House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was railway.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C–26. This is a rare event. For once, the Conservative Minister of Justice has introduced a balanced bill that is realistic and even includes a number of recommendations from the opposition parties. For once, we can be glad to have a bill before us that will probably receive unanimous support. The Bloc Québécois intends to support this bill.

The problem with the current legislation was also identified. Everyone gave the example of what occurred in 2009, in Toronto, when Mr. Chen, a store owner, arrested someone who had stolen from him. It became apparent that the law was problematic when charges were laid against the store owner.

In my opinion, what happened to Mr. Chen is not a frequent problem, but the situation really upset a lot of people, and with good reason. It was important to amend the legislation so that what happened to this store owner would not happen again.

The law already gives people the right to defend themselves and even to arrest somebody they catch committing an offence on or in relation to their property. Bill C-26 allows such arrests to be made within a reasonable time after the offence and even to extend this period of time. That is a big difference. In the case we have been talking about since the beginning of the debate, Mr. Chen made an arrest one hour after the offence had been committed. He noticed the thief when he came back to his shop one hour later. That takes the cake. A person would have to have some nerve. It makes perfect sense that the shop owner decided to catch and tie up the thief and call the police. He did what needed to be done.

Nevertheless, we have to ensure that we do not become a wild west society when it comes to protecting our property. That must always be considered, first and foremost, the job of police officers. It is possible to defend oneself and even to make an arrest without being charged as Mr. Chen was. The bill will correct this situation.

Fortunately, even though charges were laid against Mr. Chen, the judge did his job properly by finding that there were no grounds to charge him with anything. It could therefore be said that justice was done and that the individual was ultimately not charged with making an arbitrary arrest or breaking the law, even though the arrest was made one hour after the crime was committed.

The matter did not finish there, and that is a good thing. It was raised not only by the government, but also by the opposition parties, which introduced bills, made recommendations and acted to ensure the situation did not happen again. In my opinion, Bill C-26 corrects the injustice—and it can be called that—that occurred when charges were laid against a person who was ultimately only defending his property.

The right of self-defence is important, but we should not become vigilantes, and our streets should not become the wild west. By clarifying the law, we are solving a problem that perhaps did not arise frequently, although once is undoubtedly once too often. We are therefore in favour of this bill, although some questions still remain about the actual enforcement of the new provisions of the bill, particularly those respecting the time that may elapse between when the crime is committed and when citizens arrest the offender.

It is normal to allow citizens to protect themselves and their property, if they act in a reasonable manner without using excessive force. Ultimately, this is all a matter of self-defence. Far from promoting a society in which every individual takes justice into his own hands, the Bloc Québécois advocates a measured approach whereby citizens are entitled to defend themselves but are of course encouraged to call upon the police to protect them and to arrest criminals. We do not believe Bill C-26 runs counter to that principle.

As I said earlier, intervening or making an arrest ourselves must be a last resort, because our physical safety and that of those close to us may also be compromised if we decide to take justice into our own hands.

However, there are circumstances in which we have no choice and must absolutely ensure that the person who is attacking our family or our property is stopped. I do not always want to talk about things that happened to me, but when I was younger, three individuals broke into my parents' home. I was alone with my young girlfriend at the time—I believe we have all done that. I say young girlfriend, but I was young too. I was very much afraid at the time, not just for my physical safety, but for that of the person who was with me that evening.

I had a vague feeling that there was more than one person in the house because I could hear them walking and talking. I knew that alone, without a weapon of any sort, there could be a problem. Outnumbered, I could possibly lose a fight, if it came to that. Gripped with fear, I decided to take action. I did not necessarily intend to show myself, to try to confront these people, but I wanted at least to let them know that someone was home, that I was armed and that I would deal with them if they did not get out. I was not armed, but they did not take a chance and they ran away. That was how I handled the situation.

However, what would have happened if these people had looked all around the house? If I had remained silent, they would have ended up in my bedroom. Whether we like it or not, we are all afraid that the people who are with us will be attacked by these individuals. I could have become much more violent and I would have done anything to defend the person who was with me. It is quite normal to react that way. At the time, I also did not have access to a telephone; I could not call the police. I do not know if cell phones existed back then; in any case I did not have one at the time. I was a teenager. It obviously all depends on how you look at it and on the circumstances.

