Evidence of meeting #35 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was riot.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • James Stribopoulos  Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School School, York University, As an Individual
  • Patrick Webb  Former Member, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, As an Individual

11:55 a.m.

Former Member, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, As an Individual

Patrick Webb

I can't see someone in that type of situation ever being arrested, because that would be ludicrous to go before the courts with.

11:55 a.m.


Kyle Seeback Brampton West, ON


Mr. Chair, I'm going to share my time with Mr. Woodworth.

11:55 a.m.


The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Be very brief. We're almost out of time.

11:55 a.m.


Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

I'll just say to Mr. Stribopoulos, then, that the fact is that the intent requirement is present in this act; however, it is a degree of intent that is much less culpable than an intent to commit an indictable offence. It is only an intent to wear a mask.

I will say that the reason we don't abolish the offence of possession of stolen property is that it would make thefts easier to commit if it were legal for everyone to possess property that has been stolen. In the same way, by making it prohibited to wear a mask in the circumstances noted in this act, we are helping to preserve public safety by removing the cover that the real wrongdoers will have, if they're surrounded by people who are all wearing masks.

I'm probably out of time at this point.



The Chair Dave MacKenzie

You are out of time, absolutely, yes.

I would like to thank both of the witnesses. I think you've brought a great deal to the meeting, and I thank you for that.

We will suspend for a few minutes while we switch over to move to clause-by-clause examination of the bill.

12:05 p.m.


The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I'll call the meeting back to order.

Everybody, don't run away when we finish this--if we do. We need about three minutes at the very end to deal with the budget on this particular issue.

On clause 2, I understand there is an NDP amendment.

Ms. Boivin, you have the floor.

12:05 p.m.


Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Clause 2 of the bill reads as follows:

2. Section 65 of the Criminal Code is renumbered as subsection 65(1) and amended by adding the following: (2) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

We suggest the following amendment:

That Bill C-309, in clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 10 to 13 on page 1 with the following: (2) Every one who, with intent to commit an offence under subsection (1), has his or her face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised is guilty of an.…

It then continues with what is in the bill.

Bill C-309, a private member's bill, was tabled by the colleague here. I would like to thank him for taking this initiative. I think that violent demonstrations, like the recent demonstrations in Victoriaville, Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec, the ones in Toronto during the G8 and G20, and even the riots in Vancouver after the Stanley Cup, are horrifying to almost all reasonable, law-abiding Canadians. The members of the official opposition, of the government and of all other parties in Parliament agree that we need to find ways to tackle this problem.

We understand the logic underlying this bill. Last weekend, the justice minister, the honourable Rob Nicholson, said that the government would support this bill. However, as a sidebar, I would like to say that this kind of bill, in the context in which we could even create new offences, should come from the government and not through the back door from a member. Having said that, I give full marks to the colleague who tabled Bill C-309 for his intentions.

It's obvious that the objective is to prevent people with bad intentions from wreaking havoc during demonstrations that are initially very peaceful and entirely lawful. This situation has become more and more frequent for a few years now. I am convinced that there will always be people with bad intentions, everywhere. Can the bill prevent that in its current state? The way several witnesses—even police force representatives—understand the bill indicates to us that there is a problem with how it's interpreted.

The way the bill currently is, the individual must at least intend to participate in a riot. We can refer to the Criminal Code and all jurisprudence that has been decisive in the case of section 65. But the arguments will be basically the same for section 66. Professor Stribopoulos told us earlier that there had to be criminal intent. In other words, we can't give police forces carte blanche.

Some people listening to us may think this bill will allow any police force to unmask everyone or remove their disguise simply because they are taking part in a demonstration that turns into a riot or an unlawful assembly. But I have the impression that the courts are going to set the record straight and that it may cause some problems.

In addition, the fact that the Criminal Code has similar provisions that are worded differently creates ambiguity. Again, I think Professor Stribopoulos spoke about this in his testimony.

