Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure this afternoon to take part, on behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party, in the debate at the third reading stage of Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code.
The bill would establish a more serious offence for placing or knowingly permitting to remain in place a trap, a device or other thing that are likely to cause death or bodily harm to a person. It would also permit the use of as much force as is necessary aboard an aircraft to prevent the commission of an offence that would seriously harm those onboard or the aircraft. It would also make a number of other amendments to the code.
The Progressive Conservative Party supports Bill C-32, legislation that is long overdue. However, like all legislation, there are shortcomings to this bill as well.
I would like to begin by commending the International Association of Fire Fighters for the work it has done in pushing the Liberal government to implement much needed changes in the Criminal Code regarding this matter. In Canada they are over 17,000 members strong, and we cannot say about the work they do.
Those on the frontline need the support of government, and positive changes to the Criminal Code would send a strong message to those who would willingly or unwittingly endanger the lives of these brave men and women.
In fact I would like to take time to applaud the firefighters and the emergency service workers in my own riding of Dauphin—Swan River. I know the majority of these individuals, probably 95%, are all volunteers. If it were not for the volunteer firefighters, there is no doubt that communities across the country would certainly be at risk.
Let me preface my remarks by saying there is no property in good ideas and strong legislation that can act as a deterrent in crimes of this nature is long overdue.
I am reminded of a private member's bill introduced last October by the member for Nepean—Carleton. His bill seeks to give greater protection to firefighters by creating two new offences of aggravated assault and first degree murder when the victim is a firefighter acting in the course of his or her duties. It fits nicely with what the current Minister of Justice is trying to achieve with this legislation.
On a daily basis, Canadian firefighters put their lives at risk to save our lives. It is important that we recognize the sacrifice they are willing to make on our behalf. I am sure that statement is supported by all Canadians across this great land.
Let me make some comments on the trap and criminal offences provision of this bill. Currently, section 247 of the Criminal Code provides that:
Every one who, with intent to cause death or bodily harm to persons, whether ascertained or not, sets or places or causes to be set or placed a trap, device or other thing whatever that is likely to cause death or bodily harm to persons is guilty of an indictable offence...
Persons convicted of placing traps are liable to a maximum prison term of five years.
Now this offence applies also to people who occupy or own a place and knowingly permit the placement of such a device.
Although clause 6 of the bill retains this provision, it creates two new criminal offences to curb this dangerous practice. The government wants harsher sentences for those setting traps, causing bodily harm or death.
Accordingly, everyone who commits an offence under the existing section 247 and causes bodily harm to a firefighter or a police officer is liable to up to 10 years in prison. Should this offence cause death, a first degree murder penalty of life could apply.
To ensure better protection for firefighters or police required to enter premises used in the production of cannabis, or marijuana for example, Bill C-32 provides that everyone who commits an offence, as provided in section 247, in a place kept for the purpose of committing another indictable offence is liable to imprisonment of 10 years. If the device causes bodily harm or death, the sentence is 14 years in prison, in the case of the former or life, in the case of the later.
I should also mention that subclause 7(2) of Bill C-38, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, establishes a series of factors that the court is to take into consideration when sentencing in a matter involving the product of cannabis plants.
Courts will have to consider the fact that a person accused of such an offence had placed--in or near the place the offence occurred-- traps likely to cause bodily harm or death. When this fact is proven, the court is to choose the prison term provided by the law. Should it decide otherwise, reasons must be provided.
This point is very important. The House is currently undertaking the study of Bill C-38 which is the decriminalization of marijuana. I have previously said in the House that the government is sending the wrong message in terms of the use of marijuana in this country.
There is no doubt that if Bill C-38 were to pass, and I do not think Bill C-38 will see the light of day, it would increase the demand for the product. As a result, we will have increased grow operations across the country which will put extra pressure on the police forces the dollars that they spend.
Currently, we spend over half a billion dollars a year on the supply reduction side by federal police forces and agencies. We sometimes wonder if this is money well spent if on the other hand we are going to pass a bill which will promote the use of marijuana and increase its market demands.
I will now return to Bill C-32. The main portion of the bill, as I indicated, would amend the Criminal Code by creating a new offence targeting those who would set traps in a place used for a criminal purpose. Currently, under section 247 of the Criminal Code, the offence of setting a trap in any place carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.
The new offence raises the bar providing for significantly more stringent penalties. Proposed subsection 247(2) states:
Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes bodily harm to any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
If someone should commit an offence under proposed section 247 that causes injury, the penalty would increase to a maximum of 14 years and if that offence causes death, the offender could receive a sentence of life imprisonment.
This legislation is aimed directly at illegal drug operations which pose a myriad of dangers to firefighters. Many of these illegal drug operations are rigged with hidden devices, such as crossbows and explosives, designed to kill or maim anyone who interferes with the operation. Other dangers include: illegal electrical wiring which poses the additional risk of fire, electrical doorknobs and cutaway floorboards.
It should also be recognized that all too often these illegal residential grow operations put at risk the lives of those in a community when the fire spreads from one house to another. Innocent families can lose their homes, their valuables, and even their lives when criminals rig the wiring in their homes. Anything we can do as legislators to put a stop to this criminal behaviour is a step in the right direction.
These types of incidents are not new to those on the front line. They have occurred in the past. For example, there are multiple cases of Canadian firefighters who have been injured and nearly killed while responding to illegal drug operations. A British Columbia firefighter received a severe electrical shock while responding to a blaze. In Brampton, Ontario, a firefighter's life was at risk when he fell through the floorboards that had been cut away.
The International Association of Fire Fighters has pushed for this legislation. I am encouraged to see the government finally recognizing the contribution members of the IAFF play in the daily lives of Canadians.
