moved that Bill C-440, an act to amend the Criminal Code (flight), be read a second time and referred to a committee.
I am very happy to be here today to speak to Bill C-440.
This bill would not have been here today had it not been for the co-operative efforts of my co-sponsor, the member for Leeds—Grenville, who will be speaking to this bill.
It is an honour for a member of parliament to be given the opportunity not only to speak on his or her bill, but to also know that a subcommittee of our peers has deemed it worthy by the fact that it is votable. It is for that reason that I am here today with those of us who have supported the bill. I am hopeful that it will be moving ahead in the near future.
I cannot emphasize enough how I believe an issue like this really transcends the usual partisan barriers that might sometimes inhibit bills.
I have many people to thank for getting the bill here in terms of being able to tell people what it is all about. I have been most impressed with the help of the Minister of Justice, who has been extremely sensitive to this issue, and for the support that the parliamentary secretary and members on this side have given to this initiative.
Having a couple of votable bills before the House of Commons, but particularly this one, says a lot about the necessity for filling a gap which I believe exists and that I think most reasonable people in Canada believe exists in the Criminal Code.
I would have preferred to have entitled this bill, Evading Police, for that is the issue: a wanton, reckless and at times tragic act by an individual using a motor vehicle to escape the police. Sadly, the act often leads to the death or injury of either the individual committing it, the police officers who are trying to fulfill their duty to protect the public, or some innocent bystander who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I introduced this bill sometime back in October on the heels of several incidents that took place in my community, the greater Toronto area, whereby the police, in simply doing their jobs, were often confronted with situations whereby the wanton acts of those who would flee placed the safety of the public at greater risk, often winding up with injury or death.
Since the bill has been introduced, there have been a number of tragedies that have hit closer to home for me. About four weeks ago, a very well-known leader in my community of Pickering, Father Ilce Miovski, was killed as he was attending to his vehicle. It happened as a result of someone taking the liberty of exceeding speeds that would not otherwise be normal. The driver went out of control and hit Father Miovski's car, killing a man who was not just a leader in terms of the community, but a leader in the Macedonian community.
I speak for all of parliament, as I have before on this very subject, in sending out our heartfelt sorrow to that community which lost its leader during the Lenten period of the Macedonian community.
I also want to speak to another personal situation that occurred in Brampton with the death of Sarah Bowman, again due to a reckless act of somebody trying to evade a peace officer. Sarah was only 21 years of age. I know her family is probably listening and looking on today.
I hope that what we have to say here today is not lost on the necessity to fill the void that, if nothing else, serves as a lesson or a message to those who, for a simple reason such as perhaps a suspended licence, would wilfully flee from a police officer and endanger the public.
The House could send that kind of message over time with the help and the expertise that is available to us both in committee, which I hope the bill will eventually reach, and the input from thousands of Canadians who have something to say about this, in an effort to ensure that many Canadians down the road are not victims of our neglect.
I introduced Bill C-440 as a private members' bill on October 7, 1998. Simply put, the bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code by creating a specific offence with severe penalties for anyone who, while using a motor vehicle, fails to stop for the police.
At first view the bill seems to be the product of common sense. To some it may even appear odd; that the Criminal Code should already had a provision that specifically prohibits this act. The truth is it does not. Currently, section 249 of the Criminal Code, the dangerous operation of motor vehicle provisions, are used to combat the act of evading police.
When Constable Richard Sonnenberg of the Calgary police lay down a spike belt to stop a speeding car that would not pull over, was that due to some person overreacting? Was it due to panic or from the driver being scared? Was it a case of dangerous driving or was there really more to it?
Most people would think that a person driving at speeds of 160 or 170 kilometres per hour goes beyond dangerous driving. It was clear the individual did not want to stop for the police and was prepared to do quite a bit to get away from them. Surely that very act of avoiding the police should be a specific criminal offence with a specific penalty.
Most engineers would view the act for what it was, a large projectile hurtling at excessive speeds and the excess weight of some 3,000 pounds moving down a highway. Most normal people would view this projectile as being driven by an individual who has no regard whatsoever for human life.
The debate, however, is of little consequence to Constable Sonnenberg. He was killed when that car struck him while trying to avoid the spike belt. The consequence of this was that the driver of the car was charged with criminal negligence causing death and received a sentence of six years in jail. Simply six years. Was justice served? Did that individual pay for his actions and for the taking of another person's life? I really do not think so.
In the current Criminal Code the penalties for dangerous driving are as follows: the act itself is punishable by either imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years or summary conviction; if the act causes injury, the penalty is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years; and if the act causes death, the penalty is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.
Under Bill C-440, anyone who operates a motor vehicle to evade a police officer is guilty of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Anyone who commits this offence and in the process injures another person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. Anyone causing the death of another person in committing this act will be liable to imprisonment for life.
I believe these penalties are sufficient and I believe it is time the Criminal Code had a specific provision dealing with using a motor vehicle to evade police. I am not alone in that belief.
