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 person.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her excellent speech.

Could my colleague suggest restrictions and parameters that could be imposed on a bill of this kind in terms of the concept of self-defence?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, the section that was in the Criminal Code before—I do not have it with me—was quite complicated because there were a number of quite similar situations that followed one another. It was often difficult to apply the section to a specific situation because it was quite unclear, and that is why the section was amended. I can say that there are a number of situations. The bill includes a number of criteria that the court can take into consideration. For instance, it talks about the nature of the force. If someone is attacked with a knife, what is the nature of the force? Would a person who responds with a gunshot be acting in self-defence?

As a person who will soon be receiving a law degree, I must say that it is left to the discretion of the court to judge according to the guidelines provided by the legislator. There are a number of criteria such as size, age, gender, history and subjectivity. Once again, determining whether or not someone was acting in self-defence is up to the court.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, our party is moving in favour of this particular bill because there has been some movement toward improving the bill. However, what concerns me as a former environmental enforcer is that when we come forward with new laws, it is important that the government also come forward with a compliance strategy. That may be particularly important in this case.

There have been a number of questions raised by members in the House about exactly how people would determine what reasonable force is and about how reasonably close to the incident they are in intervening in order to seize and detain the person. When it is made known that this new measure will be in place, does the member think it might be useful for the government to come forward with an enforcement and compliance strategy to inform shop owners or property owners of the limited extent to which they may detain persons, as well as to inform school children, youth and so forth that there may be the potential for a shop owner or some property owner to move to detain?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said to my colleague, with regard to the way of determining what reasonable force is, it is very important that the legislator provide the courts with the clearest possible guidance. I was speaking of the subjective element in the bill in relation to domestic violence but also in relation to people with a history of violence. Force that may be considered an unreasonable response in one situation might well be considered reasonable if there is a history of violence. It is therefore the role of the government, as my colleague said, to inform the people but also to provide guidance to the courts with clear and stable guidelines that will make it possible for everyone to be judged on an equal footing. It is important that there be no inequality in one situation or another.

With regard to self-defence and citizen’s arrests in corner stores, in the case of young people, I must mention that the Criminal Code does not necessarily apply the same way to children as it does to adults. For instance, a minor may commit a crime. I will not get into a debate about the imposition of adult sentences on children. I have already said my piece about that. I believe that young people are considered under domestic and international law as people who should not be judged as adults. It would therefore be up to the legislator to decide what must be done.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious subject. We have said repeatedly that we will support the bill. I am by no means an expert in law and I would like to tackle this from another angle. In the few classes and courses I took in law, I remember being told something repeatedly about creating legislation, whether a law or regulations. Even if a law is being only partially amended, we must take into consideration everything about its environment, about how it is applied on the ground and in the courts, and about the repercussions it can have from coast to coast to coast.

First of all, I would be remiss if I did not state my personal position on this bill's intention. In my opinion, peace cannot be achieved through messages of hostility and distrust towards others. Peace and harmony in the world and in our modern society begin with the principles of co-operation and non-violence. Nevertheless, this does not take anything away from the principles of self-defence, the protection of property and mutual aid, which are also among our fundamental values of self-determination.

However, when a government's economic policies prevent it from providing the people with an adequate income and social fabric, it may have missed the point. A strong social fabric creates harmony within a community or society. It fosters hope within society, among people, and it very often prevents people from doing bad things.

The same idea applies to employment. Once again, I am not saying that we should not make laws governing citizen's arrest and self-defence. However, if we cannot create an environment of social and economic prosperity for all of the people of this great land so that all Canadians can reach their full potential and live without worrying about the future, we have failed.

Our great nation must focus on helping vulnerable communities and the poorest members of society, and on creating an environment in which social tensions are, for all practical purposes, non-existent. I know that sounds utopian. Still, it is our job to eliminate bad deeds from our society.

Often, geography and demographics are an indication of the poverty in which people are living in various regions of Canada. Canadians must clamour for changes to occur as quickly as possible because the social and economic environment is the responsibility of the federal government.

