moved that Bill C-576, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak during this hour of debate to my Bill C-576, which deals with the crime of personating a peace officer.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for seconding this bill. I am grateful to my colleagues in the House who recognize the merit of this minor yet important addition to the Criminal Code.
I was inspired to table this bill following a horrible crime that took place in my constituency. The offender was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced. The case is no longer in the court. But I have had discussions with the victim of this crime and I would like to talk about what I have learned.
Flashing lights and a police uniform were used as weapons to abduct a 16 year old girl. She had just earned her driver's licence and was driving alone, as many of us do. She was held captive for 46 hours and brutally assaulted before she managed to escape from her attacker. She was brave. She survived.
It is a fact that she was abducted because she was led to believe that she had been pulled over by a police officer. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust the authority that comes with it. Personating a police officer is a serious breach of the public's trust, and it has the same effect as using a weapon. It forces the victim to submit.
This crime involved personating a police officer, but I recognize that there are other occupations besides police officers that serve to keep the peace in our great country and they are all covered by the Criminal Code's definition of a peace officer.
As I describe the specific points of this bill, let me start by explaining the definition of peace officer in the Criminal Code. They are positions that demand a significant amount of trust from the Canadian public. Anyone who falsely represents these occupations to commit a crime against a person is committing a serious breach of that person's trust and that of all of us.
The Criminal Code defines peace officers as Canadian officers of customs and excise, immigration, corrections, fisheries and the Canadian Forces. It includes pilots in command of an aircraft, mayors, wardens, reeves, sheriffs, justices of the peace and, of course, police officers.
When I began researching this issue I found that what had happened in Penhold and Red Deer was not a rare crime. This is happening in small towns and large cities all over Canada. Criminals are using authentic police lights and dressing in police uniforms in crimes such as auto theft and fraud in Kelowna; highway robbery in Oakville, Barrie and Brampton; assault and robbery in Ottawa; abductions in Scarborough and Calgary; break and enter and subsequent assaults in Sydney Mines and Oshawa; intimidation in Mississauga; unlawful confinement in Lethbridge; and fraud in King's County, Brantford and Toronto.
This bill has a basic objective. It would make personating a peace officer in the commission of another offence an aggravating circumstance to be considered for sentencing purposes. It would add one clause to the Criminal Code following section 130. Because it is short, I would like to read my bill into the record:
1. The Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after section 130:
130.1 If a person is convicted of an offence under section 130, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the accused personated a peace officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence.
That is all. It does not seek to affect any interpretation of the crime. My bill would simply direct a sentencing court to consider this as one factor when dealing with someone convicted of personating a peace officer.
In carrying out the objectives of sentencing, which are in section 718 of the Criminal Code, a judge can take into account aggravating circumstances, which tend to increase the length of a sentence, or mitigating circumstances, which tend to shorten the length of a sentence.
There are aggravating circumstances that are defined in section 718 that apply to all offences and there are also special cases of aggravating circumstances that apply to specific offences within the code. But to clarify, this bill seeks to be a special aggravating circumstance for a sentencing court to consider for the crime of personating a peace officer.
The decision of what sentence is appropriate always rests with the court, but it is our role as legislators to maintain the Criminal Code and establish sentencing provisions. I note that this offence used to be punishable as a summary conviction and had a maximum penalty of only six months' imprisonment.
This Parliament passed into law former Bill S-4, which increased the maximum penalty for this offence to five years' imprisonment and made it a hybrid offence. I commend the Department of Justice for its work on increasing the maximum sentence for this crime, which came into force on January 8 of this year. I applaud all of my colleagues in the House who voted in favour of Bill S-4 and brought this change into law.
On behalf of the people Red Deer, I was proud to vote for Bill S-4. I am also proud to support all of the government's tough on crime initiatives. Bill S-4 successfully tackled the problem of identity theft and fortunately, it also significantly addressed the problem of lax sentencing for personating peace officers. This was absolutely justified, as predators are deliberately posing as peace officers to lure their victims. I believe that with this increased maximum sentence, we must now also recognize that this crime can have varying degrees of harm as well, and should be penalized accordingly.
A number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim. Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider that tend to, but are not guaranteed to, increase the severity of the sentence.
When we look at aggravating circumstances that are in section 718 of the Criminal Code, one of them is evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. This would apply in situations where an offender has an existing relationship with the victim, such as a teacher or a coach, or indeed a bona fide peace officer.
However, those who personate peace officers do not fall into this category. I have many esteemed colleagues in the House who are legal experts. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that offenders who personate peace officers have not abused a position of authority, for they do not have that position to begin with. This circumstance in section 718 cannot be used, since this would apply to real police officers who would abuse their position of trust. It does not apply to those who are posing as police officers.
