An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firefighting equipment)

Sponsor

Mel Arnold  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of Feb. 7, 2018

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Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to establish specific penalties related to the theft of firefighting equipment. It also creates an aggravating circumstance for sentencing if the mischief involves firefighting equipment. Finally, it establishes sentencing objectives in relation to the theft of such equipment.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Feb. 7, 2018 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-365, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firefighting equipment)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 31st, 2018 / 6:30 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, I had two minutes, a long time ago, on Bill C-365. We are now resuming debate on a very important bill, put forward by my colleague.

In the brief two minutes I had before the Christmas break, way back in 2017, I did a little reflection on the B.C. wildfire season. I also talked a little about how disappointed I was that from the initial signals from the government, it would not be supporting the bill. To be honest, I found that very concerning, distressing, and to be frank, a little shameful, because this is an important measure that, if put in place, would ultimately help to protect lives.

I think what I need to do is pick up by explaining what the bill is about and bring it back to why it is so important for our firefighters, our men and women who respond every day to very difficult situations. It is also important to note that the bill has massive support from the people who would be most impacted by it, and that is a number of our different associations. We have really positive support from across the country, but unfortunately, it does not appear the government is listening.

What does the bill propose to do? It proposes a new and specific offence for theft of firefighting equipment that causes danger to life. There is a reason this has been put forward. It is that there is a gap in our existing legislation, because the current code's provisions applicable to cases of mischief or theft of firefighting equipment, especially in cases where each mischief or theft causes danger to life, have not gotten the proper treatment they deserve.

The second thing the bill does is that it proposes to establish mischief related to firefighting equipment as an aggravating circumstance. That would add gravity to the offence.

The third component of Bill C-365 seeks to establish clarity on what the objectives of the sentence should be when a judge is determining a sentence for any theft of firefighting equipment, regardless of whether or not danger to life has been caused. If someone vandalizes someone's home, or there is mischief related to some activities that perhaps young adults undertake, that is a significantly different offence in terms of its possible implications than when there is mischief, damage, theft, or loss related to firefighting equipment.

I do not have the statistics in front of me, but I suspect that in our country our professional firefighter departments that are staffed 24-7 perhaps have a little less to worry about because they have significant checks and balances, and paid staff. They are always there, having a good eye on the equipment and providing security. However, in the riding I represent, we have volunteer firefighters and departments all over. These are men and women who give up their time. They might go to a fire practice on a Wednesday night. They practice and they are there to respond to community emergencies. Their equipment is perhaps not as secure. They do not have the ability, because it is volunteer, to check as often as perhaps other places can.

We talked about the wildfires of 2017 in the communities I represent. I can remember that in 2003 there was another horrific season in the area of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. We live in a small community. We have a volunteer firefighting department, and both my son and my husband were part of that particular department. When the province declared a state of emergency, it all of a sudden gave the authority for the province to call all of the volunteer fire departments into action to deal with the crisis.

As one can imagine, this fire department trained on a Wednesday, had done some live fire training, but certainly did not have the ability to respond. Nor did it have the equipment. The equipment it had was critically important.

I remember a day when the firefighters were called out to a grass fire outside their normal boundaries because they were now under provincial control. They headed up the mountain with the equipment. Had there been any flaws in how that equipment worked, it would have put their lives in danger. They were not as experienced, had been called to action in a place outside their normal area of expertise, and did not have a lot of training around grass fires, which were quickly expanding through the mountains. Had anything been tampered with or stolen, it could have been significant and dangerous. Quite frankly, lives could have been lost.

When the government suggests that this is in an unnecessary bill and that the penalties are already quite fine, it needs to think about the reality of the situation. People who steal or tamper with firefighting equipment know exactly what they are doing. They know they impact equipment used for response to serious and significant issues.

I ask the Liberals to reconsider this and think about the volunteer firefighters, like in the case in 2003 where it was my husband and son. Had they headed up this mountain where the grasses were burning and the equipment had malfunctioned, think of what the repercussions could have been. How would they have felt if someone had tampered with or stolen necessary equipment? Should there not be significant and appropriate repercussions? The government needs to rethink its position.

I want to congratulate my colleague who put forward the bill.

As one further thought, talking about the B.C. wildfires, the government indicated it would do everything possible to help. This is one thing it could do that would be very helpful in moving forward and protecting public safety.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 31st, 2018 / 6:40 p.m.
See context

Scarborough Southwest Ontario

Liberal

Bill Blair LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Health

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today and to participate in the debate on Bill C-365, an act to amend the Criminal Code, firefighting equipment.

The bill seeks three Criminal Code amendments, including: the creation of a new offence of theft of firefighting equipment that actually endangers life; the requirement that courts that sentence an offender for mischief to consider, as an aggravating factor, that the property in relation to which the mischief occurred was firefighting equipment; and, finally, the requirement that courts give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence in cases of theft of firefighting equipment.

At the outset, it is very important to acknowledge, and I would like to acknowledge, the laudable objective of the bill and sincerely thank the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap for giving the members of the House an opportunity to debate this issue. That being said, our government is unable to support this legislative initiative, for reasons which I will explain.

I would note the observations made by many of my colleagues during this and previous debates that there is no gap in the criminal law's ability to respond to, and effectively address, the theft of and mischief to firefighting equipment. As has been highlighted already, there is a robust set of offences in the Criminal Code that can address this conduct.

I would like therefore to spend my time today speaking about other equally important and related reasons why I cannot support these proposed legislative amendments.

As I understand, the Minister of Justice mandate letter has called upon her to concentrate her efforts on initiatives that get the most value for hard-earned taxpayer dollars. We must ensure that the criminal law reform initiatives that we bring forward are based on evidence and approaches that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system's response to crime. On this front, Bill C-365, though well intentioned, is not an initiative that would get Canadians value for their hard-earned tax dollars.

