements in relation to such protections, such as to minimize the risk of their violation in respect of persons believed to have engaged in criminal acts.

As a final point in this regard, the concern was raised by two law professors who appeared before the committee that a consequence of the bill would be to make security guards, to use their words, “de facto police officers” by allowing them to delay before making an arrest. This too is a point that I will address more specifically in a moment within this context and the related context in matters of delay.

The second issue I want to address briefly is that of gender, which has been addressed as well in debate this morning, which this bill lists as a factor that can be considered by a judge in assessing the reasonableness of a self-defence action.

At committee it became clear that one of the things this legislation was meant to address was the problem of battered spouses syndrome, a defence linked to the current provisions of the Criminal Code. In this regard, I am pleased that all parties joined in accepting my amendment before committee to create a specific factor “any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident”, which, as my colleague for Gatineau pointed out, may also help victims of cyberstalking and cyberbullying.

While I am hopeful this will be enough to ensure that battered spouses are protected, I must reiterate what I said during previous debate about the inclusion of gender in criminal law legislation, namely that it opens the door to the resurgence of a series of myths and stereotypes, which have, regrettably, sometimes undermined our criminal law in areas such as sexual assault. Simply put, I am hopeful that no attorney or judge will advance any arguments that rely on inappropriate or prejudicial gender stereotypes, be it the weak, defenceless woman or the overpowering man, to determine the reasonableness of an action thereby suggesting that a woman should not have fought back or that a man should have fought back harder. Put another way, its continued presence in the statute implies that there is some fundamental difference between capacities of men and women to protect themselves, and I am not persuaded that gender is the determinative factor as opposed to other factors in the statute such as physical capacity or whether the person was armed.

The final issue I would like to address, and with this I draw to a close in the matter of substantive critique of this legislation, is the issue of allowing for a delay before an arrest is made. This point is indeed problematic, as evidenced by the many proposed NDP amendments at committee and indeed the proposed amendment by the Green Party this morning. I sincerely hope this issue can and will be taken up by the Senate as it is not immediately evident that the current language of the bill that one “make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed” is sufficient to guard against arbitrary detention or other situations whereby, for example, someone is followed across town by a security guard attempting to effectuate an arrest.

As Professor George Rigakos of Carleton University put it:

Bill C-26 therefore will create de facto private police officers, not in name, but in function, as they will use discretion, investigate, and build a case based on their new-found authority to delay arrest. I'm quite confident that this is not the intent of the committee.

Certainly this would not reflect my own intent and I am hopeful that this will be addressed in the other place. Indeed, the Barreau du Québec's submission on this point was quite instructive. It noted:

...the fact that a citizen's arrest must be made “within a reasonable time” after the commission of the alleged offence leaves the way open for a possible abuse of power. Any arrest includes elements of unforeseeability arising from the use of the force that is needed in order to make an arrest, peaceful though it may be. By definition, an arrest implies the use of force: a person who makes an arrest must physically control the person and restrict their movements and, if necessary, may use reasonable force to compel the person to submit to their authority. When the police make an arrest, they are identified by their uniform or otherwise, and persons arrested by police know that the police are entitled to make arrests, even if they believe the police are in error in their case, and police are required to inform the person arrested of the grounds for the arrest and of their rights. The police are trained to make arrests, and even with their training and skills, arrests sometimes go wrong, even where the persons involved are not criminals. A member of the public does not have the training and resources available to police forces. The power of arrest is an important power that must be exercised in accordance with the law, and the rights of a person who is arrested must be respected.

Again here we see the issue of constitutional rights, potentially and prospectively violated by those making use of this section without being fully aware of the juridical context in which citizen's arrest properly operates. I hope this matter will be addressed in the other place.

Another issue that can be addressed in the other place, and with which the committee had difficulty as well, was how to balance objective and subjective factors in the determination of the reasonableness of a self-defence action. Certainly in the circumstances of a criminal act, one may perceive the situation differently from the clarity that is afforded by hindsight. I am not persuaded that this bill often strikes the right balance in this regard. I appreciate the submissions from numerous groups that raised this concern. I trust that needed refinements can be made in the other House.

While I have not addressed much of the defence of property provisions in this legislation, I do support the principles behind them. We are all aware of the Toronto incident, to which reference has been made during the debate this morning, that gave rise to this bill. Generally, while it is not advisable to legislate on one particular case, and we have sometimes burdened our criminal law by legislating only as a result of one particular case, the overall principles behind this bill are reasonably acceptable and serve the overall aims of prospective law reform.

While I do still have some reservations, as I have outlined in the course of the discussion and my remarks this morning, and while I still hope some modifications may be made in the other place, I look forward to the simplification and reform of what are now overly complex and cumbersome Criminal Code provisions, with respect to both self-defence and defence of property. I hope that this might herald a comprehensive approach to a principled criminal law reform of other cumbersome and complex provisions in our Criminal Code, which we continue to amend on an ad hoc basis in response to a particular cause du jour, but which need a comprehensive and principled approach, not only for the simplification of our criminal law but to making it into a more principled approach that could be better understood by all actors in the criminal justice system.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his very thoughtful review of the piece of legislation that lies before us today. I share some of his concerns around the issue of what is reasonable.

What kind of checks and balances could the member see that the other place might make that would address his concerns in this legislation?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, the amendment that was proposed by the Green Party, which did not move forward in the House, should be addressed in the other place. I might add that both the Canadian Bar Association and the Quebec Bar Association supported the proposed amendment. While we did not move forward with it in this House, we should address in the other chamber.

A citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain the public peace, nor properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals. In most cases an arrest consists of either seizing or touching a person's body in an effort to detain them, or the person submitting to the arrest. A citizen's arrest that is made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious unintended consequences for those involved. When deciding whether to make a citizen's arrest, a person should be aware of the current law and consider the following: the person's safety, or the safety of others; reporting the information to the police, which is usually the best course of action instead of taking action on one's own; and ensuring that the person has correctly identified the suspect and the suspect's criminal conduct.

These and other considerations need to be properly communicated and understood so they can be properly acted upon. Another consideration that we might look at in the House is an educational campaign to have a full appreciation of the law.