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.