House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was inequality.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the member for Toronto—Danforth to the House and congratulate him on his new portfolio as deputy critic for justice. This is the quality of debate and the type of thoughtful, reasonable and well-researched remarks that we can expect from this member after just a few short weeks. I cannot wait to see what he will be capable of in a year or two.

I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak on Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons. In reality, the heart of this bill came from the New Democratic Party, specifically from the member for Trinity—Spadina. We need to pay tribute to her work because she put in place many of the aspects of the legislation before us.

I would also like to note that it is nice to see that for once the Conservatives are willing to accept a good idea from the opposition. I certainly wish the Conservatives would adopt more of our good ideas. If they had, of course, there would be not be 90,000 more unemployed families. If the Conservatives had taken our advice, we would not have the highest debt load of Canadian families in history. If they had taken our suggestions and listened to the NDP, then we would not have seen a real wage reduction of 2%.

Going back to the bill, it has its origins in the attention brought to a citizen's arrest two years ago at the Lucky Moose Food Mart in downtown Toronto, as many members have already stated. The owner of this store was a persistent victim of shoplifting. A shoplifter who was seen in his store walking away with some property apparently came back an hour or so later. Based on his experience in trying to get the police to respond to shoplifting events in the store, the owner felt that the only way to actually have this fellow charged was to apprehend him himself. As a result, the owner was charged with assaulting the individual and forcible confinement. This case caused a lot of controversy, some of which had to do with whether policing was sufficient in the area.

We know that in larger establishments like chain supermarkets and retail stores there are often paid security services. They have the resources to better protect themselves. These paid security services have training in apprehending people and are more familiar with the Criminal Code than the average citizen. They, in effect, perform a citizen's arrest based on seeing someone commit a shoplifting offence. They phone the police and hold the shoplifter until the police come, which is what Mr. Chen did. However, what was different in this case is that the individual had left the store and then came back. When he came back he was not in the act of committing an offence at that time. As a result, Mr. Chen, the owner of the store, was not inside the current provisions of section 494 of the Criminal Code that says a citizen may arrest someone who is found committing an indictable offence or personally believes on reasonable grounds that a criminal offence had been committed, the perpetrator is escaping from it and is freshly pursued.

Section 494 states specifically that, “A person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.”

There is also a provision that says, “Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer.”

The normal process for shoplifting is that the store detective, store owner or the private security officer can apprehend individuals, phone the police, turn them over and let the police handle it from there. In this case, because the arrest took place over an hour later on a return visit, the owner did not have any basis under section 494 to arrest the individual, which is, of course, why we are standing here today debating this bill.

The bill originally came forward as a private member's bill introduced by our colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina. I think she may have even called it the “Lucky Moose Bill” in honour of Mr. Chen. It has received widespread support from all sides of the House with perhaps one notable exception. Many people who are in the position of lawmaker are very concerned about passing laws that would encourage a vigilante type of justice. This is why it is such a touchy area.

As has been pointed out by many of my colleagues, we have highly trained police forces operating across the country. We have a national police force, provincial police forces in Ontario and Quebec, as well as local police forces and community policing. We are incredibly proud of these men and women who serve Canadians on a daily basis. As well, in the area where Mr. Chen's supermarket is located in Chinatown, police patrol on foot. These are the people we need to rely on. On the other hand, not every store owner has access to security guards or store detectives, and certainly the police are unable to be everywhere at once.

The concern here is for people trying to run a business. In this case, Mr. Chen was trying to run a business and protect his property. Most people would think that he acted reasonably and detained the individual without using excessive force. However, it was still under the current provisions for forcible confinement that Mr. Chen was charged. If one uses force to confine someone and prevent that person from leaving, that is an offence.

However, the citizen's arrest provision provides a defence for forcible confinement by changing it to an arrest, provided the arrest is made within a reasonable period of time.