I like to think that love, hope and optimism are much easier to envisage and achieve, and that they carry hope for our future. I must pay tribute here to the man who inspired these lines, the late Mr. Jack Layton. I like to think that the future belongs to us and that it is in our hands. We, as elected decision makers in this democratic parliament, if there is anything left of it, are the bearers of this message of hope for our fellow Canadians.

I would therefore like to continue this debate and consider the notion of citizen's arrest, which is tolerated in most of the modern day world. It is worth exploring this notion before making any decision regarding this legislation which, as my colleagues have mentioned, the NDP is going to support.

The arrest of a citizen or a wrongdoer by a person who is not a law enforcement officer goes back to the medieval era in Great Britain. At that time, it was more common to seek justice for oneself because the state did not really concern itself with the safety of commoners, and protection of the public was reserved more for the upper classes, the elite.

This is also seen in some modern-day industrialized societies. With the industrialization of civilization and life increasingly organized around an economic society, governments have attempted to make our environment safe. Since the 20th century, in most countries that use common law, citizen's arrest is not only recognized as quite an exploit, it is written into law.

The first subsection of section 25 of the Criminal Code states:

25. (1) Every one who is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law

(a) as a private person,

What does “private person” mean? I would have liked a better definition of the word “private person” and “necessary force”. Will the use of firearms be authorized or condoned? I would have liked to see these terms better defined, especially when the emphasis is placed on citizen involvement, which is the very basis of this bill.

Clause 3 also amends subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code:

3. (1) Subsection 494(2) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(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.

The notion of “reasonable time” during which an arrest may be made is also problematic, in my opinion. This highly subjective and inevitably biased concept will require some time before it is suitably defined by the courts.

The notions of urgency, survival and a number of other important factors also have to be defined in order to examine what a "reasonable time" is.

The border also figures in cases in my riding. There are borders in Stanstead and in a number of other small communities, where people crossing the border illegally sometimes commit crimes against farmers. The farmers are always wondering what they can do about it. Most of the time, they leave them alone. However, on occasion the farmers have taken matters into their own hands and unfortunate things have happened. No one has died, but some farmers have ended up in terrible situations just the same.

If we leave it up to the judges to dictate the rules to be followed, it will mean that, once again, we as legislators have not performed our duties as we should have. This is a very sad state of affairs, and it has also become the reality in this 41st Parliament.

I acknowledge that the legislation in this particular area of crime must be improved, but should we be asking instead why we have to do this?

As I said, the social fabric of a society is extremely important, because it allows each and every one of us to develop and contribute to it. The belief that that we all can contribute to the country's development is invaluable. Many different types of crime can be overcome this way.

Taking the law into one's own hands inevitably means putting one's self in danger specifically in order to stop a crime, whether public or private. Many people think that interacting with the perpetrator or perpetrators of a crime is a challenge.

I am aware of the case of one man who really did take things into his own hands. The result was the appalling death of a young teenager: the man was chasing him, only wanting to catch him, and he just drove right over the teen. These are horrifying incidents. We do not want these situations to happen and we do not want to see, as is happening with our neighbours to the south, these deplorable actions committed by citizens in situations that supposedly involve self-defence. Earlier I asked my colleague to define "self-defence" and "we are protecting our country, our property, our lives".

We have to consider our culture of respect for the courts and legislation and our traditions of peaceful life in our communities, in order to fine-tune the legislation and to make it suitable for use in the field.

In conclusion, Canada has always been a great country to live in, and one where people are used to a peaceful life, a democratic society, a stable economy, a low crime rate and a sense of mutual support and compassion.

Although many of these aspects of our society are in jeopardy and a New Democratic government would quickly handle them, the Conservative government is doing nothing to change the socio-economic situation, especially in the regions. In some regions of Quebec there is no public safety. We have to think about the civil society we want to pass on to our children, because they are the ones who will have to make decisions about the future and accustom themselves to the kind of country we will be leaving to them.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the hon. member on his speech.