It is important that we recognize the dangers Canada's firefighters face as a result of illegal drug operations. As I noted earlier, this legislation would amend the Criminal Code by adding provisions to the existing section of the Criminal Code that deal with setting a trap. The legislation would add provisions for setting a trap used in a place kept for a criminal purpose, that is likely to cause bodily harm, with a 10 year maximum prison sentence.
If a trap used in a criminal enterprise such as a drug operation causes bodily harm, the legislation would call for a 14 year maximum sentence and life imprisonment if a trap causes death.
Front line firefighters must be protected from this growing danger. The nature of these criminal activities creates a risk of fire with volatile chemicals used in drug labs and electrical power stolen through unsafe meter bypasses. If firefighters and police officers are put at risk, injured or killed by traps set to defend these criminal enterprises from law enforcement or rival gangs, those who set the traps must feel the full weight of the law.
In another case earlier this year, Oshawa firefighters had to back away from a residential fire when they discovered that it was an illegal drug lab loaded with dangerous chemicals. The home was allowed to burn.
While the problem has been most serious in British Columbia and Ontario, illegal drug operations are found in all parts of Canada and pose a growing threat to firefighters in every province. As we heard from our last speaker, the member from the Bloc talked about the illegal grow operations in Quebec and the danger they present to citizens in that province.
We should be cognizant of the fact that a large portion of firefighters in Canada are volunteer firefighters who give up their spare time on weekday evenings and weekends to volunteer in their communities and to take courses which ultimately help them protect our property and lives. They are the ones who are spread throughout Canada in all the little towns, hamlets, small communities and small cities that cannot afford to have a full time professional firefighting staff.
Amendments to the Criminal Code of this sort are long overdue. I would encourage the government to take a closer look at other initiatives brought forth by the International Association of Fire Fighters.
A $500,000 annual investment, a fraction of the cost of the Prime Minister's luxury jets, would give firefighters access to hazardous materials training. Currently, military reaction is hours, if not days, away. Firefighters are on the scene in minutes. Training is necessary for their protection and ours.
Liberal cuts to ports policing, the Coast Guard and the military put at risk the safety and security of Canadians. The real threat of bioterrorism, delays in response time and inability to board planes could cost lives. On these and other important issues the government pays lip service. What firefighters need to do their job is action and resources. The lives of our firefighters, and those who they so selflessly serve and protect, deserve no less.
The government also needs to listen to the IAFF when it talks of support in the area of pensions and compensation for those who have been injured in the line of duty.
The minister said he was happy to see that his government was finally addressing the important issue of setting deadly traps. He told us the number of deaths and injuries sustained by firefighters continues to rise in Canada. That is a true tragedy when these events occur.
Using statistics, he noted there were 13,724 arson fires in Canada last year and 30% of the fires in his own riding were a result of arson. He acknowledged that firefighting is four times as hazardous as any other occupation. It is a job that commands the highest public trust and respect, more than any other profession.
In fact, a poll released by the Canadian Press and Léger Marketing in February of this year showed that 96% of Canadians trust firefighters, the highest level of trust among 20 occupations included in the survey. Need I say what the numbers were for politicians? I think we already know the answer.
It is time that the minister and the government truly recognized the sacrifice made by those on the front lines in substantial ways. Firefighters, professionals and volunteers need the support of the federal government in the area of pensions, and compensation for spouses and children.
The Liberals should act today and begin a process of establishing a national public safety officer compensation fund. I hope they do not follow the lead they have already started with the way they are dealing with widows of veterans in this country.
The argument that the majority of firefighters are employed municipally and therefore are not the responsibility of the federal government is hollow, and one I do not believe sits well with Canadians. Canadians know how valuable all firefighters, including volunteers, are to their safety.
As the IAFF has stated on a number of occasions, the Canadian government continues to avoid addressing the need for the establishment of a national compensation fund. Families of the nation's firefighters stand to endure financial hardship in addition to the grief of losing a loved one.
I have been in the House since 1997. We continue to receive lobbies from firefighters annually for compensation for the loss of loved ones. In fact, I asked the parliamentary secretary this past week about doing the right thing for the firefighter community, which means establishing a national public safety officer compensation fund. The government could certainly lead the way by doing exactly that.
It is time for the federal government to stop using jurisdictional arguments and implement a national public safety officer compensation fund to benefit the families of Canadian firefighters killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.
In my remaining time I would like to make a couple of comments about weapons and firearms searches as the bill has an impact and does make some changes.
Under section 117.04 of the Criminal Code, a justice may issue a warrant authorizing the seizure of weapons or explosives if there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is unsafe for a person to possess such items.
In Regina v. Hurrell on July 19, 2002, the Ontario Court of Appeal found the procedure unconstitutional since it required neither a police officer to have reasonable grounds to believe it likely that weapons would be found on a person or in a premises to be searched, nor the justice issuing a warrant to accept the reasons of the peace officer making the request.
Justice Moldaver wrote:
These gaps, in my view, are serious because in its present form, s. 117.04(1) allows for sweeping searches of persons and private premises in circumstances where the police may have no reason to suspect, let alone believe, that the person of concern has any weapons or other dangerous items in his or her possession.
This provision contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which protects Canadians from unreasonable search or seizure.
To not impede the work of the police and to ensure society's protection against the risks involved in the use of weapons and explosives, the court suspended the application of the decision for six months to enable Parliament to bring the provision into conformity with the principles of the charter.
Clause 3 of Bill C-32 aims to correct the significant shortcomings identified by the Ontario Court of Appeal. A justice wishing to issue a search warrant will now have to be satisfied by information given under oath by a peace officer that there are reasonable grounds to believe a person possesses a weapon or explosives in a house, building or other location identified by the forces of order.
In closing, the PC Party will support the bill.