If the individual who is committing the offence is known, one would be able to simply phone the police to tell them what the individual has done and that they have done this before, in this case, taking something and leaving. In this instance, Mr. Chen did not know the name and address where this individual could be found and unfortunately felt the necessity to take action. An individual should not be chased because of the danger involved, and the police should be called. However, as I have stated, in a case where an individual is not known, the only way to apprehend an offending stranger is to take advantage of the opportunity.

We support this aspect of the bill wholeheartedly. It takes a minimalist approach by making changes to section 494. What I mean by “minimalist” is that it changes only what is required according to the circumstances in which Mr. Chen found himself.

There have to be two conditions: one must witness the offence, and the arrest must be made at the time of the offence or within a reasonable time after the offence is committed; and, one must believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible under the circumstances for a peace officer to make an arrest.

We could say that when the individual came back into the store, instead of arresting him perhaps the police should have been called right away. However, in Mr. Chen's experience the police often did not come fast enough in these kinds of situations and he thought that this individual would be gone again.

If these changes had already been in place, Mr. Chen would have had his defence, as it would have fit these circumstances. As legislators, we should not make laws every time something unusual happens and we must be very careful in making changes to the Criminal Code. However, when a flaw is pointed out in the law due to an unusual event and injustice can be seen, then a reasonable legislature should take action. We support that wholeheartedly.

I have had several instances in my personal life where I have come close to this kind of situation while travelling on public transit in Toronto. I have taken the TTC on a daily basis for many years and have encountered all kinds of unusual situations. I witnessed an assault on a 13-year old in the subway by 17-year old students, and I witnessed a TTC patron spitting on a TTC operator. In each of these situations, the assailants fled. Being a little out of my mind with anger, I did pursue them. However, during that pursuit, I was lucky enough to locate peace officers who were then able to make the arrests so that I did not run afoul of the law in some way and end up in trouble myself.

This bill is important because it ensures that individuals like Mr. Chen, who are protecting their person and property, are able to do so within the law. To be able to defend oneself within the law is incredibly important. That is why over many years there have been all kinds of changes made to the Criminal Code, and we certainly have to do so diligently.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear the test of reasonableness in my colleague's speech today, which is suggested by the legislation itself, the reasonableness of a judge who has had legal experience and legal education, and has seen these cases many times before.

Does he have a problem with the government suggesting that judges should use their discretion to determine what is reasonable in the circumstances? If so, why does he have a problem with judges deciding that? If he opposes the legislation, the very crux of the issue is the reasonableness of the judges and the interpretation of the law by them, and what is reasonable in the circumstances based on that citizen.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the member was listening. Nowhere did I say I was opposed to the legislation. In fact, we are supporting it.

What is absolutely surprising to me is to hear the member from his side of the floor, the Conservatives, now saying that judges should be able to apply their judgment. Time and time again we have seen the government attempt to make changes to actually take that discretion out of judges' hands with mandatory minimum sentences. That is the kind of thing that takes the law out of the hands of the experts and the people who should be applying sentences, who should be taking into account the circumstances of offences, criminal history, behaviour of individuals and reasonableness of the judgments being made.

This is the government that is taking that discretion out of judges' hands. I think it is a little hypocritical to hear the member make that kind of statement now.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party critic talked about how we support the bill in principle. There is fairly widespread support in the House. Most Canadians see the value of passing the bill.

In previous questions I have asked about the need for an educational component for certain sectors, in particular the retail or the commercial areas, to make sure people are aware of what citizen's arrest really entails. Would the member comment on what he feels is important in an educational component on citizen's arrest?

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, we as a society can do a better job of educating the public on a whole raft of different issues, not just citizen's arrest, but preventive health, tax code or a number of situations.

However, I would like to turn it back to the member and ask, if the Liberals feel that the bill is lacking in this kind of way, have they proposed, or will they be proposing, amendments to insert such language into the legislation?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to ask a question. Earlier, one of our colleagues said that she suspects the NDP cannot stand up for victims. My colleague's speech, which I just listened to, gave a fine example of how all parties can work together to come up with measures that will truly help victims.

