Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in this second reading debate on Bill C-329, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada.
This bill would empower a police officer to arrest without warrant a person allegedly in breach of a probation order or an offender who is alleged to have breached a condition of conditional release such as parole or temporary absence.
From a federal perspective, our concern lies with the power of arrest without warrant as it applies to federal offenders on parole or temporary absence.
I am aware that this matter has been before the House on a number of occasions before I came here. Therefore, the details of this fairly simple and direct proposal have been discussed a number of times by previous speakers in the course of previous debates.
There may not be much to be said with regard to the specifics of this legislation, but I do want to view it from a broader perspective and give it the attention it deserves.
Many of our constituents across the country, certainly those from Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, have strong opinions on the way the criminal justice system should work. I welcome this bill as a basis for the discussion of some of the legislation that frames the system. I would like to outline for fellow members and for interested Canadians who may be following this some of the background that I think should be considered each time reform of the laws governing criminal misconduct is undertaken.
The Criminal Code of Canada is the focus of the amendments that the hon. member for Wild Rose proposes to amend. This represents but one of many interrelated statutes that have evolved to guide us in our daily conduct and to exact accountability when societal norms and values are violated.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Income Tax Act, the Fisheries Act, the Narcotics Control Act and the Official Secrets Act are just samples of the federal statutes that exist to control behaviour and to exact accountability when their provisions fail to deter.
Also, in the consideration of Bill C-329, the provisions of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are certainly relevant. This is because the measure before us would undermine that legislation.
I believe it is important that the record of the debate on this proposed legislation shows the course followed by most apprehended offenders, from the point of commission of an offence to the determination of their penalty.
In a typical case, an individual may be arrested by a police officer who, although operating in accordance with local policies and procedures, is ultimately answerable to a provincial government. Each province, through the provisions of our Constitution Act, exercises responsibility for the administration of the Criminal Code and related federal statutes as well as any ancillary laws that I have mentioned.
The case would then proceed within the provincial jurisdiction to a crown attorney, who takes the facts to court. If the judge determines guilt and the sentence is a fine, probation or incarceration for less than two years, the offender will remain in the provincial purview. Should the sentence be of two or more years' duration, however, he or she will become the responsibility of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and the administration of the sentence will fall to the Correctional Service of Canada and, finally, the National Parole Board.
Most of those convicted will at some stage encounter one or more voluntary organizations which often assist in the supervision of those who are conditionally released and offer assistance in preparing offenders for their reintegration back into the community. Most offenders will serve the last days of their sentences in the community, whether subject to the conditions of parole or statutory release.
Under the provisions of this bill, every one of them would in this period essentially be subject to arbitrary arrest. That is the concern. By supporting supervision by police as proposed by this bill, we would be sanctioning the detention of those on conditional release for actions that would not result in arrest for any other Canadian.
I join other speakers by reiterating that our police have power to detain anyone they encounter who they believe to have broken any law or to be a danger to themselves or others. Section 31 of the Criminal Code authorizes the arrest without warrant of anybody who has committed a breach of the peace or who, on reasonable grounds, is believed to be about to engage in a breach of the peace.
I do not know how much more we believe the police need to carry out their duties. We all want the police to have the appropriate powers to carry out their duties and this bill addresses that. The question is, how much do they need? Therein lies the difference.
The system is not simple. From municipal to provincial jurisdiction, from the correctional agencies of the federal system to the voluntary sector, it is important that we keep in mind the number of diverse players in criminal justice.
The vast majority of offenders will serve the latter portion of their sentences under supervision in the community. There may be some who require more control or more assistance and perhaps more vigilance on the part of those who are entrusted with their supervision.
These supervisors have the power to end release programs if it is likely that an offender will reoffend. They will issue a warrant of apprehension where a breach of a condition of parole or temporary absence has occurred or where it is necessary to prevent a breach or to protect society. The supervisors are available to issue a warrant 24 hours a day and will often do so in collaboration with police. Moreover, as I said, police already have the power to arrest without warrant an offender they see committing a criminal offence.
Given the complexity of the criminal justice system, the amendment of one act necessitates the adjustment of related acts, and changes in one sector of responsibility may affect all other sectors. Therefore, I believe that the resources of the House and the committee system might better be employed in an effort to make considered, coherent and comprehensive reforms rather than a single adjustment to one act.
I appreciate the efforts of the hon. member for Wild Rose. I recognize that in general terms a private member's bill might well be a suitable beginning to necessary reform. I must nonetheless, however, offer my opinion that every attempt should be made to address all possible issues arising from this proposal within a deliberate consultative process before that action is taken involving the House.