If I may reiterate, an offender's false representation of himself or herself as a peace officer is intended to deceive and breach trust and authority, but this deceit is not captured by the existing circumstances that speak to these abuses. I hope that my colleagues in the House will recognize this gap in the law and work with me to fill it as my bill seeks to do.
The House is graced with some former police officers who bring valuable experience to our debate on justice issues and many other issues. I have had discussions with these hon. members about my bill, and I appreciate their support, for they have the unique perspective of having served as police officers. They are very busy people, but they have taken the time to read my bill and offer their support, and I thank them for that.
Police officers are often victims themselves. They serve us all with great courage. They keep us safe from those who would do harm and rarely see justice for crimes that are committed against them personally. We know that the Crown sometimes drops charges of assault against police officers to obtain guilty pleas. As victims who have not been vindicated by the courts would surely confirm, it must be an agonizing outcome for someone to personally deal with, no matter who the person is. I want to recognize and honour all peace officers in Canada. They are all affected by the crime that we are discussing today.
People who have been hurt by someone posing as a police officer understandably would become fearful and have difficulty trusting real police officers. This is very unfortunate, as it affects these victims every single time they encounter a real police officer. It also affects police who are trying to do their job.
There was a case in Calgary where a man personated a police officer and used flashing lights to attempt to pull people over to abduct young females. CBC News quoted a sergeant with the Calgary Police Force who stated that the false representation of a police officer was “a very serious offence”. He went on to say, “We cannot have our confidence in the public eroded. It is very important that we are able to conduct our jobs, and if people do not trust the police or they are worried, it can make our jobs very difficult”.
As that police officer stated, this is a serious crime that has far-reaching consequences, which is further proof that the government did the right thing by significantly increasing the maximum penalty for this crime as former Bill S-4 did.
Police will often remind the public how we can recognize if someone is actually posing as an officer. As police have said, they always carry photo ID and badges. People should never be opening their doors or get our of their cars without seeing photo ID and a badge. An officer will show these when requested. If Canadians are in doubt as to whether or not someone is actually a police officer, they are advised to call 911.
For 34 years I worked with children and young adults. As their teacher I shared their joys of accomplishment as well as their concerns about the future. I was always there to help them through difficult times when they had to deal with terrible ordeals, being a receptive ear to their voices gave me an understanding of how difficult and fragile life can be.
As a member of Parliament I have once again heard such a voice. I shared the same concerns as others in our community when I heard of the disappearance of a young girl from Penhold. Prayers were all that I could offer. No one knew why her car would be left where it was. There was nothing to indicate that she would have strayed from the errand that she was on, nothing. Her parents were frantic and our community of central Alberta empathized while we all waited. Finally the news broke. She had been found.
Only then did the pieces of this horrible ordeal start to make sense. The weapons used by her attacker were flashing lights and an RCMP uniform. That is why the car was left where it was. Her trust of the uniform and the false sense of safety and authority that it presented to her resulted in the most horrendous 46 hours that anyone could imagine.
The subsequent trial of her abductor forced the girl and her family to relive this ordeal. Finally a verdict and a sentence was rendered, but two things haunted them: first, the knowledge that the crime of personating a peace officer amounted to only six months' imprisonment, which was the maximum sentence allowed before the passage of Bill S-4; and second, that in the commission of this crime the weapons used to lure her into a trap would not be recognized for what they really were. She had been deceived of the trust she had in the police and the weapon of deceit was considered as more of a side issue than being the catalyst for the crime.
Personating a police officer to force someone to do something in the hands of a criminal is just as effective as pointing a firearm. It is no less aggravating than breaking and entering with the knowledge that a residence is occupied nor many of the other situations that fall into the category of aggravating circumstances. It is no different to a victim than having been abused by a real, existing position of authority.
Crimes involving firearms and break and entering with intent to encounter a resident necessitates special circumstances in the courts. They are rationalized as aggravating circumstances to ensure that they are treated as seriously as they should be. This is what my bill is designed to do.
As it now reads in section 130 the crime is in the deception of the public about a person's status as a peace officer. It does not differentiate whether or not it was for a specific purpose of facilitating another crime or whether or not another crime is actually attempted or committed. In cases where the deception is intended to and in fact does facilitate the commission of another more serious crime, this is an extremely serious instance of the offence of personating a peace officer and therefore deserves an appropriately high sentence. This bill would give the sentencing courts the tools they need to apply appropriate sentences in these cases.
The day that this brave young lady and her mother came to me for help was the day I knew that my receptive ear that was necessary as a teacher would also be part of my job as a member of Parliament.
I appreciate the help that has been provided to me by representatives in the justice department, the Minister of Justice and the rest of my caucus. I would also like to acknowledge the great work of the talented researchers in the Library of Parliament. I also appreciate the support and understanding that I have received from my colleagues in other parties.
It is my hope that all of my colleagues can recognize the importance of this bill and will see that it is worth supporting.