We are not talking about victims' revenge; we are talking about real tools to help people defend themselves. I would like my colleague to comment on that a little.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

It certainly shows the kind of results we can achieve when the parties work together. If we work together, we will have better laws. When the members opposite accuse us of all kinds of rather silly things, when the Minister of Justice, or the Minister of Public Safety, say things like “you are either with us or with the criminals”, it does not help us do our job. Furthermore, such comments have no place here in the House.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to speak once again to Bill C-26.

It now appears that the bill is being framed as sort of the victims versus the offenders by the other side. I would like to clarify our party's position on victims versus offenders.

The bill came from our party in the first place through the member for Trinity—Spadina. It was an attempt to turn an offender who was really a victim away from being an offender. How does that work? It is where someone who was a victim of a crime, attempted to arrest or stop a person who committed a crime and he became an offender, according to the police, because he had unreasonably detained someone.

This bill is all about that. It is to try to regain the balance between victims and offenders. The bill is now one of the very few in this Parliament to have had actual agreement on amendments at committee. Many bills have gone through committee that have had zero amendments approved by the other side.

That leads me to comparisons between this bill and other bills which have created victims, by the other side, and in which the amendments we have proposed have been outright rejected. I am of course referring to Bill C-31, which has elements of this bill in it all over the place. People who flee countries, where those people are victims of crime or who have their own personal well-being threatened, to come to a safe country are themselves victims. They are the victims of crime in those countries. They are the victims of persecution. They are victims in any imagined sense of the word.

However, if these people arrive here by the wrong method, they immediately become an offender, according to the government. If they are victims of human smuggling, they are imprisoned and are considered to be offenders.

We need to turn those things around. This is a situation that cannot be allowed to stand. Unfortunately the votes on Monday meant that those bills are now off to the Senate and perhaps they will become law.

We have a situation where the other side is accusing this side of being soft on offenders and hard on victims, and the exact opposite is true. The government has determined that people who are victims will be made offenders. The immigration bill is but one example.

That is an example of a bill where the parties actually did work together. The previous Parliament actually passed a bill that was praised and lauded, that struck a balance between people being victims and being offenders.

However, now we have a government that is insistent on its ideologically driven anti-immigrant agenda that will now treat potential immigrants who come here by magic, because they found a way to get here when they were unable to get here any other way, as criminals.

In addition, those individuals who did everything right, who acted in accordance with the law, who applied to come to Canada years and years ago are now going to be treated as criminals because they are having their money given back to them and are being told “Sorry, we did not get to your application 10 years ago, and we are never going to get to it. You have to apply again”. Those people are being made into victims by the government. We are treating people horrendously.

I also want to talk about how this bill has a possibility of creating a vigilante system. We will support it, but I want to be very clear that we do not support anything which takes Canada further into the sort of American mentality of “shoot first and ask questions later”. We do not agree with that kind of mentality.

I was in a high school in my riding last week. In that high school was a bunch of Grade 10 students. They were 13 to 15 years old. I asked them how many of them owned an illegal handgun or knew someone who owned one. Half the class put up its hand, and that is not unusual. When I asked them why all these handguns, their immediate answer was for self-defence, that they had to defend themselves against others in their communities who had handguns.

What is the government doing about the proliferation of handguns that I find in my riding? There was a drive-by shooting last night and someone was shot just last week in the same neighbourhood by illegal handguns that have arrived in my riding.

What is the government doing about the proliferation of weapons of destruction, of killing? It is removing border protections. It is laying off border services people. It is cutting the number of sniffer dogs that might stop these guns from coming into the country in the first place.

The Conservatives have decided it is better to have guns come in and to--

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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4:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been listening to the member talk on Bill C-26, which is about citizen's arrest, and he has been meandering all over the place, covering all sorts of different legislations and bills with which we were dealing. He talked about Bill C-31, which would improve the refugee act. Now he is talking about illegal handguns and border services. He is absolutely not talking about the subject at hand, Bill C-26, which would enhance citizens' protection.