First, there is very little information available about the extent of the problem. While several media outlets reported in the summer of 2017 that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated a number of thefts and acts of mischief related to firefighting equipment in British Columbia, none of these reports confirmed that any charges were in fact laid.

Second, upon closer examination of the issue, I could find no statistics related to the offences of theft or mischief of firefighting equipment.

Third, upon a cursory review of legal databases, we could find no reported cases where an offender was charged or convicted of theft or mischief to firefighting equipment. To be clear, this does not mean that no cases can exist. Certainly I am aware of media reports in other parts of the country also involving the theft of metal fittings.

However, without clear examples of how such matters have been dealt with under the existing law, much of the problems identified by the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap are speculative. In my opinion, more concrete evidence would be needed about the scope and nature of the issue before exploring whether legislative amendments would be necessary. I firmly believe it would be prudent to fully examine the prevalence of thefts and mischief to firefighting equipment before proposing Criminal Code amendments.

Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest any of the proposed legislative amendments in Bill C-365 would be more likely than the current criminal law to deter future thefts or mischief to firefighting equipment. To the contrary, there is an abundance of evidence, which suggests the exact opposite, namely, that harsh penalties do not act as a deterrent for those who commit crimes.

Studies demonstrate it is the certainty of being caught that is the best at deterring individuals from committing crime, not the fear of being punished or the severity of the punishment. This does not mean, however, that tough penalties are not warranted for persons who engage in criminal conduct that endangers the lives of others. For example, the offences of mischief to property endangering life under subsection 430(2) and criminal negligence causing death under section 220 are two current offences in the Criminal Code that could be applied to the most serious cases of theft and/or mischief to firefighting equipment, and both of these offences carry the highest maximum penalty provided under the criminal law, which is life imprisonment.

What is more, isolated legislative amendments that seek nothing other than to increase penalties and reduce judicial discretion to craft individualized sentences have a proven track record in Canada and abroad for not only failing to reduce the incidence of crime, but also creating a whole host of negative consequences, including but not limited to increasing cost, and contributing to delays and inefficiencies in the administration of justice. As I understand it, it is precisely these criminal justice policies of the past that have contributed to a lack of internal consistency in the Criminal Code.

If I may offer by way of example, the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the new proposed offence is inappropriate considering that it would be significantly greater than the 14 year maximum penalty for the offence of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, which entails more of a direct risk of danger to life but also actually where bodily harm has occurred.

Similarly, the maximum penalty provided in this offence would be higher than what is currently provided in the Criminal Code for terrorist financing, facilitating terrorist activities, and leaving Canada to facilitate terrorist activity. Moreover, from a practical point of view, the new offence would create evidentiary problems that would complicate the prosecution of such conduct. In order to obtain a conviction under the new offence, the crown would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the theft of the firefighting equipment directly caused actual danger to life. However, it may be difficult and in some cases virtually impossible to prove that someone's life was endangered by the theft of firefighting equipment.

Moreover, the efficacy of this new proposed tool is further reduced by the absence in Bill C-365 of necessary amendments that would allow the police to investigate this offence. For instance, the bill does not propose the inclusion of the new offence in the part of the Criminal Code that governs the interception of communications, and fails to provide the police with the ability to seek a DNA warrant to investigate the offence. The inability of police to rely on these important investigatory tools would make it far less likely that the offence would be relied upon and charged.

As I understand it, addressing these much needed consequential amendments would likely be outside the scope of Bill C-365.

Another important consideration is that the creation of a specific offence that overlaps with offences of general application in the Criminal Code can lead to greater inconsistency in charging practices across Canada. Where a specific offence carries a significantly higher maximum penalty, prosecutors have proven more likely to accept pleas to the lesser and included offence. This can undermine the very rationale behind creating a specific offence. That is, while the offence is enacted to respond to a particular type of offending, in practice, the offence is rarely prosecuted and convictions are rarely obtained. In the end, such specific offences remain in the Criminal Code and rapidly become obsolete.

I have every confidence that our police, our prosecutors, and the judiciary have all the tools that are necessary to deal with this conduct. Moreover, absent any evidence to the contrary, it is entirely reasonable to assume that courts are likely to take conduct that is in the scope of the bill as being very serious.

In my opinion, Bill C-365 would not have an impact on improving public safety, the administration of justice, or the prevention of thefts and mischief to firefighting equipment. It is for these reasons that I cannot support Bill C-365. I therefore urge all members of the House to oppose this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 31st, 2018 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, I will start my speech on Bill C-365 by acknowledging its sponsor, the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap. I very much appreciate the reasons behind the bill and why it was introduced.

I am a fellow British Columbian. Everyone in B.C. is very well aware of the wildfire risk, particularly with what last year represented. We had an absolutely terrible fire season.

I have had previous career experience working in the bush. I had eight years serving as a tree planter. I have worked throughout the interior. My brother was a wildfire fighter for about three years. He had seen another difficult year in 2003. I also have many friends who serve as volunteer firefighters, so I very much understand the risk they put themselves in to protect us and that their equipment is vital to the job that they do.

The media has reported on several occasions some of the theft that has happened. In 2016, the Vancouver Sun published a story about a communication tower's equipment that had been intentionally vandalized, which caused between 80,000 and 100,000 dollars' worth of damage. In 2017, CTV News covered a story about a water pump and hoses that were stolen from the Harrop Creek wildfire northeast of Nelson. The theft of the pump and 10 hoses really impacted the effectiveness of the firefighting activities, and posed safety risks to the public and to the first responders working to contain the fires. I want to underline the seriousness of the crime when someone intentionally vandalizes or steals firefighting equipment.

