Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the House for the opportunity to discuss this bill. Being a lawyer by trade, it is quite the experience to see the other side of the coin and it is also very enlightening.
Bill C-8 proposes to amend two acts, one of which is the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act. My colleague from the Bloc discussed this aspect. I will comment on the amendments which concern the Criminal Code. Since I am the Official Opposition
critic on matters regarding the Solicitor General of Canada, I will only discuss clause 1 of Bill C-8.
At first glance, this clause seems to meet most of the stakeholders' expectations regarding the use of force by peace officers against fleeing suspects and prisoners trying to escape.
However, to appreciate the proposed amendments and assess the implications of delegating such power to officers, i.e. persons in authority, and also to be able to make constructive criticisms, it is useful to remember that section 25 is part of the general provisions of the Criminal Code, more specifically in the chapter dealing with the protection of people responsible for implementing and enforcing the law.
The general provisions of the Code are certainly the best known, and perhaps the most used, provisions of this act, and that is true even for policemen who do not necessarily often go to court.
Consequently, it is essential that these general provisions be very clear, understandable and defined.
Based on past experience, we can assume that police officers will use that new section. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, they will do so to protect themselves. However, experience also tells us that we must be very careful when it comes to granting increased power to persons in authority. These powers and their use must be defined in a very clear and specific way to avoid any gap between the objective of such delegation of power and its routine use by the persons in authority.
For at least ten years, the federal legislator has been pondering the issue, and that illustrates the importance of amendments such as the ones contained in Bill C-8.
In recent years, the review of this issue intensified and, in September 1991, the federal government proposed, at a meeting of ministers of justice, to amend subsection 25(4) of the Criminal Code, in order to better circumscribe the use of force by peace officers and prison guards.
The objective was therefore to better circumscribe the use of force by the police, while protecting the public and the police itself.
The Minister of Justice of the time, the very transient Kim Campbell, presented in August 1992 a discussion paper on the question of fleeing suspects.
The study was progressing when, in April 1993, the Douglas Lines case, already mentioned, brought to the fore this question of necessary force. I will give a short synopsis of the case, because I think it will help us understand what is involved in amending section 25.
In the Douglas Lines case, a young white police officer in Toronto was chasing a black 19-year-old suspected of having tried to snatch the purse of a woman some time before.
The police officer ordered the suspect to stop, which of course he did not do, so the police officer shot six bullets in the direction of the suspect who was hit twice. The police officer said that he believed that the suspect was armed.
In fact, upon searching the suspect, they only found a knife which was probably the weapon used in the attempted theft.
The police officer was charged with dangerous use of a firearm.
However, as was said before, he was acquitted by a Toronto judge, and the ratio decidendi tended to suggest that subsection 25(4) of the Criminal Code was unconstitutional.
I have already mentioned that amending subsection 25(4) has been under consideration for about 10 years.
The judge also said-and maybe that was to force the government into action-that he suspended for six months the application of the judgment to give the federal government time to review the clause in question. The ball was in the government court, so to speak, and something had to be done.
Let us study clause 1 of Bill C-8 to see how it amends the various subsections of section 25 of the Criminal Code.
Bill C-8 proposes changes which deserve an in-depth analysis, because of their implications for the various police forces and the area of law enforcement in general.
Let us take the section we are looking at. We can see that subsection 25(3) confirms the possibility for anyone to use force intended or likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm if that person believes on reasonable grounds that it is necessary for the purpose of preserving himself or herself or any one under his or her protection from death or grievous bodily harm.
Therefore, according to this subsection, the use of force is not unwarranted; it is clearly justifiable and well-defined legally.
Subsection 25(4) as rewritten in Bill C-8, and that is the point I want to comment, leaves me puzzled. I do not question the necessity of such a subsection-I think the Toronto judge did not leave the legislator any choice-but the wording of it. It allows a peace officer to use force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm in order to arrest a person taking flight provided he-the peace officer-respects certain conditions.
However, we must admit, and give credit where credit is due, that these conditions are spelled out clearly and in full detail in
paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e) of the subsection; that certainly does credit to the legislator who wrote it.