More often than not, this ambiguity is used only by the defence. It is used to raise reasonable doubt, create confusion, mask, if I may use the word, what we are trying to unmask. That isn't the objective that the legislators want to attain. Our role is to use the best terms possible, words that don't leave room for interpretation. You may tell me that this is somewhat idealistic, and that may be. If that was the case, there would no longer be any trials and everything would be very clear. However, it is our duty to ensure that the legislation that we draft here, in Parliament, will be legally binding and beneficial for the people we represent and that they will respect all the legislation that can be applied in the circumstances.

The government has talked at length about what is being done in other countries, including England and Australia or in New York City, in the United States, and so on. We are all aware—and I imagine the government is too—that we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I didn't call it the "charter of criminals". This charter, which is for all Canadians, stipulates that people have the right to express themselves without fear of getting beaten up for having a different opinion.

This committee recently passed a bill that removed hate speech to foster—and that was the government's argument—freedom of expression. Freedom of expression takes many forms, including how we dress and speak. Having said that, the objective is to ensure that there is as little confusion as possible. Clearly, there is the matter of burden of proof. Subsection 65(2) of Bill C-309 states: "Every person who commits an offence [so, who participates in a riot and intends to participate in one] while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse…."

So it will have to be proven that this person tried to conceal his or her identity without lawful excuse. There is a burden of proof. Representatives from the Canadian Bar Association made that very clear to us. I encourage the members who did not read their brief to do so. We got it yesterday, May 7. I wish they could have come and met with us. I think the brief is fairly clear on that. The problematic issue of reversing the burden of proof may be challenged. This may lead to some problems relating to the constitutionality of the bill.

To stay within the specific context of Bill C-309, as I've said from the beginning, the tools already exist for police officers everywhere. The problem is often not that the Criminal Code provisions don't exist, but rather that there are many more people than expected and that there isn't much communication among the demonstration organizers. That should be one indication, by the way.

Let's take the students in Quebec as an example. Police chiefs said that, sometimes, they couldn't contact the people in charge of the demonstrations. If I was a police officer, knowing that a demonstration was going to take place, I would monitor things much more closely because a lack of communication is a sign that there will be problems. That would make me a little more cautious about what action I would take. I would add police officers or I would ask other police forces for help.

In addition, our bills shouldn't mask the fact that there is a real lack of police officers.

There aren't enough police officers or boots on the ground. This isn't the first time we've heard that. The government even made promises about that during the election campaign. So we shouldn't be hiding these gaps with bills that fool Canadians into believing that it won't ever happen again.

When people ask me that if Bill C-309 were to be adopted as is, could events like what happened last weekend in Victoriaville happen again, my answer has to be yes. Would the consequences be the same? If we are able to catch the instigators and the guilty parties, I say good luck. It isn't necessarily easy. It's not a panacea.

This is why we think that we aren't resolving the problem by having a text that is like one that already exists. We've been saying from the beginning that the section exists and that it has already been used. It has been used successfully more than once, according to some witnesses.

If we insist on creating two new offences, including in section 65(2), we need to at least have wording that doesn't contradict another provision because then we will really cause a problem. Does it become a lesser and included offence? Is it a choice? Are these the two offences that police officers will be able to work with? While here, it's clear. The clause says that everyone who, with intent to commit an offence under subsection (1), has his or her face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised is guilty of an indictable offence.

So that remains faithful to what our colleague presented, meaning that an offence would be created. We think it already exists. So it's a little redundant. However, let's say that we are going to establish it specifically in the context of the section on riots and unlawful assemblies. This might eliminate some discussions that some people could potentially have about the provisions of section 351, which have more to do with offences like armed robbery and things like that.

If we insist on having this new type of provision, thinking that we're creating something new, at least let's do it in respect of the charters, of the right to assemble and to express ourselves, while ensuring that people who are arrested are prosecuted under the full extent of the law, but in accordance with the laws that exist here, in Canada.

As I just said, we think what's important is ensuring that this doesn't happen again. But if it does happen, what tools could the police have? What types of tools do they need to be able to tell the population that it's a problem if they take part in this type of event and wear a disguise.

