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

Second reading (House), as of Nov. 21, 2017

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-365.

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.

FirefightersStatements By Members

December 5th, 2017 / 2:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, mischief and theft related to firefighting equipment are serious offences that can cause danger to the lives of firefighters and the Canadians they protect. I have introduced a private member's bill, Bill C-365, to establish clear deterrents for these offences to protect firefighters, who are on guard 365 days a year. I am truly grateful for the growing support this bill continues to receive from across Canada: support from the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, from the International Association of Firefighters Canada, the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, the Fire Prevention Officers Association of BC; and support from firefighters and Canadians across Canada.

We depend on our firefighters, so let us help them protect the equipment they depend on. Details on the bill and e-petition 1373 can be found on my website and on the House of Commons website. I invite all Canadians to support Canadian firefighters by signing e-petition 1373 to help move this bill forward through the process.

FirefightingStatements By Members

November 23rd, 2017 / 2 p.m.
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Conservative

Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, this past Tuesday, debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-365, began. I thank all members who contributed to the debate. Bill C-365 proposes support for Canadian firefighters who stand ready to answer the call of duty 365 days a year.

Firefighters depend on their equipment to do their job, and Bill C-365 seeks to provide specific denunciations and deterrence of mischief or theft related to firefighting equipment. Momentum for Bill C-365 is building, with broad support received from firefighters, fire chiefs, fire prevention officers, their national associations, and the public. I am truly grateful for this support.

We all have an opportunity to support this initiative. I invite all Canadians to support our firefighters and this bill by signing online e-petition 1373 on the House of Commons website.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2017 / 7:10 p.m.
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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 CodePrivate Members' Business

November 21st, 2017 / 7:05 p.m.
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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 / 6:45 p.m.
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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 CodeRoutine Proceedings

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