Since this debate began, we have seen that citizen's arrest must be an exception and that calling upon law enforcement must be a priority. In this regard, can my colleague comment on the importance of educating and informing the public and civil society in the event that this bill is passed?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. It is very important to inform the public when we correct laws, particularly when changes are made to the Criminal Code. This can be done through education, training and especially through the dissemination of information. This is extremely important because, as I said, from coast to coast to coast, people's lives could be in danger and could change as a result of the application of such a bill, particularly in light of the actions some people may take to protect their property. This is a very important aspect, which, unfortunately, is often overlooked by this government.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Denis Blanchette Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his passionate speech. I liked his speech for a number of reasons, including the fact that he talked about our responsibility as a parliament and as legislators. It is important to strike a balance between the judiciary and the legislature. We have seen responsibility sliding more and more towards the judiciary and away from legislators.

In addition to these very important considerations, I would like to know what parameters my colleague would like to see in rural communities so that this bill could be properly implemented in those areas, given that security is sometimes very different in rural and urban communities?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her excellent question. When we change a law, we have to be aware of its repercussions and implementation on the ground. In more rural, agricultural regions, where there are more self-employed workers and small and medium-sized businesses, and in resort areas, implementation can be quite different, particularly in Quebec.

I would like to focus on the situation in Quebec because the Sûreté du Québec was restructured a few years ago. A number of municipalities, including some in my riding, have met with me to say that it cannot even be implemented because the Sûreté du Québec is not even there. Even if an arrest were to happen within a reasonable period of time, it would not be possible because it would take the Sûreté du Québec half an hour, an hour or even an hour and a half to get there. What would happen to citizens making such an arrest?

Implementing such measures will be very difficult in some regions, not just in Quebec but across Canada. We might have to make sure that laws we pass in the future are clear enough for judges to do their job so that they do not have to come back to us and tell us to do our job.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

We have enough time for a quick question and a quick answer. The hon. member for Laval—Les Îles.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

François Pilon Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his fine speech.

Knowing that the Conservative Party has abolished the firearms registry, is my colleague not concerned that certain store owners might be tempted to keep a gun on their premises at all times, even if we vote in favour of this bill?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. That is always the NDP's concern. How are storekeepers and people who own small businesses and vacation spots supposed to protect their property? That question remains unanswered. There is no answer for that.

Nonetheless, there is a risk, especially when some people watch the news on TV and see that in the United States people use weapons to defend themselves without much regard for the consequences to others. Vigilante justice would be unpleasant and absolutely unacceptable.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I have listened to the debate over the last couple of hours, what I have found of most interest is the way in which members are conducting themselves, and the types of speeches we are hearing.

It has been interesting to compare Bill C-26 to another crime bill that the government had, Bill C-10. There is a significant difference. I would suggest that with this bill there is fairly widespread support. Support for this bill is not only here in the House of Commons. I would suggest that a vast majority of Canadians would be quite pleased to see not only the debate that is occurring but more importantly what Bill C-26 is proposing to do.

We can compare that to Bill C-10. All of the opposition parties were quite critical of the government. The government was not prepared to listen to the opposition parties. It was a very controversial debate. The government even had to bring in time allocation. If we reflect on what the public was thinking about Bill C-10, on the crime file, we will find that there was quite a difference of opinion and a different way of dealing with crime.

There was a philosophy talked about that was, in essence, taken from the Deep South of the U.S., a philosophy of building more prisons and putting people in jails, a policy that has not worked as opposed to a policy that favoured trying to prevent crimes from taking place.

I look at today's bill as a bill that ultimately will pass. The government will not need time allocation for Bill C-26. There is a sense of cooperation. There is a sense that this is indeed a bill that deserves passage. I suspect it is only a question of a couple more hours, a few more speakers, and we will see Bill C-26 pass.

Most Canadians believe that citizen's arrest is pretty straightforward and that they could do that today. In certain situations, yes, they could do that today. However, we have heard examples of just how much misunderstanding there is around that.