In that sense, there is nothing to suggest that the current legislation was applied inappropriately, as I was saying. Other than Mr. Chen's case, very few cases have been brought to our attention where self-defence came as a delayed reaction. The legislation advocated proceeding with an arrest or an intervention if the perpetrator is caught red-handed. In Mr. Chen's case we know that he reacted an hour later, but what about people who see the same thief who stole from them 24 hours later? I think the justice system needs to find a balance between what is reasonable and what is not, when it comes to how much time passes after the offence.

Let us not forget the case being used to justify this measure, namely that of the Toronto store owner who arrested a thief and then was charged with assault and forcible confinement. The store owner was acquitted, as I was saying earlier. The judge did his job. Nonetheless, Bill C-26 clarifies this situation.

I will not list all the changes in Bill C-26, but there are some important ones that we need to talk about here in this House. The bill completely changes the part of the Criminal Code on self-defence and protection of property. In fact, the bill amends sections 34 to 42 of the Code. Those sections are being replaced by what may be called a simpler system. That is not a bad thing. The bill also significantly amends the right of property owners to make a citizen's arrest under section 494 of the Criminal Code.

It seems to me that Bill C-26 no longer separates the various self-defence clauses according to the attitude of the person invoking self-defence, namely whether that person provoked the attack or whether it is a question of an attack against the person citing self-defence or a person under his or her responsibility. Everything has been combined under one section—section 34—which lays down a general rule that reads:

A person is not guilty of an offence if

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.

It was important to clarify this measure. These changes were and are adequate. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-26.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate my hon. colleague from Richmond—Arthabaska on his excellent speech.

Even though all opposition parties have indicated that they will support this bill, would my colleague not agree that certain points could have been improved? Does he think that the governing party will be open to discussion when this bill is being examined in committee?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Compton—Stanstead for his question.

Obviously, I cannot speak for the Conservative Party. The Conservatives are usually fairly uncompromising, not only in committee, but also here in the House. However, as I said, this bill is balanced. That being said, there is always room for improvement. My first question is about reasonable time. What is reasonable and what is not?

In Mr. Chen's case, it was an hour after the crime took place. In that case, his intervention was completely justified. But what if a person intervenes a week or two after the crime is committed? I know a person who went to the home of the person she believed had robbed her, but that is not the right thing to do. She could have put herself in physical danger and there could have been a fight. Instead, she should have called the police and reported that she suspected the person had robbed her. She should not have gone there herself.

People have to trust the justice system. Judges are capable of judging cases on their merits. As my colleague from Compton—Stanstead said earlier, things will have to proceed on a case-by-case basis to prevent people from playing private detective because they believe that the law will protect them if they intervene. Intervention must occur within a reasonable time. People should not step in for the police.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague’s speech on this bill.

We can certainly see that there have been similar situations in communities in every province. I wonder whether the member could say some more about the need for this bill. Does he agree that this bill makes the changes that are needed to improve what the law already says?

I am certain, from listening to his speech, that this bill was not proposed with the aim of encouraging people to defend themselves more often. It allows them to do so if it is necessary, but I firmly believe that this bill does not encourage people to take the law into their own hands.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question and comment.

In fact, the Bloc Québécois would not support this kind of bill if the aim were to have people become vigilantes and start running around the streets with weapons to arrest thieves. That is obviously not the case. This was necessary to remedy a flaw that became particularly apparent in 2009.

As I said, I had not heard about a lot of cases. This is not a bill that would necessarily have been brought forward if charges had not been laid against an honest store owner who decided to make an arrest himself. Fortunately, it went well. He arrested the person who had come back an hour later after already committing a theft in his store; he tied him up and he called the police. He did his job. But charges were laid against the store owner, and that is what was unjust.

Bill C-26 simply clarifies the reasonable time a person has for arresting someone. The fact that it happened an hour earlier does not mean that a person has to let a thief who has the gall to come back to their business get away with it. You do not know what they are going to do; you have reason to believe they are going to keep stealing or committing more serious crimes; and you do not know whether they are armed or not.

