Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today to speak to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).
As I prepared for this a moment ago, I was thinking in terms of the election just a year ago and the impact that our late leader, Jack Layton, had in that particular election. This bill was something that he believed in very much, in a previous incarnation, so it brought that back to mind.
One of the things I pride myself in is that in the Hamilton area I attend the local Tim Hortons and the local food courts and I talk directly to the citizens I represent. One of the things that they believe, and I hear it said quite often, is that common sense is not as common as it once was. I think we have in Bill C-26 a fair effort on the part of the government to bring some common sense into this particular issue.
Bill C-26 would amend the section 494(2) of the Criminal Code dealing with citizen's arrest to provide greater flexibility. A little later in my remarks, I will refer to a speech by the member for Trinity—Spadina who actually introduced a bill in this place in the previous session but which died because of the election.
The crux of the problem is the timing of when people are able to complete a citizen's arrest. The law of the day says that people need to act on that citizen's arrest during the actual crime but, of course, sometimes that is just not the case. It also includes changes related to self-defence and the defence of property, which are currently in sections 35 and 42. These changes would bring much needed reforms to simplify, and this is where the common sense comes into the equation, the complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and the defence of property, something that has been requested by the courts over the years, not just our good citizens.
At this point, I will refer to the speech that I talked about a few moments ago.
The member for Trinity—Spadina had an event occur within her riding at a convenience store called the Lucky Moose. Mr. David Chen, the owner had been robbed numerous times in fact. It seemed that it was a very popular place to shop but it was also a very popular place to shoplift . Mr. Chen was extremely frustrated. A security camera showed an individual, who he had seen robbing his store and had left the premises earlier, coming back for some more. The individual was 37 years old and had a criminal record that stretched back to 1976.
Mr. Chen decided, along with a couple of people he worked with, to detain the individual until the police could arrive. My understanding of the situation is that he bound the person and put him into a van to contain him. It is indicated here in this speech that the police arrived within about four minutes. When the police arrived, apparently bruises could be seen on Mr. Chen's body where this individual had assaulted him but instead, Mr. Chen was charged with assault, kidnapping, forceable confinement and possession of a concealed weapon.
We need to ask ourselves where those charges came from. The concealed weapon was a box cutter. If anybody has been around a grocery store, box cutters are used all the time. It is not something that people working there would hide from everybody and conceal as a weapon. Beyond that, as far as the forceable confinement, the owner detained somebody while waiting for the police to come, somebody who had a record going back to 1976 and who just may want to try to get away.
The problem for Mr. Chen was that when the four charges were laid against him, we need to stop and think about what he was facing. The crown prosecutor offered to drop the kidnapping and assault charges if Mr. Chen would plead guilty to the remaining charges and, if he did, he would have faced 18 months in prison and a criminal record.
I am pleased to say that Mr. Chen chose not to plead guilty.
We have to wonder, from a common-sense perspective, whether our system has been stilted to the point that police officers actually put in more charges than necessary in “shooting for the moon and hoping for halfway”, an old expression used in labour negotiations. In other words, if they put into place a trading arrangement in advance: the charges are laid, the Crown makes an offer and the person pleads guilty to save himself or herself the costs of court. However, had the individual put forward a proper defence, he or she might well have gotten off. Therefore, it really makes one wonder about the situation.
Members will recall there was a bill put forth by the NDP member for Trinity—Spadina, in the last parliament. It died due to the election. On February 17, the government promised to reintroduce the bill, and I am thankful that it has done so. However, when this bill was at committee just before returning to the House, the NDP critic offered nine amendments. We felt the bill was flawed in a number of areas. Of the nine amendments we proposed, only two passed, which is unfortunate. Although we are concerned about the fact that the other seven did not pass, there is enough content in the bill to satisfy us to the point of supporting it.
After carefully reviewing the bill and hearing from witnesses, our concerns were reinforced. When we reviewed the legislation, our priority was to ensure that it did not encourage vigilante justice or encourage people to put their personal safety at risk. A horrific tragedy took place in Montreal a couple of days ago. A dispute escalated between a cab driver and a number of his patrons who had probably just come from a bar. The young men jumped on his car and hit the taxi driver. He tried to get out of there and tragically ran over one of the individuals. That is an over-the-top, blatant case situation. However, it shows us how quickly a situation can get out of hand when an individual or a group of people try to impose their physical will on someone else.
Let us look at what happens to people in a confrontation. I think I made reference to this not long ago. In Hamilton where I worked at Bell Canada, one of our technicians tried to intercede when a man was beating his wife in public. People think that they have to do something. He grabbed the man to prevent him from striking his wife, pushed him and held him against the wall. The man's wife came over, took off her shoe and struck the Bell Canada worker in the back of the head. That is an example of a situation where the individual was trying to do the right thing to protect the woman first and foremost from physical injury. His intent was to hold her husband until the police came because there were other people in the area. He did not realize that because of the strong relationship between the husband and wife, she felt she should defend her husband in the manner that she did.
There are concerns around the situations that people can put themselves in when it comes to a citizen's arrest. Unfortunately, the amendments that we tried to put through to deal with that were not addressed properly.
The NDP will be supporting this bill. We think it brings some common sense to the justice system. We are satisfied that a reasonable effort was made on the part of the government. On that point, I will conclude my remarks.