By the way, this is more consistent with what was in section 351. If I was a defence lawyer and saw the words "while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity", while section 351 says "his or her face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised", I would say that the latter seems clearer and more general. Using different expressions could pose a problem, as anyone who has practised criminal law knows. Every aspect of this type is used to try to raise various doubts, namely, whether this type of situation was intended.

When the bill was presented—I think it was back in October—the Quebec Bar also recommended an amendment in its letter to MP Blake Richards, who presented the bill. The last paragraph of the letter dated November 16, 2011 from Claude Provencher, the director general, clearly states that a democratic society cannot restrict the freedom of expression of its citizens who express themselves as part of peaceful demonstrations and who act in a peaceful manner.

So we cannot act preventively. That's perhaps our biggest concern because I don't think that anyone here around the table should claim in the media or to their constituents that the bill in question—Bill C-309—amended or not, will enable the police to arrest people preventively. This isn't the case under the bill. It may be the case in section 31 of the Criminal Code. It's possible because there is still a section that sets out other provisions.

Actually, under the Criminal Code, if a police officer suspects someone of wanting to commit a criminal offence, they can arrest that person. The concept of preventive detention exists, but in other sections. Bill C-309 is not going to help us with prevention. Get that out of your heads, because that is not what the bill says, neither in its current form or its amended form.

I would now like to quote the Barreau du Québec:

The Barreau du Québec submits that the objective of this legislative proposal would be achieved by using the wording of section 351(2) under the current Criminal Code. We propose that the offence specify: “Every one who wears a mask with intent to...”

From a technical perspective, it is the same suggestion that the New Democratic Party made to the government to improve its bill in terms of penalties. We will surely go back to penalties when we debate the government's amendment.

To sum up, we are in favour of the idea. We understand the objective, but we feel that it is already included in subsection 351(2), at least for criminal offences, but not for summary offences. In light of the proposed amendment, we are ready to create that concept. A new offence would be included in subsection 66(2).

In addition, we propose that we use terms that are consistent with those used in the Criminal Code, which have already been reviewed and interpreted by the courts and which are in line with our charters. People have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, the right to assemble peacefully and freely, without fear of being removed from a crowd for a yes or no, or because their message is not what others want to hear, as long as they do it lawfully, peacefully and in compliance with our legislation.

12:20 p.m.


The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Côté.

May 8th, 2012 / 12:20 p.m.


Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I agree with my colleague. I would like to talk about the limited resources of our police forces. I have a great example from last week. Actually, I had the pleasure of speaking privately with Bernard Leary, President of the Fraternité des policiers de Québec. Among other things, he reminded me of something that I was probably already familiar with.

From a legal point of view, Quebec City has to have a minimum of 704 serving police officers, given the size of its population. After a drastic drop in the police force—as a result of the amalgamation of the former cities now part of Quebec City—the number is now at 714 police officers. That shows how narrow the margin is. As part of this committee's business, I would also like to take the opportunity to commend the police officers of Quebec City for their work and professionalism. Those police officers are doing a great job with law enforcement. As a result, Quebec City is quite a peaceful place with one of the lowest crime rates in Canada.

Let us talk about what we are seeking to achieve by introducing the amendments. Let's look at the first one. Without meaning to interpret the intentions of police officers, we cannot deny that various incidents have taken place across the country during demonstrations, which, unfortunately, ended up in riots. In a context of limited resources—lack of equipment, shortage of staff, or limitations in work methods for our police officers—we might question whether those police officers have all the necessary tools, in addition to legislative instruments, to do their job, often in situations of riots or demonstrations that become illegal. As an aside, let me mention the Life on Mars series, where you can see the difference in work methods in the UK between 1973 and today.

In terms of these limited resources, some members of the police force had a reaction in some instances. This is about testing the limits and even exceeding them when it comes to the provisions of the Criminal Code. It is one of the concerns that we are trying to address with this amendment. We are trying to avoid preventive arrests. We could even have an offence called the crime of expression.

