Madam Speaker, Bill C-17 adds three new offences to the Criminal Code to address the communication of false information likely to lead others to reasonably believe that terrorist activity is or will be occurring. It also deals with any act that is likely to lead others to reasonably believe that terrorist activity is or will be occurring.
These new offences fill a loophole in criminal law. There is much concern about not only clear threats to public safety, such as incredible acts like sending anthrax spores by mail to unsuspecting addressees, but also numerous hoaxes intended to scare, fearmonger and disrupt daily life by causing, for example, a building to be evacuated.
Under such circumstances, several provisions of the Criminal Code may apply, for instance section 372 on false messages, section 430 on mischief, and even section 264.1 on uttering threats. These are essentially general provisions however. They do not deal specifically with hoaxes regarding terrorist activity.
As for sentencing, to ensure that the sentence reflects the diversity of behaviours targeted and is proportionate to the seriousness of the prejudice to society, the maximum provided for is imprisonment for five years, ten years or life, depending on whether the accused is charged with the basic offence or there are aggravating circumstances such as death or injury to a person.
Bill C-36, the Antiterrorism Act, covers several offences related to real terrorist activities. Take for example, the new sections 83.19 on facilitating a terrorist activity and section 83.22, on instructing to carry out terrorist activity.
At this time there are no provisions that deal specifically with terrorist hoaxes. Establishing offences for this type of activity falls under the commitment made by Canada to adopt comprehensive measures to fight terrorism and completes the provisions of Bill C-36.
After the events of September 11, 2001, provincial officials asked that provisions be added to the Criminal Code to solve the serious problem of terrorist hoaxes.
The federal government listened to this legislative request and followed up with two new offences in Bill C-17, the Public Safety Act, 2002, to address terrorist hoaxes. These offences complete those included in Bill C-36, the Antiterrorism Act, to implement the UN International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and to provide a penalty for the use of explosive devices or other deadly devices.
The provisions making hoaxes a criminal offence would distinguish between persons committing a hoax by conveying false information regarding explosive or other deadly devices and those who show false explosive or other deadly devices. In both cases, the offences must be committed with the intent of causing persons to fear death or bodily harm.
Hoaxes regarding terrorist activity have a detrimental and paralyzing effect on the freedom and safety of people and society, whether their authors intend to cause people to fear bodily harm or damage to property.
Extending the scope of these offences to include an “intent to cause any person to fear...serious interference with the use or operation of property” would maximize the deterring effect of the new incriminating provisions, while complying with appropriate parameters.
Finally, providing harsher penalties for those whose hoaxes have caused a real injury is in line with the more general criminal justice objective which consists in imposing penalties that are “proportionate” to the behaviours sanctioned by the criminal law. Such an approach has already been adopted in other provisions of the Criminal Code, including those that deal with assault and criminal negligence.
Consequently, the revised provisions on hoaxes are based on the definition of “terrorist activity” in Bill C-36 and they now establish a separate criminal offence for those who provide false information that is likely to cause a reasonable apprehension that terrorist activity is occurring or will occur, and those who commit an act that is likely to cause a reasonable apprehension that terrorist activity is occurring or will occur.
In both cases, the person who commits the offence must also have the criminal intent of causing a person to fear death, bodily harm, substantial damage to property or serious interference with the lawful use or operation of property.
The maximum penalty for this offence is five years of imprisonment. If the hoax does cause bodily harm, the maximum penalty is 10 years of imprisonment and if it causes death, the maximum penalty is imprisonment for life.
For these reasons, we think that Bill C-17 should have the support of all members of the House.