Therefore it was not proper to lay charges against that store owner, but that is what happened. By clarifying the situation, we will ensure that in future, charges will not be laid against people who are fully entitled to defend their property and their person.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I too am rising to speak to Bill C-26. The origin of the bill is the Lucky Moose case. A shopkeeper, believing that the same accused was continuing to shoplift in his shop and frustrated that he was not getting action in apprehending this person, chose to detain and essentially arrest and confine this person. The shop owner was arrested, charged and convicted. However, there was a lot of controversy around this case. It was appealed and the conviction was overturned. The court at the appeal level raised concerns with the current provisions in law specific to property protection. The court found the provisions inconsistent and meriting clarity.

I would like to congratulate the government and commend it for responding to the courts. It is a refreshing change. There have been a number of rulings by the courts where the government has snubbed the judiciary. One example is the case of the Wheat Board. In another example, in a series of cases, the Minister of the Environment has refused to exercise his authority properly to consider impacts to aboriginal peoples' lands and waters. I commend the government. It has listened to the courts and it is trying to move in the direction of improving the law.

This bill was triggered by the actions of my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina. Everyone in the House congratulates her in her initiative to bring forward a private member's bill in the last Parliament. The government is to be commended for responding to a private member's bill. One of the powers of all the members in this House is to bring forward activities in a private member's bill. Members may or may not have their bill go through the entire parliamentary process and have it accepted and adopted. However, by simply tabling a bill, members can signal to the government that this may be an action they want to pursue.

It is, however, important when we are making amendments to the Criminal Code that we avoid one-offs. There has been a propensity for one-offs by the current government, particularly in the area of public safety. Some members in the House have raised concerns as to whether the bill goes too far or not far enough and why the House has not accepted amendments brought forward by groups such as the Canadian Bar Association, representing our defence counsel, or the Elizabeth Fry Society. In some cases, the members of the committee and the House have considered these proposals for change. Some have been made and others not. We would hope that, if this law should pass and then go on to the Senate and pass and be law, the authorities that oversee this amendment to the Criminal Code, including the courts, the Canadian bar, defence counsel and prosecutors, parliamentarians and the committee, consider reviewing how this law is being applied in the field, whether it was a good idea to amend and whether it has gone far enough or should be reined in.

We sought amendments to improve the bill. We always try to take a proactive, constructive approach. Some of the amendments were accepted and some were not. I am advised we recommended a change to section 34 to additional criteria for consideration, whether the use of force was reasonable, to consider the state of mind or the circumstances perceived by the person, an example being the battered spouse syndrome. For example, if people have been continually battered they may perceive that they are going to be harmed seriously and react in a very serious way. That should be considered. Unfortunately, that amendment was not accepted.

I suggest that, while efforts have been made to clarify this law at the request of the courts and the public, it still remains highly subjective. As a lawyer, I always look to the law to see if we are providing clarity so people know what the law says and what their rights and obligations are, and so that the courts can make a fair ruling. One of the examples I would give is the proposal for amendment to subsection 494(3) regarding the use of force or detaining a person in the case of property being impacted, that the owners may arrest if they find the person is committing a criminal offence.

I would suggest that is a highly subjective matter. It may be very difficult for a shop owner or property owner to determine whether it is a simple trespass or whether it amounts to a criminal offence. These are the kinds of provisions that I think merit a closer look, and we will await what the determinations of the courts are.

The intent of the government is very sound. It wants to provide clarity around the reasonable actions that people can take to protect their persons or property, but, as we are hearing from members in the House, only so long as the intent is not to go in the direction that some laws have taken in the United States, those being the “stand your ground” and the “shoot first” laws. We have heard some concern in debate, particularly with respect to the use of force against others or as to what kind of action is reasonable when protecting one's property. Hopefully we are not going in the direction of “shoot first”.

It is very important that we put boundaries around citizen enforcement. Some entities, such as the police associations and in some cases the Canadian Bar Association, are raising concerns about greater citizen vigilantism and the potential for people to take the law into their own hands. I would suggest there is a need for training and guidance. Perhaps it could be provided through business associations, or perhaps police officers or members of the bench could come in and explain the boundaries of these provisions in cases where there have been repeat incidents of shopkeepers being robbed or attacked at gunpoint. A good example would be bank branches, where on some occasions, and certainly in my city, there have been repeat robberies at particular branches. That may be important.

When the government brings forward new laws, as a former environmental enforcer I like to encourage it to also table or bring forward new enforcement and compliance policies and strategies at the same time. If the public presumes that the law gives them greater powers to arrest and detain or perhaps use greater force when they feel they are being assaulted or their property is being impacted, we need to provide some guidance. Perhaps the committee could review this and make some recommendations to police forces and community associations.