As many in the House know, last week in my province, the province of Ontario, the solicitor general issued the much awaited guidelines dealing with regulations on police conduct in matters of criminal evasion; better known in the public as simple evasion of police or police chases. I think that is a bit of a stretch. Yes, it is a chase, but I do not think we can actually say the police are chasing people because they find it is particularly interesting or because it is something they do in their spare time. They are doing it because they are upholding the law.
While these regulations are important—and I give some credit to the solicitor general for them—without a response at the federal level with respect to the Criminal Code, we are in effect regulating the police while letting those who evade police off scot-free.
On November 16, 1998 I wrote to the minister, and the minister is extremely interested in the issue. I know that for those of us who have spent a lot of time on this issue there will be some point down the road when we will be dealing with it more specifically and more appropriately before the committee. I look forward to that.
I am very pleased to have received the support of several associations, obviously the Canadian Police Association, victims' rights groups and of course the CAA.
I am interested in what has occurred with respect to recent editorials in various papers across the country. We see that some are shifting or swinging to the left while others are a little bit to the right. However, it seems there is a consensus evolving in all corners of the media and all regions of the country that we cannot continue to inhibit our peace officers, our thin blue line, from being able to do their job.
Police officers know full well who the people are who should be apprehended, who are breaking the law, who are fleeing the public and who are engaging in reckless and wanton acts, but impunity is the current state of the laws.
When I appeared before the subcommittee on Private Members' Business, I read some letters that were very cogent to this issue. The letters were from Syd Bowman, Jenny Bowman and Karen Kalverda, the sister of Sarah Bowman.
We have an opportunity with this bill to right a wrong. If it means the saving of one single life, or the deterrent that might avoid someone receiving an injury that could maim them for life, then we have indeed done well and discharged our duty here in the House of Commons.
I am honoured to have had the opportunity to bring this bill forward, but this is not the Dan McTeague bill, it is the House of Commons bill. This is a bill that belongs to all members of the House. If anybody has any idea how I could move this bill forward more quickly, I am certainly game.
I believe the bill rightly corresponds to a need in the public today. It is a void that exists within our midst and within our judicial system. I do not believe there is a lack of will to respond to this. The responses we are seeing at the federal and provincial levels among concerned groups are putting us in a situation where I think we are going to see a very quick response to the issue. Hopefully we will have the necessary legislation to really send a message out: “For God's sake, if you are going to try to flee a police officer simply because you are worried, think about the consequences. If you are not going to think about the consequences to society in general, think then about the selfish consequences to yourself”.
I am not in a position right now to speak freely about those I know who have been injured. I know there is a time for compassion, but there is also a time to ensure that legislation we provide to the House, and which hopefully will wind up in the other place, will stand the test of time and will not be struck down. While the bill is a very strong starting point, my expectation is to encourage the House to try to develop a bill that will meet the standard and tests of not just deterrence, but also protecting a single life.
There is another aspect to the bill that I think members may not have considered. At first glance some people may say this is simply retribution. Throw them in jail and let us not worry about why they did it. However, there is another aspect that may be lost but which should be considered by all hon. members in the House as we deliberate on this important bill that affects us in each of our ridings.
Perhaps in the act of the chase, in the act of evasion, it is possible that the peace officer may ascertain the identity of those who would flee and therefore commit, under this act, an offence punishable by certain indictable terms in prison. One of the things that could come out of that is simply the identification of the person who is fleeing and, if necessary, not only have to worry about stopping the vehicle, but if it is not a very serious offence, wait until the person has run out of gas or until the person is somewhere else and then apprehend them. In effect, this would give the police a tool of not necessarily having to engage in a risky chase that might otherwise endanger other lives.
Goodness knows, there is not a single peace officer in the country who wishes to endanger another life in order to uphold the law. However, split second decisions have to be made by these fine people who are doing their jobs day in and day out and who basically ensure that we have peace, order and good governance and who safeguard our laws.
This is really my first foray in the House to explain the bill. In the very short time since it was introduced, the deliberation of the subcommittee and the interest shown by parliament is something for which I am deeply honoured.
A huge consensus is developing in the House. This is not a perfect bill but it is a good bill and I believe it will fit the task with perhaps some modification and some change.
I ask and urge the House to move as expeditiously and quickly as possible to ensure that we do not have another Father Ilce Miovski, another death in the community; that we do not have another fatality like the young lady, Sarah Bowman; and that we do not continue the carnage and place our police officers in the unenviable position of being damned if they do and damned if they do not.
I sincerely hope that with the elocution and speeches of my many colleagues here today and down the road, we consider Bill C-440 a new and necessary piece of legislation that will restore what is fundamentally absent in our Criminal Code.
Again I want to thank the hon. member for Leeds—Grenville without whom this bill could not have been possible. I hope we will hear from him a little later on.
I have said what I had to say. I wait patiently and attentively to hear what my hon. colleagues have to say about it as well.