Mr. Speaker, I applaud the opportunity to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-269, which of course will be sent to the committee. This is an act to amend the Criminal Code in regard to firefighters. It was initially introduced as Bill C-419 in the last session. The stated purpose of Bill C-269 is to amend the Criminal Code and 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.
I wish to congratulate the member for Nepean--Carleton for bringing forward this issue as a private member's bill. The protection of firefighters is an issue that has also been high on my agenda. As I mentioned, two years ago I introduced a motion in the House which called upon the government to take a tough stand in regard to those responsible for firefighters killed in the line of duty. Motion No. 376 read:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend Section 231(4) of the Criminal Code to expand the definition of first-degree murder to include the death of a firefighter acting in the line of duty and amend Section 433 of the Criminal Code dealing with the crime of arson by adding language that addresses the death or injury of a firefighter engaged in combating a fire or explosion that is deliberately set.
Although we went about it in a slightly different manner, both the member for Nepean--Carleton and I have sought changes to the Criminal Code that would have a similar effect, but as I said in the question, and I am not talking about the hon. member for Nepean--Carleton, I would like to reiterate that the Liberals generally oppose any good idea coming from the official opposition. They criticize it and sometimes even ridicule an idea, but then they steal the ideas of the official opposition. The Liberal government has stolen many ideas from the official opposition, as hon. members know.
Let me give another example. The Liberals defeated my motion calling for legislation to recognize foreign academic credentials. They opposed it, but then they stole the idea and put it into their next Speech from the Throne. I always say that we in the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition of Canada, carry the flashlight to show the Liberals their darkness.
I took up the cause of firefighter protection at the urging of the Surrey Firefighters Association, which has been lobbying to change the law since 1995. There were about 14,000 arson fires in Canada last year. I was alarmed to learn that over one-third of the fires in Surrey are the result of arson and a very high percentage of them contain booby traps. It is very disturbing.
The Surrey Firefighters Association president, Mr. Lorne West, moved the issue of Criminal Code protection for firefighters on behalf of his 350 members. He took it from being a local Surrey issue to the national stage by raising the matter with the International Association of Fire Fighters. Later, the International Association of Fire Fighters, along with the Surrey Firefighters Association and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, went on to warmly endorse my motion. They sent letters in support of my motion.
Firefighters want to classify as first degree murder the act of an arsonist whose mischief leads to the death of a firefighter. As well, they want every person who intentionally or recklessly causes damage to property by fire or explosion, whether or not that person owns the property, to be guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life where the fire or explosion causes bodily harm to a firefighter acting in the line of duty. They request life imprisonment as a minimum penalty.
As public safety officers who risk their lives in the course of protecting the lives and property of the public, firefighters are deserving of specific protection and measures under the law that will reduce the incidence of exposure to situations that could cause serious injury or death.
Firefighters, who command the highest trust of any professionals, face an on the job mortality and injury rate four times higher than that of other occupations but they should never have to accept criminal acts that are intended to injure or kill them.
No one would say that a firefighter's life is worth less than a police officer's, but that is precisely what our Criminal Code says. When police or firefighters are called to enter drug labs or illegal marijuana grow operations, firefighters go in first. Firefighters are our first line of defence but they are not afforded the same Criminal Code protection as our law enforcement officers. Regrettably, too often fires are deliberately set, often with the sinister intention of covering up illegal activities like marijuana grow operations or methamphetamine labs.
At other times, firefighters respond to calls only to find the premises booby trapped with crossbows, propane canisters ready to explode, cut away floor boards, or other intentional hazards. These malicious devices are intended to kill or injure anyone who interferes with a drug operation, including firefighters.
Firefighters in Surrey are especially at risk considering the increasing number of marijuana grow operations that plague the city. An RCMP report recently announced that there are 4,500 marijuana grow operations in the city of Surrey. That represents about 6% of the households. In a cul-de-sac, 9 out of 12 new homes have been linked to the illegal marijuana growing trade. But this Liberal government has done nothing to control the illegal marijuana grow operations except to talk about decriminalizing its simple possession.
Eight U.S. states have already moved to protect their firefighters under criminal law. Since no one would say that a Canadian firefighter's life is worth less than that of a U.S. firefighter, we obviously need to take steps to improve the Criminal Code.
As the member for Nepean—Carleton is undoubtedly aware, the government is already moving toward providing firefighters with added Criminal Code protection. Two weeks ago we debated Bill C-32 at second reading. I was particularly pleased to see that the bill creates a Criminal Code offence of setting a deadly trap in a place used for criminal purposes. This is to protect first responders such as firefighters and police, et cetera, whose lives could be endangered by entering such a place in the performance of their duties.
The maximum sentence for this offence depends on the outcome of the situation. It is generally 10 years. If injury occurs, the maximum sentence increases to 14 years. If death occurs, then the maximum sentence is life. Currently, section 247 of the Criminal Code provides for the offence of setting a trap with a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment only.
In conclusion, I would like to again thank the member for Nepean--Carleton for bringing forward this private member's bill. As well, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Mr. Lorne West and all Surrey firefighters who, through great perseverance, brought this issue to the national forefront.
Hopefully we will soon have changes to the Criminal Code in place that will provide a greater deterrent to those who deliberately set fires or booby trap buildings. Firefighters deserve this much at least. We need to protect the protectors. This should have been done a long time ago.