I would like to commend my own city, Edmonton, for implementing a new program called REACH Edmonton. It recognizes that the police cannot be everywhere. There have been pleas from every municipality and from smaller centres across the country for more money from the federal government for policing. In the interim, because of this change in the law there may be more interventions involving people taking matters into their own hands.

It is very important that we stand back and assess who are committing these kinds of offences. If there are property offences or shoplifting, why these offenses occurring?

In my own riding, we have a number of centres struggling to get the funding to get kids who have been abandoned by their families off the street and give them a safe place to stay and a hot meal so that they do not shoplift, break and enter, and so forth. It is very important that our government give equal consideration to a strategy for public safety to prevent these kinds of circumstances, not just to after-the-fact actions. Therefore, I would encourage the Government of Canada to observe the new programs of the City of Edmonton and give due consideration to also providing assistance for the implementation of community crime prevention programs.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate the comments and the speech made by the member for Edmonton—Strathcona. She is not only very dedicated to her community, but I have worked with her on committee here and I am aware of how passionate she is when she takes something on.

It is important to recognize that legal experts testified with respect to this particular bill at committee and put comments forward. Unfortunately, the Conservative representatives did not see fit to make some of the other necessary amendments to the bill that would enhance it even more.

We will be supporting the bill. However, we would like to see some further amendments put forward in order to really substantiate the need for change appropriate to this century.

On that note, I wonder if my colleague could elaborate on why these changes should occur and how great it is to be able to update bills such as this one.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have had the great pleasure of working with the hon. member. If any member in the House deserves an order of merit, the hon. member deserves one for her dedication to her constituents. To elaborate on that would take far more than the response, and I will leave that to my colleagues who are the justice critics.

I would like to respond in a slightly different way. There was a case in Alberta that my fellow members of Parliament from Alberta will recall, a case that I think should cause us to reconsider the bill from another way around.

In the Lucky Moose case, the shop owner was eventually acquitted because he used reasonable force. In Alberta, a young woman was with a group of youth who were joyriding on a farmer's property, the famous Wiebo Ludwig property—Wiebo is now deceased— and it was the other way around: a gun was shot, and the young woman who was joyriding was killed.

We need to keep in mind that there are two sides to all of these cases and we need to make sure that people are only using reasonable force when they are protecting their property.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, in speech after speech in the House today, there is a thread of concern about whether or not we are opening the door for more vigilante violence, or at least for an escalation in the type of violence used to try to detain people. From the standpoint of the courts, a law is often subjective as opposed to prescriptive as to what would happen.

Does the hon. member see shortcomings in this particular bill in that area?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I had mentioned that the bill still contains very subjective language.

The particular provision that stood out to me relates a person who finds somebody committing a criminal offence. In the area of environmental law, we could actually file a complaint to the government if we believed on reasonable grounds that somebody was violating an environmental law. Simply filing a request to the government to investigate is a far less serious action than allowing people to intervene. I have some concern about whether people really understand what the boundaries are for what people can do to them and what they can do in response.

I think it would be very important to monitor the applications of this law, how people respond to it and what kind of cases come before the courts.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we move forward on the bill, it is again important to reiterate that part of the bill is an NDP initiative by the member for Trinity—Spadina, who brought forward David Chen's story.

I greatly appreciate the comments that the member for Edmonton—Strathcona put forward. I am sure she will be very glad to elaborate on the fact that this bill would not encourage people to out for vigilante purposes, nor will we see an increase of people being charged for protecting their rights. It is just to protect the rights of those people when circumstances like this happen.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

May 1st, 2012 / 12:10 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

We have heard from some of the members in the House, Mr. Speaker, particularly from those with ridings in large cities where there may be a variety of youth and people of different racial backgrounds. There may be some level of prejudice there. We have to take care that suspicions against certain groups of people do not go to the extent that people use vigilantism.

I would like to just share with the House an expression after the Trayvon Martin case: somebody in California has said they were shocked to learn a private citizen in Florida could essentially serve as cop, judge and jury and impose the death penalty on a fellow citizen. We have to be careful that we are not transferring over to our citizens the power of arrest and detention and the determination of whether somebody is committing a criminal offence.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is the House ready for the question?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?