Let us look at the example of a citizen's arrest in a poor environment. An individual walks into a store, grabs some merchandise, then walks out. Halfway down the block, the thief is apprehended by the store owner or an employee of the store. The store owner or employee is putting himself or herself at risk of numerous charges. The way the system is set up, the store owner is in fact potentially going to be a double victim. He or she was victimized when the property was stolen from the business. There is a very strong likelihood that charges will be laid against the store owner or employee because in apprehending the thief a half-block away from the store, and not in the store, he or she could be charged with unlawful arrest.

However, one member explained earlier that if the individual was in the store when the citizen's arrest was made, that individual would be able to say that he or she had not left the store and intended to purchase the merchandise. There is a great deal of clarity needed on this issue.

This particular bill reminds me of a provincial bill passed a number of years ago in the Manitoba legislature. It was called the good Samaritan bill.

I was the seconder of the bill. It was a Liberal Party initiative by Liberal leader Jon Gerrard, something he had advocated for a number of years, and we were ultimately able to get it passed.

I say that because a lot of people would make the assumption that if there is a vehicle accident and a good Samaritan assists an individual involved in this emergency situation, by trying to help someone, that good Samaritan could be sued. That particular bill tried to provide clarity. Much like Bill C-26, which would provide clarity.

It does make some changes, much like the good Samaritan bill. Ultimately it reinforces the idea that politicians are listening to what the people are saying and living up to the public's expectations. I think we will find a great deal of support for Bill C-26. In good part, it just makes sense.

I would like to make reference to a few stories. In Winnipeg North, the area I represent, crime and feeling safe on our streets is likely the number one issue, very close to health care. People want to feel safe. People have a right to feel safe and secure in their communities, their streets and their homes.

Like many members of the House, while knocking on doors during election campaigns, quite often I would hear examples of a citizen who felt threatened. We hear on the news about an individual store owner who has tried to protect himself or herself or the merchandise.

I wanted to reflect on stories I have heard and which connected with me because of the manner in which they came about. One of them was from a woman who lived in a house around Arlington Street, one of the core areas of Winnipeg North. She indicated to me that when the sun goes down, she does not feel safe to leave her own home. She does not feel safe to open the door and go outside to her own yard. The way in which that woman expressed herself stuck with me.

When I was in a 55-plus seniors' block after a town hall meeting, a gentleman asked me if I had ever heard of the concept of walking around with two wallets. When I asked him to explain, he said that in case an individual were mugged, the individual would hand over one wallet, and the other wallet would contain his or her identification and money.

When I reflect on those two incidents, it highlights how important it is for me as an elected official to ensure that we do what we can to provide that very basic level of comfort for the citizens of Canada to feel safe in their own communities. I would like to think that people should feel comfortable enough, no matter what their age, to walk out of their homes, no matter at what time of the day. That is a feeling that many generations have experienced. It is a fundamental right we need to work toward.

Individuals should not have to feel that they are going to be mugged when they go for a walk down a commercial or residential street. That raises a flag for me. I take it on as an issue of great importance because we want to try to make a difference.

Two other stories come to mind. This is where public opinion comes in. People will say, “Yes, that's a wonderful story”. This one involves someone I know personally. He is now 70 years old. At the time of the incident he may have been 68 or 69. He was out for a walk in the community of Maples where he does quite a bit of walking. He was approached by two rather large individuals in their late 20s or early 30s. As they got closer, he could tell there was some sort of substance, drugs or alcohol, involved. They approached him very aggressively. They started to rush at him and he believed that he was going to be mugged. This wonderful gentleman grabbed the one individual and lifted his one leg to propel the other individual. I guess he squeezed too tight which caused the individual in his arms to pass out. Then he faced the other individual, who looked at him, saw the other guy on the ground, and turned around and took off. I have heard the gentleman tell that story on several occasions, one to one and in a mall. It made a lot of people feel good that we have a senior with the ability to protect himself.