That is why we have used so many examples of the use of masks. In some cases, it has to do with rallying crowds during demonstrations, where there is no criminal intent. So then they just want to be supportive of the protesters' enthusiasm and, in so doing, make their point. Unfortunately, when the situation escalates, boundaries are broken and demonstrations turn to riots. People wearing masks legally could be arrested at random, even abused.

I would like to mention a case where no masks were involved. That happened a few weeks ago in the riding of Beauport—Limoilou, at Cégep Limoilou. A philosophy professor wanted to teach a course on civil disobedience with the intent of showing support for the student strike. She made her intentions clear. But, as a result of a social media blunder, she was unfortunately accused of wanting to incite violence and of pretty much having criminal intentions. That stopped her from teaching her outdoor course, outside the walls of the CEGEP.

The day the course was supposed to be delivered, a group of CEGEP students, students from other schools and bystanders assembled to show their support for the professor. I would like to draw a parallel to the limited resources and the work of police officers. The Quebec City police took the appropriate precautions since they had been notified about the event well in advance. I can only commend those police officers for how prepared they were; they planned to have an RTC city bus on site in the event they had to make arrests. Arrests were in fact made under a municipal bylaw on the free flow of traffic on public roads.

I don't want to pass judgment on the work of police officers, given arrests are being challenged and, especially, the fines that were handed out during this police operation. I will just finish setting the stage. Seeing that the lecture was not being given, some of the people there spontaneously decided to march into the street, which was in violation of that municipal bylaw. I wouldn't be able to tell you if there were more, but, among the 49 people who were arrested, one of the Cégep Limoilou students was clearly against the student strike. If things had got out of hand, he might even have approved of the arrest of the protesters. He did not agree with the action, with the intent of the philosophy professor and, especially, with the strike action taken by his fellow colleagues.

We can always talk about the G20 summit in Toronto, or other unfortunate examples that show how difficult and demanding the work of police officers is. So we have to be very careful when we determine the legislative tools that we will give them under the Criminal Code. I completely agree with my colleague Ms. Boivin on that. She was very eloquent and is very knowledgeable about the issue. She described the situation well.

Our amendment is meant to be friendly, since we have the same goal, which is to prevent violence and illegal actions. My major concern is that, if we pass the bill as written without amendments, too many people in an illegal assembly or a demonstration could be arbitrarily and unfairly arrested for the simple fact that they are there. Through a series of circumstances, without being warned of the unlawful nature of the event, they could too easily be arrested and be caught in all the red tape of legal proceedings. As a result, their rights to express themselves, to demonstrate and to simply be present at a demonstration or in the area would be violated.

Let me go back to the G20 summit in Toronto. A number of the city's residents, mere bystanders to the demonstrations, were unfortunately arrested. My colleague Craig Scott could confirm that and provide you with more specific examples.

I am telling you this because one of my longtime friends is basically a professional activist in anything related to human rights and major societal issues. Ten years ago, one of the events that he organized was a peaceful demonstration in Quebec City, very far from the walls of the upper town, on the free trade area of the Americas. On a number of occasions, he told me how frustrated he was because rioters took down the fence, thereby obscuring the claims of a peaceful and legitimate demonstration taking place in the lower town, more than one kilometre away from the fence. He was one of the organizers of the demonstration. He also went to Toronto during the G20 protests, as an observer, among other things

On a number of occasions, he was able to acknowledge the work of experienced police officers who had avoided abusive arrests. He told me about experienced detectives or police officers who brought the more enthusiastic police officers back in line. They told them that, if they arrested the protesters, they would not be able to lay charges against them. That longtime activist described the situation well.

Let us go back to the purpose of my Conservative colleague's bill. For one thing, there is the intent to prevent acts of violence, and, for another thing, there is the fact of wearing a mask to commit an offence.

That is why we want to talk about the intent, In full compliance and in line with what has been observed and recommended by the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec. I feel it is key to avoiding arrests that could infringe on the right to freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate, the right to assemble and, ultimately, the right of association.

Mr. Chair, it would be a real shame to commit the resources of our courts to cases that, at the end of the day, would turn out to be illegitimate. We would then end up with case law that would force us to get back to working on finding a measure that works; unfortunately, this will only come after creating many victims.