Paragraph (a) reads: "the peace officer is proceeding lawfully to arrest with or without warrant". It creates no problem. Neither does paragraph (b) which reads: "the offence for which the person is to be arrested is one for which that person may be arrested without warrant". Paragraph (c) reads: "the person to be arrested takes flight to avoid arrest". That is the very purpose of the law. Paragraph (d) reads: "the peace officer or other person using the force believes on reasonable grounds that the force is necessary for the purpose of protecting the peace officer, the person lawfully assisting the peace officer or any other person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm". This is the one paragraph I would like to comment; I will come back to it later on. Finally, paragraph (e) reads: "the flight cannot be prevented by reasonable means in a less violent manner". That is self-evident.
We see that the legislator added the words "imminent or future" in paragraph (d) of this new section, contrary to the previous section which did not provide for any timeframe. It said that the provisions applied under given circumstances, but with no mention of the words "imminent or future", as in the proposed section.
By adding these, the legislator introduces a time difference between subsections (3) and (4) of the same section. Given the two interpretation tenets known by any lawyer, to the effect that first, any piece of legislation is to be interpreted as a whole, and second, everything in the law has a meaning, the words "imminent or future" could lead to a very loose interpretation on the part of peace officers. We should not create a new problem while attempting to solve one.
If the noble objective was to restrict the use of force on the part of peace officers and prison guards, such force should not be allowed to be used on a continuous basis, without any time limit.
I humbly submit that the words "imminent or future" can lead to abuses. Sometimes, in a piece of legislation, a single term, a word, an expression have a definite purpose, but in the present case the expression "imminent or future" makes an already complete text cumbersome.
The legislator did not see fit to add the words "imminent or future" to subsection 25(3) while it is doing so in paragraph 25(4)(d), under similar circumstances. Why? Is it that he wants to provide greater protection to peace officers than to citizens? Does he believe that one would be more prone than the other to abuse such a wider use of force? The answer is anybody's guess.
Unfortunately in both cases there are and always will be excessive people who will abuse a given provision.
Why then open the door to such a broad use of force over time? Good judgment and the appraisal of the situation at a given time, on the part of the peace officer, his or her assistant, or a citizen, must prevail, as stated in subsection 25(3).
Therefore, I will suggest to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, on which I sit, to remove the words "imminent or future" from the last part of paragraph 25 (4)(d) and thus prevent any possible ambiguity.
Moving on to section 25(5) of the Criminal Code, I think that in this case, the legislator was well advised to take into consideration the special situation faced by peace officers in a penitentiaries. I believe that circumstances warranted such a provision and I approve of it.
The fact of the matter is that in penitentiaries, it is practically impossible for the correctional personnel reacting to an attempted escape to tell whether the inmate in question will pose a threat to society if his attempt is successful. Not only is it unlikely in such a situation that the peace officer would know the inmate attempting to escape but chances are he would not know what enabled the inmate to make such an attempt at a given time on a given day. It was therefore important-and the legislator understood it well-to give this power to the peace officer in case of escape, and section 25(5) does just that.
However, we will have to make sure that the use of force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm would be authorized only as a last resort, when every other means that could be used under the circumstances to tell the inmate to stop his escape attempt, such as a warning shot, had failed.
Of course, these section of the Criminal Code will be supervised, that is to say that control will be exercised by superior court judges in Canada to determine whether or not the person, peace officer or citizen, used excessive force under section 25(4)-25(5) in the case of peace officers-and over time, through jurisprudence, through the decisions made by the judges, we will be able to determine if these provisions go far enough or not, or whatever.
First of all, I think we can say here in the House that, concerning Bill C-8, and clause 1 in particular, the government is on the right track. After ten years and many consultations, as the minister said this morning, subsections 25(4) and 25(5) meet the expectations of Canadians as well as those of peace officers.
Two words in the bill are important. They are "imminent or future". Why add these words if they are meaningless, if they are not intended to give more time, if they are not meant to give
officers permission to use force much later on? We could consider making some changes to these provisions later on in committee. We will make these observations then.
You have understood, Mr. Speaker, that as my colleague said a moment ago, we will support this bill, but we will move amendments before the appropriate committee.