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4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. member for his intervention. It is true that the members are encouraged to ensure their comments are pertinent to the question before the House. Members will also know they are given a great deal of freedom to explore different ideas and eventually bring them back on the subject. I am sure the hon. member for York South—Weston was getting to the point.

The hon. member for York South—Weston.

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4:55 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought I did mention the point. The point is we do not want this bill to become a further direction. We do not want it to take us further toward a “shoot first, ask questions later” situation. Part of the bill is about self-defence and the definition thereof. I was trying to point out that I already had a situation in my riding where many young people believed that owning a firearm was a matter of self-defence. They believed they had the right to own firearms. I am sure we have heard some members opposite talk about that right. There is no such a right, but members opposite have said that.

Now these children, having heard this, believe it is their right to have a firearm to defend themselves. Part of the bill is about changing the definition of “self-defence”. It is in the news. It is something we cannot avoid. We are now facing this explosion of very young individuals who believe they need to own handguns. They get it by illegal means, I will grant that, because it is not legal.

However, I was astonished, as I think the members opposite should be, to discover that half of the 13 to 15 year olds in that classroom had handguns or knew somebody who did. This is an astounding number of individuals of that age group.

Those same people are now being made victims, and that is part of where this is coming from. The bill starts with the premise that the person who is being robbed is a victim and should not be the offender. What we are trying to establish, and what I am trying to point out to the government, is that many of the bills it has brought forward in fact create victims of people who do not need to be made victims. We are trying to protect victims.

One of the things we are doing is trying to help pass this law, which would actually protect victims. However, there are other laws that have come to us that would make victims out of ordinary law-abiding people, and we are opposed to that.

It was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance who brought us to that portion about victims versus offenders in the discussions on the bill.

What we hope to do with this law should not become something more than it is. We hope to allow individuals to protect their personal property and to hold somebody, but we do not want to create a system of vigilante justice where individuals believe they have the right to use firearms on other individuals.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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5 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is new to this place, but he asked a very important question. He asked how he could solve the problem in his riding. I have a proposal for him.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act brought in tougher sentences for organized drug crimes and mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders. It increased penalties for sexual offences against children and ended house arrest for serious crimes. We have the opportunity to put people in jail for committing serious crimes for a certain amount of time, keeping them off the streets and keeping citizens safe. Instead of voting against that and opposing our legislation to keep serious criminals in jail, New Democrats should support it. This is how to do that. It takes years to do it and he has the opportunity to support our legislation and keep criminals in jail where they belong.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am really glad the member opposite raised that issue. I asked the same high school students if they were afraid of being incarcerated with mandatory minimums for the possession of firearms and other crimes. The answer I got was what I expected. They do not read the law before they commit crimes. They do not determine, as somebody has suggested, that there is a mandatory minimum for growing six pot plants, which they were all surprised to learn. That is not how the criminal system works in Canada. The criminal system works because of desperate people doing desperate things or people who feel they have to defend themselves and do desperate things. That is not the kind of Canada we want.

If the member opposite suggests the law that creates mandatory minimums will somehow reduce the number of victims of crime in our country, he is very much mistaken.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member touched on an important issue regarding guns and weapons in schools. I used to be an education critic in the province of Manitoba. Most schools have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to weapons in schools. After all, our youth should have a sense of safety when they are in their schools, knowing there will not be knives and guns found in lockers. I was surprised at the degree of availability or general knowledge of illegal handguns.

Could he expand a bit on that point? Does he feel that type of weaponry is actually on school premises? Does he feel there should be a zero tolerance on weaponry in schools?

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5 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I absolutely believe there should be a zero tolerance for weapons in schools. That goes without saying. I am not suggesting that these individuals are bringing firearms to school. I am suggesting that there is a proliferation of firearms of which parliamentarians should be aware. Certainly, in lower-income ridings, such as mine, poverty and desperation take us to a whole different level. We also have a situation in which illegal firearms come into our country through a very porous border and we should not support a government that wants to reduce the protections at the border and make it easier for firearms to get in.