Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak to this particular issue about citizen's arrest and the events that precede it.
We are here today to look at an amendment to section 494 of the Criminal Code. In my opinion, we are righting a wrong by doing this. I fully support this idea and fully support this bill.
There have been several episodes in history where this has been looked at and analyzed as a way of fixing an issue that has arisen due to one particular case that was featured in the city of Toronto. That was the story of David Chen. There has been a lot of media attention around this situation and his particular circumstance. If I may, I would like to talk about that very briefly.
In his security videos and from his own personal observations Mr. Chen noticed a particular individual time and time again stealing certain merchandise. The perpetrator was known in the area for having committed certain crimes. As a result, he appeared very suspicious.
The perpetrator went to Mr. Chen's place of business and stole a particular item. He then returned a half hour later only to be confined by Mr. Chen. The police moved in right away, but they went after Mr. Chen, not the perpetrator. As a result, there were several charges laid that we have talked about in detail. I will get to that in just a moment. The important fact is that Mr. Chen made the citizen's arrest after the incident had taken place. Therein lies the meaning of this particular legislation, and I am sure many Canadians would agree, that a certain period of time be allotted to act upon this or that there is a reasonable amount of time allotted wherein one can make a citizen's arrest.
The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to allow private citizens who own or have lawful possession of property to arrest a person they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property within a “reasonable amount of time”. This power of arrest is permitted only in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible for the arrest to be made by law enforcement officials. Therein lies the other part of this, which is to say that in the case of Mr. Chen, which is the example we are using, he was put in a position where he was called into action. There were no peace officers there at the time. Therefore, in the absence of law enforcement officials, his judgment call was to make a citizen's arrest on that particular person he felt would steal something from his business. I imagine most of us would feel that his acts are justified.
As a result of this action, therein lies the crux of this particular amendment, which talks to the reasonable amount of time one has to do this. Currently, the legislation deals with the acts or actions one may take in making a citizen's arrest within a specific period of time. Therefore, the emphasis is on the particular amount of time that one has to make a citizen's arrest.
If a person, having witnessed a crime wherein the perpetrator has left the scene only to return, in David Chen's case it was 30 minutes, feels that he or she must take action, I believe the majority of Canadians feel that making a citizen's arrest at that time is indeed justifiable.
This has been an issue since I believe September 27, 2009, when the minister originally mused about it. As a result, almost two years later we are now looking at the legislation being tabled as we debate it in the House.
There does not seem to be a tremendous amount of debate here as the government put this bill forward and the Liberal Party and the NDP have endorsed it. Of course there have been private members' bills from the Liberal Party, by my colleague for Eglinton—Lawrence, and also my colleague from the NDP in the riding of Trinity—Spadina reflecting this issue.
As many people can imagine, there are some concerns around the term “a reasonable amount of time”.
Every time we talk about legal issues and legislation that makes an amendment to the Criminal Code, we always talk about and sometimes consider what is a reasonable amount of time and actions that are deemed to be reasonable in a court of law. Therefore it is open to interpretation.
Because we are at second reading of the bill and by accepting this in principle, it would now be sent to committee to find out what is a reasonable amount of time and to flesh out some of the parameters around this piece of legislation.
There is a certain amount of ambiguity that constitutes what is a reasonable amount of time between when an act of violence is committed and when a citizen's arrest is made.
We know that some police officers have raised concerns in the past about this legislation. We certainly look forward to hearing what input they bring to this and I will get to a few examples in a few moments.
Many months ago this issue was moved on when we saw the situation with David Chen. Private member's Bill C-547 was introduced by the member for Eglinton—Lawrence. We now find ourselves debating a government bill but two years ago we were dealing with all kinds of amendments to the Criminal Code. How this issue did not manage to pop up in the debate over the two-year period is slightly questionable.
The amendments that are being made, whether they be mandatory minimums, whether they be Internet crime and things we have seen over the last little while, especially when it comes to mandatory minimums, there has been a lot of debate in the House regarding amendments to the Criminal Code.
I am not a lawyer, but nonetheless I have heard from many legal experts who have said that the Conservatives could have done all of this in a much shorter period of time if they had done the amendments through, say, four, five or maybe even six bills as opposed to the 15 to 20, in that range, that we currently have. This could have been done two years ago, or the Conservatives could have accepted my colleague's private member's bill at the time. That probably would have been the most prudent way to go. Nonetheless, we find ourselves in the House today debating this legislation.
I look forward to what will be talked about at committee. I talked earlier about the ambiguity surrounding this. In the circumstances, we do have a legitimate concern to be addressed, but nonetheless, the principle of the bill is a sound one, which is the ability for citizens to make arrests. The situation with David Chen in Toronto is really an illustration of why we are debating this and why, I assume, most members of the House accept the bill in principle.
The incident of David Chen took place in October 2010. At that time there was a lot of debate and it received quite a bit of notoriety from coast to coast to coast. As a result of that, the debate became apropos of the times. Citizen's arrest is something we talked about. It has not been as publicized as it is now. The David Chen video tapes became news everywhere. I am from Newfoundland and Labrador and it was a big story there as well. It was featured prominently. It was not just a local Toronto story. Therefore, the issue gained that much more weight as a result of it.
The Criminal Code allows for a citizen's arrest as it stands right now. The amendment to section 494 would address that, but where an individual is caught in the act of committing a crime on a person or property and a citizen immediately detains the subject, therein lies the current state of the Criminal Code which addresses a citizen's arrest. The provision allows for an arrest to occur without having to wait for law enforcement to arrive on the scene. There are several examples over the years that would address this. Certainly an amendment to section 494 would address the situation regarding a reasonable amount of time. There is no doubt in my mind that a reasonable amount of time, which was illustrated by the David Chen case, perfectly justified a citizen's arrest. I believe the time was 30 minutes after the first encounter.
Therefore, in that particular case, it illustrates that a reasonable amount of time would be justified by this amendment. However, to put the parameters around this particular piece of legislation requires it going to committee and I look forward to hearing the debate on that.
The bill would also expand the scope of a citizen's arrest to allow for such detention to occur within a reasonable amount of time. It is not clearly defined what constitutes the reasonable amount of time, which will certainly be debated. The bill states clearly that no individual is entitled to use excessive force in the process of detention of another individual.
There have been other groups and stakeholders who want to discuss this as well and I am sure they will be given ample opportunity once they arrive at committee. I implore all my colleagues to support this bill in principle and send it to committee.