Another story was in regard to a local store owner. This gets right to the bill itself. This store owner was robbed. She was asked to help out with some ice cream and as she bent over to pick it up, she was stabbed in the neck. Fortunately, it was not fatal. As they were youth, instead of trying to chase them, she knew who they were and she went to the local police. She was able to ensure that those individuals were arrested.

I talk about those latter two stories because we have to be able to use common sense. When we pass Bill C-26, an important part of that bill is the issue of being reasonable. We have to recognize that it is very dangerous, if we are conducting a citizen's arrest, to confront someone who has committed a criminal action. We do not know to what degree the individual is going to respond. I have had many discussions with law enforcement officers. They say that if we are being robbed we should surrender whatever it is that is being asked of us. By doing that, we are decreasing the likelihood of incurring personal harm.

I have had the opportunity to talk to individuals who have been robbed at knifepoint, when a knife was put to their throat. One individual was very candid. He was scared because he thought the individual who had the knife was completely losing it and was going to cut his throat because he did not know where he was and just wanted to see money. He could see panic and fear in the individual who was robbing him.

Fortunately, the criminal left the scene after the person handed over the money. However, this person had the common sense to evaluate, much like the lady who was robbed in the store. In all cases, people have to use common sense and not feel they have to be heroes in order to protect property. That is one of the concerns that we have with regard to this particular bill.

We passed the legislation and want people to feel comfortable in knowing that they can conduct citizen's arrests. I gave the example of the individual who leaves the store and halfway down the block the store owner catches up. This bill would enable that store owner to recover the property, conduct a citizen's arrest and not worry about being charged. That is a positive aspect of the bill.

The concern that many individuals have with this bill, whether it is members of the chamber or law enforcement officers, is that we are not trying to tell the citizens of Canada that this is something they have to do. What they have to do is use discretion. Police officers are well-trained individuals and know how to conduct an arrest. They can anticipate the type of reaction they are going to get if they make an arrest. For the most part, average people do not know what is going to happen if they approach someone and say, “You have taken merchandise from my store, and I want you to give it back” or if they attempt to conduct a citizen's arrest. They do not know if in fact the individual has a concealed weapon, for example, and how they would react to that. When a store is robbed or someone is assaulted, most people would like the victim not to be made a victim again by attempting to do something that maybe he or she should not do.

That said, when circumstances allow someone to conduct a citizen's arrest, whether it is because of a robbery or in defence of someone who is being attacked or something of that nature, it is most appropriate to have a law that protects that individual. It is important that we protect individuals' rights to defend themselves. To that degree, Bill C-26 provides clarity for our courts and judicial system so that when people are being threatened with bodily harm, they have to have the right to protect themselves with reasonable force. They have to have the right to protect themselves. This is where Bill C-26 has great value, because it provides clarity to our judicial system. It tells our courts that under certain circumstances a person has the right to protect himself or herself from bodily harm or to protect his or her property from being taken or damaged.

For the most part, that legislation has a common sense approach in dealing with these issues. Because of that, we see that it has the support of the public as a whole and of political parties, generally speaking. I understand there are some concerns, but for the most part I believe members will vote for the bill. The Liberal Party's position has been to support the bill.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Winnipeg North will have 10 minutes remaining for questions and comments when the House next returns to debate on the question.

National Victims of Crime Awareness Week
Statements By Members

April 24th, 2012 / 2 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the occasion of National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, we must remember that the priority must be the victims and, as Ms. O'Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, said so well, the time has come to shift the conversation so that the focus is no longer on the management of offenders, but rather on the direct problems faced by victims today.

Yet, after years of waiting, the Conservative government is making do with half measures to assist but a fraction of the families of victims of crime, and only as of January 2013. However, victim assistance groups want access to employment insurance benefits of up to $485 per week for one year for the families of both victims of crime and children who have committed suicide.

To the families of victims, I say: remain hopeful and know that the government's current proposal is but a start. One day, in Quebec, Quebeckers will be able to make all their own laws—the Criminal Code and employment insurance–to at last combat crime and help victims as we should.