Having mentioned all those aspects, I urge my colleagues opposite to give some serious consideration to our amendment. The purpose of our amendment is to address some of our fears and those of our neighbours both by avoiding people becoming victims and by not allowing people with criminal intentions to run riot anyway.

Mr. Chair, I am a historian by training. One of the oldest principles in military history has to do with fencing with a sword or shield. For every new move on the offensive, you have a new move on the defensive.

Unfortunately, I was not able to ask the witnesses about this, but we could perhaps assume that, despite passing Bill C-309, the groups of organized rioters with criminal intentions could adapt and get around the legislation easily. Meanwhile, this will hurt a lot of people who want to use the mask as a form of expression or to hide their identity and to avoid being harmed in their personal or professional activities. Several of our witnesses have said so.

It is very important to provide our police officers with the proper tools, but we have to make sure that this does not harm law-abiding citizens who exercise their rights.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

12:35 p.m.


The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Scott.

12:35 p.m.


Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'd also like to speak to our proposed amendment and ask that our colleagues on the committee consider seriously what the amendment is trying to do. It is trying to go to the very core of the examples we kept hearing from the witnesses about the real concerns that need to be addressed: the kinds of groups, the criminals who arrive, and people who are already arriving with criminal intent to engage in the kinds of tactics that several of the police witnesses described to us. In order to achieve that, we believe, frankly, that the existing provision is adequate.

Part of the problem is simply the problem of police enforcement, as our colleague Irwin Cotler spoke to last session. It's not at all clear if we're going to get very far beyond that and still stay true to the principles of both the Constitution and the general principles of criminal law, where intentionality is extremely important.

That being said, we're willing to move a little bit and accept that by moving our amendment on unlawful assembly there is some room for a mask or disguise provision that touches on non-indictable contexts. So please see our amendment not at all as obstructionism, but rather an attempt to get to where the concern seems to be from the witnesses who were called.

That being said, I am a bit concerned that we have a ships-passing-in-the-night problem in terms of at least some members of the committee and a couple of the witnesses—I think in particular of Chief Constable Graham—who have a very different idea of what these words should mean. They've been reading them in a way that just is not at all supported by the text of Mr. Richards' bill.

My concern is that if, after studying a bill with so few provisions, police officers are coming and referring to different things that this will allow them to do as tools, and which seem to go well beyond the text, we have real reason for concern. A refocus on intentionality as being at the centre of our criminal law is really needed.

Let me start now with a quick point on overbreadth. Mr. Richards, at one point in his presentation, said the following:

This legislation is clearly designed to deal with a criminal element who would try to take advantage of a large public gathering of some type in order to cause mischief, mayhem, and damage.

We heard quite a few references to the Black Bloc and to violence. This kind of activity is really what everybody is concerned about.

My concern is that this is not clearly designed to achieve that, especially when we add the kinds of interpretations we've been hearing. It is not well written at all to get after those elements, except with overly broad provisions. I'm going to, on a few occasions, explain the kinds of dangerous situations that will arise, or problematic situations that will arise to show that overbreadth.

Perhaps one of my biggest concerns, as presented by a couple of the witnesses and very close to this by Mr. Woodworth in his questioning, is that we're looking at something that's closer to a strict liability offence, in the way it's being interpreted, than to a traditional Criminal Code offence. At one point Mr. Richards said the following, referring to a riot or an unlawful assembly having been declared by the police: “That situation is declared and at that point it becomes illegal to be wearing a disguise.”

We also heard from today's witness, Mr. Webb, about where someone is “just standing wearing a mask”, the act becomes criminal and at that point it's a matter of discretionary policing to make sure that people who shouldn't be charged are not charged.

The thing is that's not substantiated by the text of Bill C-309, yet it's what is constantly being presented as what this actually means.

Mr. Richards' amendment to the Criminal Code has two elements that clearly imply serious intentionality standards. If it were to pass, I would ask the legal profession and the courts to come back to our discussions and understand that not all of us agree with the interpretations we've been hearing.

