moved that Bill C-444, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer), be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Sault Ste. Marie for seconding this third reading debate for the bill. I appreciate all of my colleagues' support, which has brought us to where we are today, as well as the support of the people of central Alberta. I have been working on this bill for three years. I first introduced it during the last Parliament, but it died on the order paper when the election was called. I am very pleased that we are here today at third reading.
Three years ago, I met a brave young lady and her mother who were seeking help. This young woman had been the victim of a vicious crime, so she and her mother asked me to help them make a change to the Criminal Code of Canada. They understood that a bill in Parliament would have no effect on the criminal proceedings that they were involved in. Yet they expressed their desire to help others who might find themselves in this same situation.
I admire people who fight for and support changes to the Criminal Code, knowing full well they cannot make a difference in their own situation but will help others down the road. They seek positive change for a greater good. This was evident to my colleagues on the justice and human rights committee when my constituents appeared as witnesses and recounted this horrendous ordeal.
In addition to the support of my colleagues, I would also like to specifically thank the Minister of Justice's staff and his department for the support that they have extended to me for my proposed amendment. I am also no less grateful for the support that I have received from serving and retired police officers, including our Conservative law enforcement caucus.
Thousands of officers enforce Canadian criminal law every day, putting their lives on the line to do so. For our men and women in uniform, there may be times when some are reluctant to express judgment on proposed legislation because their job is to enforce, not to legislate. However, in this case, I am grateful for the positive feedback that I have received from police officers. They understand that my amendment does not seek to affect enforcement of section 130 of the Criminal Code. It is a sentencing provision. However, from their perspective, the police I have consulted with recognize that this particular crime jeopardizes their public reputation, which is essential for them to be able to do their jobs.
I want to be clear that I understand the significance of amending the Criminal Code. The changes that we as parliamentarians make to the laws found within Canada's Criminal Code have a profound effect on people's lives. However, as parliamentarians, we should also remember that the Criminal Code of Canada is a working document. It must continue to be updated to reflect the protections and justice that Canadians need and expect, and that our freedoms depend on.
I am proud to be part of a government that has been so committed to respecting the rights of victims. There are plenty of important issues that we tackle every day for Canadians, but I am especially proud of the accomplishments that our Prime Minister has delivered to Canadians in reforming our justice system.
I represent an area of Canada that has no tolerance for those who commit crimes against either persons or property. The citizens that I represent support a tough justice system that includes incarceration to punish criminals and to protect law-abiding Canadians. When an offender personates a police officer as a cover to commit another crime, this is a severe instance of personating an officer. It can have serious and long-lasting effects on a victim. Victims must be assured that there will be consequences for criminals who have hurt them. The sentence for this kind of malicious deceit must denounce this unlawful conduct and also reflect the significant impact that the crime has on victims' lives. It is not only the victim that this crime affects. It can affect an entire community, even to the extent that people are fearful of real police.
We have seen recent media reports from Calgary of a vehicle driven by a person who is trying to pull people over, with flashing red and blue emergency lights on its dashboard. This is an ongoing mystery in Calgary, as there have been a number of reports of this happening over the past few years but no arrests have yet been made. The Calgary police have issued numerous warnings to motorists to use caution if they are unsure of the authenticity of a police car.
The Calgary Sun recently reported, on April 25, that Staff Sergeant Guy Baker said the police are concerned about public paranoia and a loss of trust in police if the culprits are not caught. He was quoted as saying:
We want to maintain the respect of the community and don’t want the public unduly harassed.
This is a crime that could have grave consequences for an entire community and the police who try to protect it. Therefore, sentences that are handed down for section 130 offences should reflect the seriousness of the crime.
Bill C-444 has one basic objective, to make personating a peace officer or public officer in the commission of another offence an aggravating circumstance that would be part of the consideration for sentencing purposes.
It would add one clause to the Criminal Code, following section 130, to say:
If a person is convicted of an offence under section 130, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the accused personated a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be, for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence.
When we look at some of the aggravating circumstances that currently exist in the code, there is a common denominator among them, the vulnerability of the victims: crimes against children, crimes against the elderly, crimes involving firearms, or crimes that abuse the position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. These are all circumstances that Parliament has required judges to consider when sentencing. They are legislated as aggravating circumstances because offenders have taken advantage of the vulnerable position that the victims are in.
When citizens see a police uniform, they trust the authority that comes with it. When confronted by someone who looks like a police officer, people will rationally do what they have been taught to do; they will stop and follow instructions.