I want to get three main points across as I talk about the bill.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that firefighting is extremely important work and that we support first responders, but I feel that giving the judiciary power for life in prison for theft and vandalism is extremely excessive.

The second point I want to make is that stronger penalties do not necessarily provide a deterrent. While this equipment is used in a life-saving situation, a 25-year prison sentence for a non-violent offence is unjustified and it is not in keeping with the current penalties for such an offence.

The third point I want to make is that, instead of focusing on increasingly harsher penalties, I think we should be committed to crime prevention. With reasonable, measured, and effective actions, we could shift the focus from crime and punishment into more collaborative ways to make our communities and those serving them safer.

Last year, 2017, I had the honour of serving as our party's justice critic and serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. One of the major pieces of government legislation that we reviewed on that committee was Bill C-51, a major Criminal Code cleanup. One of the things I learned last year is that when one becomes a student of the Criminal Code, one learns just how many redundancies and inoperative provisions exist within the code, and that, really, as an entire document, it is in need of a serious overhaul. Bill C-51 spent much of its effort trying to eliminate many of these redundant and obsolete sections, particularly the redundant sections. It tried to get those redundant sections that were otherwise covered in other sections of the Criminal Code and that, if left in there, would simply add to confusion for those who work in the judicial process.

If we look at what Bill C-365 provides for, a life in prison is very much an excessive penalty. I would draw hon. members' attention, as it has been mentioned in many of the speeches, to the many sections in the Criminal Code that can already be used to severely punish someone who is guilty of such a crime. One of the main sections I would draw hon. members to is section 718.1, which states quite clearly:

A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

If someone is before a court on a charge of vandalism or theft of firefighting equipment, and it can be properly determined that it caused injury to persons because the firefighters were unable to use that equipment, there is no doubt in my mind that a judge and/or jury would look at the gravity of the offence, the harm caused by the offence, and would lay down the appropriate sentence.

By no means do I want to say that such a crime should go unpunished. I am simply stating the fact that the Criminal Code already has provisions to allow for proper sentencing measures.

The other point I want to get across is that there is a wide body of evidence out there that shows that strong penalties do not necessarily provide a deterrent. We want to make sure that the crime in question is prevented in the first place. That is in everyone's interest.

I want to read a quote from the The Economist, which states:

A review by Steven Durlauf of the University of Wisconsin and Daniel Nagin at Carnegie Mellon University found little evidence that criminals responded to harsher sentencing, and much stronger evidence that increasing the certainty of punishment deterred crime. This matters for policy, as it suggests that locking vast numbers of people in jail is not only expensive, but useless as a deterrent.

Another quote I have comes from a study by professors Doob, Webster, and Gartner, which is titled “Issues Related to Harsh Sentences and Mandatory Minimum Sentences: General Deterrence and Incapacitation”. It states:

At this point, we think it is fair to say that we know of no reputable criminologist who has looked carefully at the overall body of research literature on “deterrence through sentencing” who believes that crime rates will be reduced, through deterrence, by raising the severity of sentences handed down in criminal courts.

If we all use our common sense, we know that most people who commit criminal acts are not pausing in the middle of the act thinking that if they break a certain section of the Criminal Code they are going to get such and such a sentence. Most people who commit crimes are not even aware of the sections of the Criminal Code they are breaking. Therefore, the suggestion that by adding this section we are actually going to deter the crime is not backed up by evidence. There are much better ways to safeguard equipment and the people who are using it.

What exactly do we want to achieve with this debate? We can have a more measured and effective approach to solving the problem. If we focus on prevention, we can solve the problem proactively. People should be made aware, through public awareness campaigns, of the impact that vandalizing or stealing equipment can have. We already know that public awareness campaigns for drinking and driving have led to a national decline in such instances. Therefore, there is evidence that such campaigns work.

We should consider other options to reduce the theft and vandalism of firefighting equipment. They could consist of educational materials or awareness campaigns, investing in better security and surveillance systems, and making sure that the equipment has proper lock-up procedures in place for firefighters to use.

I want to end by reiterating that my colleagues and I, and I am sure everyone in this House, not only the friends I have and the people I have known through my career as a tree planter, very much commit to supporting firefighters and all first responders. I want to work with all first responders to make sure that we have policies that find effective, measured solutions to problems of equipment theft and vandalism.

Fellow British Columbians lost homes in the B.C. wildfires. We have to acknowledge the terrible loss they went through. They very much need help in rebuilding their lives, and we should all work together to have that as a laudable goal.

I do not dispute the seriousness of the crime, but I feel very much that there are better measures we can employ to stop it from happening in the first place. I do not think Bill C-365 is that answer.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 31st, 2018 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Benzen Conservative Calgary Heritage, AB

Madam Speaker, the goal of parliamentarians is to bring forward legislation that is in the interest of society at large and the general protection of everyone in Canada. The ideal would be a situation in which the laws governing us are appreciated by and adhered to by all people equally. However, some in society arrive at the unfortunate conclusion that the law only applies to others. It is in that context that I speak to the specific need for the passage of Bill C-365, a private member's bill introduced by my colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap.

This important bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code in relation to the protection of firefighters' equipment. These amendments are intended to address a need for better deterrence of some criminal activities we are seeing committed more frequently and which have the potential to place the safety, and even the lives, of Canadians at risk.

