Mr. Speaker, my question for my colleague from Red Deer gave an indication of our position. In fact, we will be pleased to support the government. When it comes to justice issues, that does not happen often. However, we will support Bill C-444.
I congratulate the member from Red Deer because he resisted the temptation to impose minimum sentences, something we see all too often in justice or crime bills. He chose instead to focus on the aggravating factor.
I believe that this bill respects victims' rights. It also respects judicial independence which, in my opinion, is indispensable in a true democracy and will also result in appropriate sentencing.
Some people find this to be a rather unusual bill, but it is not complicated. It refers to the notion of a peace officer, which already exists under section 130 of the Criminal Code:
(1) Everyone commits an offence who
(a) falsely represents himself to be a peace officer or a public officer; or
(b) not being a peace officer or public officer, uses a badge or article of uniform or equipment in a manner that is likely to cause persons to believe that he is a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be.
(2) Everyone who commits an offence under subsection (1)
(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years; or
(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
As the member for Red Deer made clear, this bill creates an aggravating circumstance for anyone committing an offence by pretending to be someone he is not for the purpose of committing another crime.
I am sure that all of my colleagues have heard horror stories other than those we heard from the member for Red Deer. Such incidents have happened everywhere. I remember that a few years ago in Gatineau, people were posing as police officers and trying to collect money. They were passing themselves off as peace officers or police officers—it does not really matter what they were calling themselves—to fool people. That is not quite as serious as the incident described by the member for Red Deer, the one that led to the creation of this bill.
I appreciate the fact that one of our fellow citizens brought this problem to our attention. Now we are trying to find a solution, which is what we are here for. I was pleased to see that this bill received unanimous support during a previous Parliament. I do not expect that our colleague will have any trouble obtaining unanimous support for his bill.
The NDP intends to fully support the bill introduced by the member for Red Deer. We will certainly have some good discussions about this, not because we want to change anything, but because we want to make sure that people understand how important this bill is.
Other members have mentioned the fact that this bill is important in situations where a person claims to be someone we hold in high regard. I have in mind the definition of peace officer in section 2 of the Criminal Code, which the member from Red Deer spoke about: “a mayor, warden, reeve,...deputy sheriff, sheriff’s officer,...justice of the peace,...a member of the Correctional Service of Canada,...police officer, police constable, bailiff...” In Quebec, a bailiff is authorized to go to people's homes.
People are usually a little alarmed if approached by a person in uniform or someone acting in an official capacity. People believe in law and order, and they are prepared to do things they would not normally do if they had a few moments to think about it. As with any form of abuse, if someone takes advantage of a situation, as parliamentarians we must ensure that we crack down on these types of crimes.
However, we must allow the courts to do their job with the power given to them in a free and democratic society such as Canada, where we have the principle of the presumption of innocence.
As our colleague mentioned—and he is right—this is a hybrid offence. Thus, when the case goes to trial, the judge who hears the case can hand out different sentences. This can be prosecuted by indictment or summary conviction. It is the responsibility of the crown prosecutor to determine the seriousness of the matter based on the facts. The prosecutor must then formulate the sentence accordingly.
For once, I am applauding a bill. More often than not we are handed bills that impose a vision on the courts. This hinders the work of the trial judge, whose job it is to properly evaluate the different points of view and try to determine the appropriate sentence based on the case and the facts that are proven.
I very much appreciate how much work our colleague put into this bill. If they want to have our support, they should not boast that they know everything.
I felt the hon. member for Red Deer's passion about his file, and I know how hard he has worked to try to move forward on this issue. We are certainly not going to stand in his way on such an important issue. He also took the time to send us additional information so that we could make a decision at this stage.
Not all of us were necessarily present during the 40th Parliament when MPs began examining this issue. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to say just how important it is for the new members of the 41st Parliament to have the chance to participate in such an important debate. It is a good thing that this is not done with private members' bills, but the same principle applies to any bill. We have talked about this enough over the past two, three or four years, and it is time that we do something about it.
The problem is that many members of the House are talking about Bill C-444 for the first time. It is worth taking a serious look at this bill.
As I was saying, the addition to the Criminal Code after section 130 does not apply in the aggravating circumstances that are already set out in section 718 but, rather, it applies specifically to the offence set out in section 130 where a person tries to facilitate the commission of another offence. For example, the person could impersonate a police officer in order to rape or kidnap someone. The person could also impersonate a bailiff in order to try to get money.
Unfortunately, many older people are targeted by such actions. Sometimes, criminals take advantage of their vulnerability. It is unfortunate, but true. So, once passed, this bill would give the courts the tools they need to make this type of behaviour an aggravating circumstance.
I hope that this is what will happen in cases such as these. I sometimes have to wonder about the sentences imposed in some cases, but who am I to say since those cases have been heard by judges. However, this time, the judges will not have any excuse and will have to consider the act of impersonating a police officer for the purpose of committing another offence as an aggravating circumstance.
I would once again like to congratulate the hon. member for Red Deer. The NDP will support this bill at all stages.