Motion No. 1
That Bill C-16, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 36 to 45 on page 5 and lines 1 and 2 on page 6 with the following:
“529.5 A warrant under section 529.1 or an authorization under section 529 or 529.4 may be issued on an information submitted by telephone or other means of telecommunication and, for that purpose, section 487.1 applies, with any modifications that the circumstances require, to the warrant or authorization.”
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to this amendment with some regret that we are in this situation. We are facing a problem within the Department of Justice when important amendments are being made to the Criminal Code that for all intents and purposes are being ramrodded through at the committee level and through the House.
As a result of the supreme court decision in the Queen v Feeney, the Department of Justice was faced with a situation in which it had to fill a gap that had been left by the supreme court when it struck down sections of the Criminal Code that pertained to the powers of arrest.
What has happened here is akin to the trampling on the right of Parliament to actively and in a substantive way participate in the debate and the process to make recommendations as they pertain to the Criminal Code of Canada.
Time was certainly of the essence. The supreme court, by virtue of a stay that was entered back in July of 1997, gave Parliament the time to react to fill the gap left by the decision handed down in the Queen v Feeney.
The problem that I have with this is that five and a half months have past. The justice department was given ample opportunity to react, to make the appropriate amendments to address this situation. By the time it reached committee stage, members of Parliament, the elected officials of this House, were given less than five days to consider it. To be precise, they were given approximately eight hours to discuss, in the presence of witnesses and among each other, these very important amendments which affect the powers of arrest for all police throughout the land.
The committee did have the benefit of hearing a number of very important witnesses. The witnesses included the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Chiefs of Police. We heard from a victims' advocate group, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.
We also had the benefit of hearing from a very distinguished criminal lawyer, a gentleman by the name of Irwin Koziebrocki. Mr. Koziebrocki is the treasurer of the Criminal Lawyers Association of Canada. Of all the witnesses, he made a statement which I found quite startling. He deemed one of the proposed amendments to be unconstitutional. He said that it would not withstand a charter of rights challenge.
That is not to say that his opinion could not be wrong. However, when an experienced trial and appeal court lawyer makes this pronouncement before a committee, hours before the amendments are tabled and given third reading, that should give the department and all members of the committee reason to pause and to ponder whether we want to have this legislation pushed through in a flawed form, leaving it open to the possibility that within months, weeks or days we could be faced with another court challenge which may strike down, in the worst case scenario, these amendments.
The first amendment which I have put before the House pertains to the authorization of telewarrants in Canada. This amendment came about after some consultation with the Quebec bar association, which did not appear before the committee but which submitted a brief.
The amendment speaks to the evolution of new technology in communications which should be made available to all peace officers in the country.
The reality of Canada, of this vast land, is that we are not all centred in large metropolitan areas like Calgary, Toronto or Halifax. A great part of this country is spread out in rural areas. Police officers are often working out of one or two person detachments. They need to have access to justices of the peace. They need to be able to get authorization to act quickly and in a very decisive way.
Telewarrants, this new form of technology that we have with fax machines, with telephones and with cell phones, increase the possibility that a police officer can do something when faced with exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances is a newly coined phrase that came out of the decision of the Queen v Feeney. Exigent circumstances often exist in the daily lives of police officers that are faced with very serious situations.
Telewarrants permit police officers to contact justices of the peace, but that is all for naught if the resources are not allocated to make justices of the peace available. It is easy to pick up a phone or to dial a fax number, but if no one is on the other end of the line to receive the information and authorize the warrant, a real problem exists.
I would suggest that this amendment goes further than the present amendment as proposed by the government in enabling peace officers in broader circumstances to avail themselves of the ability to have a warrant granted. I want to add to that the necessity of the resources. The resources have to go cheek and jowl with the ability to get these warrants. We need to ensure that there are going to be more justices of the peace available, particularly in rural parts of the country.
I would emphasize the remarks I made at the outset. It is with some regret I find myself in this situation where we have to debate this further on the floor of the House of Commons. The committee level, had it been conducted in a more professional and timely way, would have avoided this necessity.
This amendment is one that all members of the House should consider and support. It goes to increasing the security for all Canadians and aids the police in their very important role in enforcing the criminal law within the country. As members of this House, particularly members of the justice committee, we have to be very strident in our attempts to oversee what is happening with the amendments to the Criminal Code.
The Minister of Justice, the chief executive officer for administering law in this country, can and should have at least contemplated the necessity of rising from her seat, walking down Wellington Street, knocking on the door of the Supreme Court of Canada and ask for an extension. It would have avoided the necessity of pushing this through at the eleventh hour. It would have allowed us to have proper debate at the committee level and if necessary on the floor of the House of Commons.
I speak in favour of this amendment. I would be very interested to hear the remarks of the hon. members present today.