Increasingly, firefighters across the country are reporting a rise in thefts and incidents of mischief that target the equipment of these men and women employed to protect us when fire occurs. Alarmingly, firefighters are finding cases in which their equipment and gear has been stolen and vandalized, from the fittings on their vehicles being taken to fire suppression equipment in apartment complexes being ripped out. This trend came to light last year after my home province of Alberta and our neighbours to the west in British Columbia endured catastrophic wildfires.

In B.C. alone last year, wildfires burned well over a million hectares of land. Firefighters mobilizing to battle such blazes found their equipment vandalized or outright stolen. I recall a specific example from last year. In August, crews battling the wildfires that scorched B.C. discovered the theft of their firefighting equipment when returning to the site. The BC Wildfire Service reported a water pump and many fire hoses stolen from the Harrop Creek wildfire site. The agency said the theft of the pump and 10 hoses not only hampered the effectiveness of its firefighting activities but also posed a clear safety risk to the public, especially to the crews working to contain the fires. At a time when more than 100 wildfires were burning across B.C., someone thought this an appropriate occasion to rip off equipment our first responders needed to fight the blazes.

Ken McMullen of the Calgary Fire Department told me recently how the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has identified theft and vandalism of equipment as one of the association's official concerns. This is not a theoretical problem. These crimes are happening. They are concerning for our firefighters and jeopardizing Canadians' safety, our properties, our landscapes, and our environment. At critical times when it is needed most, the equipment our firefighters depend on for their dangerous jobs is going missing or being compromised.

It seems a counterintuitive crime in which to engage, since the same people who are stealing this equipment or causing damage to it are often likely members of the same community that will depend on firefighters to protect them in the event of a crisis. However, since common sense or even self-preservation cannot be relied upon to deter such dangerous and foolish crimes, it becomes apparent that more is needed to do in law.

It concerns me that some of my colleagues across the way do not share this view. They are always careful to acknowledge the difficult work firefighters do, but still signal they will not support this bill, which, by the way, has the backing of every major organization representing the firefighting community in Canada. The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, prevention officers, and professional and volunteer firefighters have all endorsed this bill.

I know one might say that there are already clauses in the Criminal Code to deal with such crimes as theft and mischief. Indeed, that was the stance the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice took during earlier debate on this bill when he said other avenues are available to address the problem. Yes, theft in general is, of course, already illegal and theft over $5,000 is already punishable with possible jail time, but none of the code's theft offences specifically recognize how theft of property as vital as firefighting equipment can cause actual danger to life.

The potential hazards associated with stealing firefighting equipment go far beyond those of theft in general. Respectfully, I suggest that the parliamentary secretary is missing the point of the bill. The existing avenues he mentions have penalties once injury or death has been caused, but Bill C-365 seeks to prevent such needless injuries and deaths in the first place by subjecting the threat of injury or loss of life to a more stringent penalty. This would provide the deterrence needed to restrict the senseless theft and vandalism of such equipment that will inevitably lead to such injuries and fatalities.

In defending the status quo, the parliamentary secretary is not listening to the tens of thousands of Canadian firefighters who have already indicated their support for the provisions of this bill. He will acknowledge the difficulty of the firefighters' work, and rightly so, but he still stops short of giving them the support they are asking for to do their work.

Stealing firefighters' equipment should be dealt with in a much more serious manner. Stealing a piece of equipment one knows will be used to protect lives, and possibly endangering a person's life by doing so, is not the realistic, moral, or ethical equivalent of stealing something that has material value only, even if the monetary value of the items are equal.

Kevin Skrepnek, a chief fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service, was quoted as saying, “Obviously in any situation the theft of equipment is reprehensible, but especially with what we're dealing with right now.” I absolutely agree with the officer.

Such thefts are indeed especially reprehensible in light of the consequences they can have for innocent people, and acts of mischief related to fire equipment, including increasingly common incidents targeting local fire stations and vehicles, are just as hazardous. Current penalties for such crimes do not adequately reflect the serious consequences these offences could have for the safety of the people we send into action when fire threatens. Since these offences can ultimately cause danger to life, they must be treated in a much more serious manner. A more serious consequence for such crimes would go a long way toward preventing more people from committing such crimes in the first place and would therefore increase the chances that firefighters responding to a blaze would have all they needed at hand to leap into action.

The NDP member for Victoria made the curious assertion during debate in November that penalties do not serve to deter crime. I disagree with this assertion. An individual's second thoughts about just how long he may have to cool his heels in jail go much further to prevent the commission of a crime than more government money to finance public education campaigns that the NDP always proposes in place of penalties. However, even if the member were correct and deterrence did not work in this instance, that does not mean that someone should not actually be punished for crimes he commits.

The summary of Bill C-365 spells out how the bill would offer deterrence value through penalties for the serious crimes of stealing or vandalizing firefighters' equipment. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to establish a new offence for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. It would also create an aggravating circumstance for sentencing if mischief involved firefighting equipment and would establish sentencing objectives in relation to the theft of such equipment.

As the sponsoring member has said, there is a gap in the code “when it comes the denunciation and deterrence of theft or damage to firefighting equipment.”

To close, we must take action to stop these senseless acts of theft and vandalism, which are not petty crimes, based on their potentially deadly impact. These crimes pose threats to the ability of our firefighters to do their jobs and therefore present a real threat to persons and property.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

January 31st, 2018 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise in response to the debate of this private member's bill, Bill C-365. I thank all members from both sides of the House who have contributed to the debate of this bill. My time today is short so I will move on to my response to the debate that has occurred.

In the first hour of debate in November, we heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General,, the hon. member for Eglinton-Lawrence. I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's endorsement in November that this bill was “well-intentioned proposal targeting serious conduct that can endanger the lives of our communities and fire response personnel.”