First of all, there is a prefatory clause saying “Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1)”. We already know that the case law makes it extremely clear that subjective elements are part of being chargeable as a member of a riot or an unlawful assembly. So that's the first intentionality.

The second one is the following. Mr. Woodworth kept focusing on the fact of wearing the mask, the intent to wear the mask, as being the intentional element. Well, that's not at all what this says. It says “wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity”. So there's a form of specific intent written into this. In French it's even clearer. This should have been written with something like “with the purpose of concealing their identity”. In French it says,

dans le but de dissimuler son identité”.

So there are two clearly written intentional elements to this that keep getting glossed over in some of the justifications for this provision. The fact that these justifications are being made despite this clarity of language causes me great concern.

I think the chill problem is a real one. I know that members opposite maybe think it's being overblown. I think it's really important that we recognize that all the police witnesses are completely committed to the values underlying our free and democratic society--the right of freedom of expression and the right of free assembly making it possible, as one of the witnesses said, for families to come and demonstrate. This was one of his concerns. All of that's a given. But there is a chill problem in the sense that if it's applied in the way the police want to apply it, for it to be effective it will actually have to chill the wearing of masks by everyone, and not just the criminal element they've been focusing on as being the core concern.

Mr. Richards said the following in his presentation: “Obviously, when someone has to think twice about facing penalties for being disguised, they'll think twice about being disguised...”. He then went on to talk about engaging in the criminal acts that are the concern. That logic applies to everybody.

I can tell you right now that without an educational campaign and without factoring out the kinds of interpretations that we've been hearing from members such as Mr. Woodworth, the average citizen is going to think that the moment they are standing in the middle of a situation that's been declared a riot or an unlawful assembly, they are now engaging in criminal behaviour. What do you think that will do to people's willingness to actually wear a mask as part of their expressive activity? I think it will have a chilling effect. Absent an educational campaign that actually makes clear that Mr. Woodworth's interpretations are erroneous, then we have a serious problem of a chilling effect.

I'd also like to speak to this reliance on discretion. It is true, of course, that police and prosecutorial discretion is central to the way a healthy criminal justice system has to work. But we don't plan on discretion as being the way, for the majority of cases, for criminal law not to apply. Given the kinds of examples given by Mr. Woodworth and the last witness, of just being in the middle of a riot or an unlawful assembly being criminal if you're wearing a mask and you haven't taken it off, then the idea of saying yes, you're theoretically criminal, but rely on us, the police, is not the way to build a criminal justice system. It's not something that our traditions, especially as informed by the charter, easily accept. So this reliance on discretion has been overdone, I believe, and we have to make sure that a provision designed to achieve certain results is actually written in a way to achieve the results, at least in a way that the folks supporting it are all onside with what it means.

In the interest of time, I think it also is important to note that the words “tool” and “tool kit” have been used a lot in the testimony, that this would give the police a tool. Sure, but some of the examples of what that tool will allow them to do have been worrying.

I read out earlier the quotation from Chief Constable Graham, where he clearly thinks that once this passes he'll now be able to do something he couldn't do before, which is preventatively arresting people before a riot or an unlawful assembly starts, on the basis of the provision. He may well be right, interpretatively. If it turned out to be a crime to participate in a riot with a mask, then maybe there are preventative things you can do.

The point is that we can't hide the fact that the police want this for preventative reasons.

12:50 p.m.


Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Good point. It's prevention they want.

12:50 p.m.


Craig Scott Toronto—Danforth, ON

Exactly, but the point is that it can't be dodged. That's one of the issues.

The other issue is investigation. Although one member, Mr. Rai, I believe, from the Vancouver police didn't say that was his concern, Mr. Richards and the chief constable did indicate that if people aren't wearing masks, it's going to be easier to identify them, that it's an investigative tool, and the deterrent issue of making sure people don't come with masks actually helps in police enforcement down the road.

I just don't think this has been written with any care towards this kind of tool kit. It's left far too up to the police to use this in these ways that have nothing to do with the idea of creating a new criminal offence.