Personating an officer is a serious breach of the public's trust, and it has the same effect as using a weapon. It forces the victim to submit. If they are under the control of someone pretending to be an officer, they will ultimately lose any opportunity that they might otherwise have to protect themselves. We have been taught to respect and trust the men and women who wear uniforms. When criminals start using this trust as a weapon, we need to treat it within the Criminal Code for what it is.
The bill will instruct judges to consider it an aggravating circumstance to personate a peace officer or public officer as a cover for other criminal activity. This would apply regardless of the age of the victim.
My amendment would achieve three results. It will recognize the disarming effect that personating an officer has on a victim and the vulnerable situation that it puts them in. It will support victims of this crime by strengthening the reparation provided to them. It will preserve the trust that Canadians have in peace officers and public officers.
Within the maximum sentence for personating an officer, the appropriateness of a sentence would still rest with the sentencing court. However, it is up to us, as legislators, to establish sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code.
Judges have the discretion to consider any factors they feel may have constituted aggression on the part of an offender, but there are also some circumstances that judges are explicitly required to consider when sentencing. They are in the code because Parliament has said they should always be taken into consideration by a judge.
As I have mentioned, one of the aggravating circumstances prescribed in the code is that of an abuse of a position of trust or authority in relation to a victim. This would apply in situations where an offender has an existing relationship with the victim, such as a teacher or coach or as a bona fide police officer. However, those who assume a position through deceit do not fall into this category. Offenders who personate officers have not abused a position of authority, for they do not have that position to begin with.
Aggravating circumstances in the code acknowledge the particularly forceful or dangerous way in which some offenders commit their crimes. Therefore, personating an officer to commit a crime is certainly an aggressive action on the part of an offender, similar to existing aggravating circumstances, and it should be recognized in the code as such.
I would like to quickly address the issue of my amendment having any effect on actual time served. I know this is a question that has come up in debate, as well as in my conversations with some of my colleagues.
I want to stress that my focus is on amending section 130 to add this sentencing provision, regardless of the length of sentences received for other convictions and whether or not they would be served concurrently. We can only speculate on what type of crimes may be committed alongside section 130 violations; how individual cases would be committed, tried and sentenced; how much evidence the crown may have in any particular case; or all of the mitigating or aggravating factors that may affect an offender's sentences.
However, our role as legislators is to ensure that the maximum sentences and sentencing factors prescribed in the Criminal Code for each offence serve the purpose and principles of sentencing.
I am asking Parliament to add a sentencing provision to the crime of personating peace officers and public officers to ensure that future sentences for this crime adhere to the purposes and principles of sentencing, which are listed in the code. As for the types of crimes that are committed in concert with personation, what aggravating or mitigating factors might apply to an offender, or how an offender's total time served might pan out, those decisions remain in the hands of the sentencing court.
Speaking briefly to incarceration, it is meant to denounce unlawful conduct, deter others from committing offences, separate offenders from society and assist in rehabilitating offenders. These are all listed in the Criminal Code as purposes of sentencing. There is also another purpose of incarceration that is listed in the code, which is to provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community.
Whatever the terms of a sentence for any offender may be, even if served concurrently with another sentence it is my goal to ensure that sentences for section 130 offences acknowledge the harm done to victims. The rights of victims need to be protected. They must know that there are serious consequences for the criminals who have hurt them.
Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Silver Lake RCMP detachment's Regimental Ball, which was an excellent event that raised funds for the RCMP's victim services program. The people who work in victim service programs and rape crisis centres provide compassion and direction to people in need. When I relayed the circumstances of this case and the purpose of my bill to RCMP members and victim service program attendees, they too gave me their unqualified support.
These people, these great Canadians who work in victim service programs, deserve our thanks and recognition. Day in and day out, they see the worst that society has to offer, and they continue to help people in their time of distress.
At any time, any one of us could be blindsided by crime. It is very difficult to navigate and make decisions when in a state of shock. Victims services are a vital resource in our country, and they deserve our recognition and support.
For many victims, no amount of incarceration can ever make up for the hurt that has been inflicted upon them, but it does provide some comfort and indeed protection when an offender is locked up. As I have said, this bill is about sentencing; it speaks to the need for tougher penalties for this particular crime. Victims must be assured that there will be serious consequences for the criminals who have hurt them. We need to preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for real police officers.
I am pleased to continue this discussion here today.