During the parliamentary secretary's speech, he stated that mischief or theft of firefighting equipment were already captured by the Criminal Code under a number of offences. Although I do not dispute this statement is partially correct, for the sake of this debate, the sake of public safety, and for the sake of Canada's firefighters whom the hon. member appropriately described as “heroes”, I must clarify that while the Criminal Code does contain offences that capture the conduct in question, the code's existing provisions are inconsistent.

That is why I have brought this bill forward, to establish clear and consistent provisions in the Criminal Code for offences involving mischief or theft of firefighting equipment. As the Criminal Code stands today, mischief such as vandalism of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life may be subject to a maximum sentence of life if the presiding judge decides that such a maximum sentence is warranted. This is appropriate. This is not a mandatory minimum sentence that we currently see in the code for such mischief. It is an option that prosecutors and judges may pursue or apply if the facts of the case support it.

Currently, there are no such provisions for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The parliamentary secretary has suggested that criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death are applicable. If criminal negligence causing bodily harm were applied to a case of theft of firefighting equipment, prosecutors and judges would be limited to seeking or applying a maximum sentence of 10 years. This exposes the very inconsistency of the existing Criminal Code that this bill seeks to correct.

Why should theft of firefighting equipment be treated differently from mischief of firefighting equipment, if and when these two offences can have the exact same effect of causing actual danger to human life? Why should theft of firefighting equipment require a death to occur before such theft can qualify for the same maximum sentence carried by mischief that causes actual danger to life? If we truly trust our judiciary to decide an appropriate sentence, why would we hesitate in providing it with consistent sentencing options for mischief and theft of firefighting equipment that cause actual danger to life?

The bill is an opportunity for Parliament to establish clear denunciations of the offence in question, in support of not just our judiciary, but also our firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and Canadian citizens. We know that mischief and theft of firefighting equipment are realities in our society. We know that these offences can cause actual danger to life. We know that law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges are provided inconsistent legal tools for treating these offences, even though the offences can have the exact same effect.

We know that the House has an essential role to play in supporting the continuous improvement and strengthening of the Criminal Code. Let us see and treat this bill for what it is: an opportunity to make the Criminal Code more consistent; an opportunity to clearly denounce mischief and theft of firefighting equipment that cause actual danger to life; an opportunity to provide our judiciary the flexibility to treat these offences consistently; an opportunity to support firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect ours, 365 days a year; and an opportunity to support public safety in every community across our nation for the benefit of every Canadian, the people we all represent. Let us seize these opportunities and not let them pass us by.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2017 / 6:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved that Bill C-365, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firefighting equipment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-365, an act that seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada in relation to mischief or theft of firefighting equipment.

Firefighters count on their equipment to be in place and ready to go at a moment's notice, 365 days a year. However, if that equipment is not ready to be used as a result of theft or mischief, the safety of firefighters and the public they protect can be quickly undermined.

Before I go any further, I must express my appreciation for the support I have received for this bill from the firefighting community across Canada. I would like to thank the International Association of Fire Fighters Canada and the 23,000 firefighters it represents for their support. I would also like to thank the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association for its support. Members of the Fire Prevention Officers Association of BC have also issued their support, and I thank them. I also thank the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the 3,500 fire halls it represents across Canada for their support and getting the word out to support this bill.

This past summer during the worst fire season in British Columbia's history, I was disturbed by reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized when firefighting crews needed their equipment the most. As it turns out, mischief and theft of firefighting equipment is not isolated to wildfire lands in B.C. Unfortunately, there are instances of mischief and theft of firefighting equipment right across Canada.

Such actions can appear to be a minor in threat to public safety, but this appearance is deceiving. Take, for instance, a case in Hamilton, Ontario earlier this year when an individual was arrested and charged for stealing fire nozzles from inside two apartment buildings. The reality is that whether mischief or theft of firefighting occurs in a fire hall, a fire camp, or an apartment building, it can quickly increase the danger to our firefighters and the Canadians they help to protect.

Fire is a hazardous threat that each of us must contend with whether we are at work or at home. Indeed, this Parliament building that we convene in today was rebuilt 100 years ago, one year after being burnt to the ground by fire in 1916.

When Canadians face the destructive force of fire, Canada's firefighters and their equipment serve as the first line of defence. From coast to coast to coast, Canadians depend on their local firefighters to answer the call of duty when fire threatens their homes, lives, and their loved ones. Canada's firefighters answer this call of duty, and I know all members share my appreciation for their selfless dedication.

I am glad to see colleagues from all sides at this debate today, because it is not just an important debate, but also an important opportunity to support Canada's firefighters and fire halls from coast to coast to coast. It is an opportunity for the House to establish clear denunciation and deterrence for mischief and theft related to firefighting equipment in the Criminal Code.

The bill proposes a new and specific offence for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The proposed offence is necessitated by inconsistency in the code's provisions applicable to cases of mischief or theft of firefighting equipment, especially in cases where such mischief or theft causes actual danger to life.

Currently under the code, vandalism or tampering is treated as mischief. Mischief that causes actual danger to life can be prosecuted as an indictable offence and is punishable with a sentence of up to life imprisonment. However, the code contains no provision for theft of property that causes actual danger to life. In the absence of such a provision, theft offences, including theft causing actual danger to life, are limited to maximum penalties of two years' imprisonment for theft under $5,000 or 10 years' imprisonment for theft over $5,000.

It is not hard to see how theft of firefighting equipment could quickly cause danger to life regardless of the monetary value of the equipment. Take for instance the fire nozzles in apartment buildings or the fire extinguishers at a service station. Although these pieces of equipment may not be of high monetary value, they are often the first line of defence in an emergency situation.