Shifting the onus with lawful excuse—we just can't ignore it. I mean, we have to at least recognize that as a private member's bill, this has not been charter-tested by the Department of Justice. It's one of the dangers of private members' bills. The whole question of whether there is any kind of a reverse onus problem here, because the lawful excuse has to come from the defendant, we have to at least consider.

We also have to recognize that really it's not language that comes with ready-made interpretation. I gave a series of examples to the chief constable...or I can't remember which witness, I'm sorry. I gave examples with regard to whether or not this would constitute a lawful excuse, and of course they had a hard time saying for sure whether my examples would or would not constitute.

The point is that the ambiguity doesn't help. You have a reverse onus and ambiguity? It doesn't look good, I'm afraid, from a constitutional rights perspective.

I would end by only drawing attention to one big problem. This is a way of addressing something that would come up as a second amendment. The biggest concern here is unlawful assemblies, ultimately. If some of the interpretations we're hearing are applied to the threshold of unlawful assemblies, boy oh boy, the chilling effect is really serious, because the threshold for unlawful assemblies is very low.

Not only do the numbers have to be low, but the trigger of fear of people in the neighbourhood that something will occur that will become tumultuous is so low that you almost get to the point of wondering, well, if there's a certain kind of demonstration where people are wearing masks, the masks alone may create the fear among some people when you have an unlawful assembly. It is so low a threshold that if you don't have the safeguards I've been talking about, then....

It's in that area where we could have serious over-policing. The over-policing was brought up by Professor Stribopoulos. One understands it...but police will overcharge. Even if they know, as Mr. Webb said today, that it won't get through the courts, that doesn't prevent police from charging. The fact that you have a plausible charge allows for detention. It allows for arrest. That accomplishes the goal. Even if you know you have no serious ability to actually prosecute, you may say it's still worth your while to arrest or detain.

In sum, the intention is laudable, but I do believe it's largely unnecessary.

At the same time, with this amendment we're trying to work with the committee and with the sponsor of the bill. I would encourage the members opposite to take the amendment seriously.

12:50 p.m.


The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Ms. Murray.

12:50 p.m.


Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to add a few words. I am from Vancouver, and we often use the example of the Stanley Cup riot. I agree with Ms. Boivin that those unlawful assemblies during the Stanley Cup in Vancouver were disgusting and disturbing. In a society like ours, we must have the tools to prevent those actions and to react. The work of police officers is very important and we have to support them in a balanced way.

Just now, one of the witnesses told us that we have to find a balance between the right to participate in a demonstration and the need for security in our society for individuals and their property. I agree that we are all seeking that balance. However, from what I have heard today, I am concerned that we are not looking for balance, but for a way to make the work of police officers easier, at the expense of the rights of individuals and their right to express themselves, as they have always done in our western democratic society.

I asked our witness Mr. Webb about the possibility of innocent people being caught in the net of police officers because of Bill C-309. I am talking about people with no intent to be violent or to create a riot. He said that, if police officers arrest someone who does not intend to be violent or to break the law, it does not matter because they would be found innocent in court. A Conservative member then said that that was impossible because, when you participate in an unlawful assembly, you are not innocent, but that those who do not intend to create a riot will not be arrested. I do not agree with that, and that is the Gordian knot of the NDP amendment.

I would like to tell you a little story in relation to our current debate. I want to talk about the crowd that was out in the streets during the 2010 Winter Olympics. On the first night of the Olympics, hundreds of thousands of people were out on Georgia Street. There was a parade with celebrities. There were a lot of people. The crowd was not aggressive and it did not intend to create problems or to be violent.

Among those people, there were people from Vancouver and elsewhere. There was also a small group of masked people with black clothing. They were basically professional activists. They were there to create trouble. That is concerning, I agree.

At any rate, things happened during the night. I saw it on TV, like everyone else here. There were 20 or 30 young people dressed like that. They broke the windows of the Bay. That was violence against property. What did the police do? They watched them and did not arrest them. Nothing ever happened. No one else was involved in that...