By establishing this proposed offence for theft and the corresponding maximum penalty, the bill would establish consistency in the Criminal Code's provisions applicable to mischief and theft of firefighting equipment when such offences cause actual danger to life. To be clear, the proposed maximum penalty of life imprisonment for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life would not be an automatic or mandatory sentence. One reason for this is that prosecutors considering charges for a specific case would first need to elect this offence and win the conviction on the charge for the maximum sentence to be considered.

A conviction under this proposed offence would require a prosecutor to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt: (a) that there was a theft, (b) that the theft included firefighting equipment, and (c) that the theft caused actual danger to life.

Because this proposed penalty does not stipulate a minimum sentence, the application of the sentence would need to be elected by the sentencing judge at his or her discretion. I hope it is clear that we are not considering throwing someone in jail for a long time for stealing a fire extinguisher without actual danger to life having been caused. This new proposed offence will confront acts of theft that cause danger to life when firefighting equipment is stolen.

For this new offence, Bill C-365 proposes the same condition of causing actual danger to life and penalty parameters that currently exist in the code for mischief causing actual danger to life. Considering that theft of firefighting equipment can cause the same danger to life that mischief of firefighting equipment can cause, it is appropriate that the same penalty options be available to prosecutors and judges to work in cases where actual danger to life has been caused.

The second part of Bill C-365 proposes to establish mischief related to firefighting equipment as an aggravating circumstance. This aggravating circumstance would add gravity to the offence of mischief related to firefighting equipment in the course of a judge's determination of a sentence. It is at this stage of the process that a judge considers both aggravating and mitigating circumstances to ascertain the appropriate sentence. The aggravating circumstance would establish in the Criminal Code the principle that mischief related to firefighting equipment is more serious than simple mischief.

The third component of Bill C-365 seeks to establish clarity on what the objective of the sentence should be when a judge is determining a sentence for any theft of firefighting equipment, regardless of whether or not danger to life has been caused.

As I discussed moments ago, the proposed new offence focuses on theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The theft of firefighting equipment that does not cause actual danger to life would continue to be prosecuted in the Criminal Code's existing provisions, namely, theft offences under section 322 and penalties under section 334.

The key to this part of the bill is that for the sake of sentencing, it identifies the theft of firefighting equipment as a more serious offence than simple theft of other property. As a result, the sentence should focus on the objective of denunciation of the crime and establishing deterrence. Again, the sentencing objective would be waived by the sentencing judge with all the facts of the case and all of the relevant circumstances to determine the appropriate sentence. This special consideration is necessitated when theft involves firefighting equipment that is in place to protect people's lives.

For the sake of comparison, section 718.03 of the Criminal Code has a similar sentencing objective for anyone who kills, maims, wounds, poisons, or injures a law enforcement or military animal. The sentencing objective sets these animals apart from animals the same way the proposed sentencing objective of Bill C-365 would differentiate between property and firefighting equipment when it comes to mischief and theft.

In closing, Bill C-365 has been conceived and developed through research of real-life situations faced by firefighters and the Canadians they help protect. We know that mischief and theft related to firefighting equipment happens. We know that it is more serious than simple mischief or theft. When these offences involve firefighting equipment, there is an inherent risk to public safety, and danger to life can be caused. We know that the Criminal Code, as it stands today, does not offer prosecutors and judges the same range of offences and penalties for theft of firefighting equipment as it does for mischief related to firefighting equipment.

The proposals in this bill are balanced and appropriate, because they do not seek to impede or limit prosecutorial or judicial discretion. In actuality, the proposals in this bill seek to provide prosecutors and judges with more flexibility to deliver stiffer sentences when such sentences are required, especially when danger to life is involved.

The Criminal Code's fundamental principle for sentencing states, “A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” The proposals in this bill would allow prosecutors and judges to better uphold this principle when dealing with cases where mischief or theft of firefighting equipment has occurred, especially when danger to life has been caused. When mischief or theft undermines the capacity of our firefighters to protect our community, the mischief or theft deserves to be denounced by this House.

Canadians across our nation depend on the ability of our firefighters to do their jobs. Firefighters need to be able to do their jobs with the equipment put there to protect us all. Canadians depend on us, as members of Parliament, to be responsible and responsive to the realities across our nation when we have the opportunity to denounce and deter.

I certainly hope all members will support Bill C-365 and support what it proposes for the firefighters and the equipment that support our communities and helps keep them safe 365 days a year.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2017 / 7:05 p.m.
See context

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for all of his work on this private member's bill. The purpose of the bill is an important one: protecting our firefighters. They are truly our country's heroes.

At the same time, the government has a number of concerns, and I will outline those.

It is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-365, an act to amend the Criminal Code for firefighting equipment. The bill proposes to make changes to the Criminal Code to denounce and deter the theft of or mischief against firefighting equipment. The bill appears to be in response to various reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized during, most recently, the wildfires in British Columbia in 2017, although I note that my colleague referred to other instances that had come to his attention.

Before I discuss some of the specific proposals of Bill C-365, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge all British Columbians affected by the natural disaster of these fires. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for those people who were asked to evacuate their homes at a moment's notice, without knowing whether they would have anything left upon their return.

I would also like to acknowledge the brave efforts of firefighting crews that worked in extremely difficult conditions to try to bring those fires under control. Their work limited the destruction and devastation caused by this natural disaster.

All Canadians owe these brave women and men a debt of gratitude.

The 2017 wildfire season has been the most destructive on record. Last August, the B.C. Wildfire Service information officer reported an estimated 894,941 hectares had burned, surpassing a mark set in 1958, when 855,000 hectares of land had been destroyed.

It is equally important to acknowledge the devastating impacts that this natural disaster has had, especially on B.C. first nations communities. I am aware that our government is committed to continuing its support of British Columbia and B.C. first nations communities facing the immediate and long-term impacts on wildfires. I was pleased to hear about the creation of the ad hoc cabinet committee on federal recovery efforts for the 2017 BC wildfires by the Government of Canada. The committee was created to advise our government on its role in mitigation, recovery, and rebuilding efforts in response to the wildfires.

On September 5, 2017, the committee met with members of the B.C. government, first nations community leaders, and representatives from the Canadian Red Cross to discuss progress and ensure a coordinated response to the wildfires. I understand the work of this committee to be focused on helping the people of British Columbia with the immediate and long-term effects of these destructive wildfires.

Likewise, I was happy to learn, and all those affected by this natural disaster can be reassured, that our government will contribute up to $38.6 million to the Canadian Red Cross, which is equivalent to the amount that the Canadian Red Cross is providing in support to British Columbia wildfire victims. These funds will be directed towards wildfire evacuees as they recover and re-establish their livelihoods.

I am proud that our government will continue to work in collaboration with Emergency Management British Columbia and on-reserve first nations communities to establish and develop recovery plans and reimburse eligible response and recovery costs.

Prevention is also an important part of the equation. That is why our government has also committed to conducting a review of the response to these fires, in full partnership with the government of British Columbia and B.C first nations communities, to not only improve emergency management, but establish preventative measures that can be undertaken to better respond to future fires.

All of this context is important, as I understand that it is animated and informed, much of the reason for this private member's bill. Thus, let me return to the substance of Bill C-365 which, as my colleague pointed out, proposes three changes to the Criminal Code.

First, it would create a new indictable offence of theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The offence would be punishable by a proposed maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Second, the bill would require courts that sentence an offender for mischief to consider, as an “aggravating circumstance” at sentencing, that the property in relation to which the mischief occurred was firefighting equipment.

Last, the bill would require courts to give primary consideration to the sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence in all situations involving theft of firefighting equipment, that is, even in those thefts that do not require actual danger to Iife.

Under the law as it stands today, this conduct is already captured under offences of general application such as theft, mischief, mischief endangering life, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death. Similarly, the Criminal Code already provides general authority for sentencing courts to consider all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the gravity of the offence or the degree of responsibility of the offender.

Let me say that in my experience in criminal courts, the judiciary are very adept at listening to these aggravating factors as they are presented on a case-by-case basis. In those circumstances where the property involves theft of equipment that is used for the purposes of emergency response, that would almost certainly be considered as an aggravating factor that would have a negative impact on the length of the sentence.

The Minister of Justice's mandate letter requires her to conduct a review of our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade. I, and many of my colleagues on this side, have spoken about the importance of the comprehensive criminal justice review that this government has committed to undertaking.

I know that this review is seeking to ensure that our laws increase community safety, address gaps in the law, and ensure that current provisions are aligned with the objectives of the criminal justice system. The mandate letter to the Minister of Justice requires that all legislative initiatives be informed by performance measurement evidence and feedback from Canadians and it directs the minister to ensure that resources are directed towards those initiatives that have the greatest positive impact on the lives of Canadians.

It is worth noting that often there is an inclination on the part of many, in response to a crisis or some immediate tragedy, to seek an immediate amendment to the Criminal Code in the belief, often sincerely held, that the criminalization of that conduct will prevent its recurrence. Sadly, a legislative solution may not always be the most effective means of ensuring that this conduct will not occur again.

Often the most effective solution to a problem is one that considers a more comprehensive response. I would invite all members of this House to consider the most effective way to redress this specific situation. I look forward to a thorough discussion and debate on the merits of this bill, including a discussion on performance measurement and the evidence available to support this legislative initiative.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap for providing us the opportunity to consider this issue. The bill is a well-intentioned proposal targeting serious conduct that can endanger the lives of our communities and fire response personnel. However, I wonder whether the solution to the problem lies uniquely in legislative amendments or whether such conduct can be effectively addressed through other potential avenues.

I will be closely following this debate, and I look forward to hearing from other members on the potential impacts of this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2017 / 7:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to rise and indicate from the outset that I oppose this bill for three main reasons that I would like to articulate.

First, the sentencing called for is excessive. Although the crime and its consequences are indeed serious, we reserve 25-year prison sentences for those convicted of first degree murder, not for theft of the kind referred to in this bill.

Second, the Criminal Code already addresses mischief that causes actual danger to life, where if this kind of claim is proven the result is already a life prison sentence.

Third, harsher penalties simply do not serve as a deterrent for those who may commit this type of crime. Instead of handing down harsher sentences, which ultimately will not reduce the instances of theft or vandalism, the NDP believes that resources should be focused on crime prevention to pre-emptively deal with the serious issue that this bill would purport to address.

I want to say at the outset that I agree entirely with the sponsor of this bill, the hon. member for North Okanagan—Shuswap, that tampering with life-saving equipment is a very serious offence. Stealing or vandalizing that equipment can have far more severe consequences than simply stealing merchandise from a store would suggest. I understand my hon. colleague's point in highlighting the issue specific to this kind of theft or vandalism.

We are mindful of the examples in British Columbia this past season, where a water pump and hoses were stolen from the Harrop Creek wildfire, northeast of Nelson. It caused a serious impact on the effectiveness of firefighting activities, posing a safety risk not just to the first responders but to the general public at large.

There was another example of vandalism destroying communications equipment near Creston, B.C. There it was radio equipment that was destroyed in a radio communications tower. Once again, that crime put the safety of firefighting personnel at risk.

However, other measures can be taken to address the theft and vandalism of firefighting equipment. We support preventative measures that can be used to curtail this very disruptive, dangerous behaviour. Focusing on prevention allows us to minimize harm and reduce the burden on our crowded court system.

Instead of relying on punitive action to address crimes that have already been committed, the more effective remedy is to reduce those incidents in the first place. We believe in working with first responders to fix the problem with increased surveillance of vulnerable areas and educating the public, particularly young people, about the harmful repercussions of tampering with equipment.

Reducing the instances of criminal behaviour is a far more worthwhile endeavour than throwing the book at someone once a tragedy has already occurred. If I may be a little colloquial, focusing solely on punishment is a little like locking the barn door after the horse has already escaped.

Before I return to the matter of discussing our reasons for opposition, I would like to take a moment to make a very important clarification. Impeding first responders from doing their job is incredibly serious. It has costly consequences. I would not want to the hon. member to confuse our opposition to the bill with a lack of support for first responders and the incredibly difficult work they do. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Before I hear any rhetoric about being “tough on crime” or accusations of who is not “tough on crime”, we are committed to policies and practices that work, not to sound bites.

Again, we are not disputing the seriousness of the crime at issue. We are simply in disagreement on the best way to deal with the problem. We know that first responders are the first line of defence against disaster. Whether they are firefighters fighting wildfires burning out of control or paramedics waging a war in the opioid crisis, we are here to assist them and bring forward policies that will help make their lives easier.

In British Columbia this past summer, as the member pointed out, we had what Premier John Horgan called the worst wildfire season since the 1950s. These are costly disasters for the natural environment, the wildlife that depends on the environment, and of course human life, safety, and property. Families lose their homes and the tragedy is obvious for all to see.

These wildfires are costing us millions of dollars and are devastating. More than 870 fires sparked across B.C. since April 1, scorching 5,090 square kilometres, and $211.7 million was spent on fire suppression efforts. We in British Columbia are looking to the federal government to do its share to help with financial reparation.

I will return to the specific provisions of Bill C-365, first with respect to excessive sentencing for theft and an unnecessary amendment. I understand the incredible emotional and financial toll these disasters have taken on Canadians. However, I have practised and taught law and when dealing with criminal matters, we always have to be measured, well-reasoned, and proportionate in our response.

Amendments to the Criminal Code must be undertaken with clear heads and a commitment to determine the best course of action to correct the specific problem sought to be addressed. Section 334 of the Criminal Code already punishes theft, including imprisonment for a term of up to 10 years in certain contexts. With regard to theft, therefore, the code is clear. I do not think it is necessary to include firefighting equipment in the list of things to be stolen.

That leads to the second point, where I consider the amendment somewhat redundant. If there is a case where one can prove irrefutably that tampering resulted in danger to the life of another individual, we already have “Mischief” under section 430. Where damages occur to property, or the like, or there is interference with people in the lawful use of their property, there can again be serious consequences, including imprisonment for life. We already have the tools to do the job.

Finally, there is no consensus that harsher penalties will serve as effective deterrents to those who may commit crimes. I will quote from an article written by Professors Doob, Webster, and Gartner in 2014. They stated, “At this point, we think it is fair to say that we know of no reputable criminologist who has looked carefully at the overall body of research literature on 'deterrence through sentencing' who believes that crime rates will be reduced, through deterrence, by raising the severity of sentences handed down in criminal courts.”

An Economist article also cited a review by Steven Durlauf of the University of Wisconsin and Daniel Nagin at Carnegie Mellon University, who found little evidence that criminals responded to harsher sentencing, and much stronger evidence that increasing the certainty of punishment deterred crime. We heard that loud and clear in the testimony at committee on Bill C-46 with respect to driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis. They said in the summary of their article that “This matters for policy, as it suggests that locking vast numbers of people in jail is not only expensive, but useless as a deterrent.” That is what the literature shows.

In conclusion, there are already measures in place in our Criminal Code to ensure that truly reckless, life-endangering mischief is handled in the appropriate way. We have to work collaboratively with first responders to ensure that the public is aware of the harmful results of tampering with firefighting equipment. Awareness campaigns have had a powerful influence on the scourge of drunk driving. They may well be relevant in this context as well.

While all forms of vandalism are certainly to be discouraged, there is a difference here that must be communicated. We have to work with our first responders. I think it would be far more productive, therefore, to discuss ways in which we could provide better support to them than simply creating another offence. Once the damage is done, it is done. There is no going back to undo the harm caused. If harsher sentences with regard to theft are there, these do not necessarily deter would-be criminals. These are not the most effective way of addressing a very significant concern raised by this bill.

Let us do the hard work of truly supporting our first responders and helping them implement measures that would reduce these incidents in the first place.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

October 3rd, 2017 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-365, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firefighting equipment).

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour today to table my private member's bill, Bill C-365, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding firefighting equipment. This bill would amend the Criminal Code to establish specific penalties related to the theft of firefighting equipment. It would also create an aggravating circumstance for sentencing if mischief involves firefighting equipment. Finally, it would establish sentencing objectives in relation to the theft of such equipment.

This summer I was shocked to hear reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized during the worst wildfire season in British Columbia's written history. After researching the Criminal Code, it was apparent that there was a gap when it comes to the denunciation and deterrence of theft or damage to firefighting equipment.

The bill's proposed amendments would bring theft causing actual danger to life in line with a similar scenario regarding mischief dealing with the same equipment. The amendments would also provide prosecutorial discretion over charges laid and judicial discretion and objectives in sentencing in cases involving theft or mischief in relation to firefighting equipment.

I look forward to debating this bill in the House and hope for the support of my colleagues and the brave women and men firefighters right across the country as I move it forward.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)