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House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arrest.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Conservative Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, it is really appropriate that I put a question to my colleague. In Taber, in my riding of Medicine Hat, an individual who had intruders on his property, who were proposing to obviously steal property, took some action to prevent that because the police were not readily available.

In these kinds of circumstances, should there be any kind of charges against this individual?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the question of whether or not charges are or are not laid relates to the facts at hand and whether the force used was reasonable in the context and if the intruders have weapons. It is a far different situation if they are caught red-handed breaking in with no weapons. It is always hard to determine, given the circumstances, how the defence will apply or not. It depends really on the circumstances.

There is one important thing to retain from this whole amendment. With these changes and the simplification of the rules, although they are reasonable, it will be easier for law enforcement authorities to make a call as to the application of the law.

The law as it stands right now is far too complex. Because police authorities are not certain whether or not they should lay charges, they will lay the charges and see what the court determines. That obviously clogs the docket, slows down the criminal process, and no one is served by that. Having the rules of the game much clearer will serve not only the police authorities but also the law-abiding citizens who seek to protect themselves and their property.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak today at second reading on BillC-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons.

This bill had its origins in the attention brought to a citizen's arrest some two years ago in Toronto. I think it was called the Lucky Moose case, after the name of a foodmart in downtown Toronto. The owner of the store was a persistent victim of shoplifting. A shoplifter, whom he had seen in his store walk away with some property, apparently came back an hour or so later. Based on his experience in trying to get the police to respond to shoplifting events in the store, the store owner felt that the only way to actually have this fellow charged was to apprehend him.

As a result, the owner was charged with assaulting the individual and with forceable confinement. I think at one point he may have been charged with kidnapping as well. However, the end result was that he was himself put before the courts.

The case caused a lot of controversy. Some of it had to do with whether the policing was sufficient in the area. We know that in larger establishments, like supermarkets and retail stores, there are often security services operating in the establishments. They have some training in apprehending people. They are in effect performing citizen's arrests based on seeing someone actively committing a shoplifting offence. They will phone the police and hold the shoplifter until the police come.

What was different in this case was that the individual had left the store and then came back. When he came back, he was not in the act of committing an offence, as the parliamentary secretary pointed out. As a result, Mr. Chen, the owner of the store who did this, was not inside the provisions of section 494 of the current Criminal Code that says a citizen may arrest someone who is found committing an indictable offence, or personally believes on reasonable grounds that a criminal offence has been committed and is escaping from it, and is freshly pursued.

Actually 494.(2)(b) was the section that he was purporting to act upon. It states:

A person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

There is a provision that says, “Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer”.

The normal process for shoplifting is that the store detective, or the store owner, can actually apprehend individuals, phone the police, and forthwith turn them over and the police handle it from there. In this case, because the arrest took place an hour later on a return visit, the owner did not have any basis under section 494 to arrest this individual.

Hence, the legislation originally came forward as a private member's bill introduced our colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina. I think she might have even called it the Lucky Moose bill in honour of Mr. Chen. It received widespread support from all sides of the House.

Many people who are in the position of being lawmakers are very concerned about passing laws that would encourage a vigilante type of justice. This is why this is such a touchy area.

As the parliamentary secretary said, we have a highly trained police force operating across the country. We have a national police force, local police forces and community policing. There are people patrolling on foot in Chinatown, where the event happened, and other areas of Toronto. These are the people on whom we need to rely.

On the other hand, not every store owner has access to security guards or store detectives. The concern here is for the person trying to run a business. In this case, Mr. Chen was trying to run a business and protect his property. I think most people would think he acted reasonably and detained the individual without using excessive force. However, that is forcible confinement, for which Mr. Chen was charged. If one uses force to confine someone to prevent the person from leaving, that is an offence. However, the citizen's arrest provision provides a defence for forcible confinement by changing it to an arrest, provided the arrest is made within a reasonable period of time.

I suppose if one knows who the individual is, one would phone the police to tell them that the individual is known to have done this before and was witnessed taking something and leaving. The individual would not be chased because of the danger involved and the police would be called. However, if one does not know who the individual is, then the only way to apprehend the offending stranger is to take advantage of the opportunity to pursue.

We support this aspect of the bill wholeheartedly. I think it takes a minimalist approach by making changes to section 494. When I say minimalist, I mean that it does only what is required by the circumstances in which Mr. Chen found himself.

There have to be two conditions: one must witness the offence and the arrest must be made at the time of the offence or within a reasonable time after the offence is committed. Also, one must believe that, on reasonable grounds, it is not feasible under the circumstances for a peace officer to make an arrest.

We could say that when the individual came back into the store, instead of arresting him, the police should have been called right away. However, in Mr. Chen's experience, the police often did not come fast enough and he thought that this individual would be gone again. Mr. Chen would have had this defence, if it fit the circumstances.

Of course, as legislators, we should not make laws every time something unusual happens. However, if the unusual happening points out a flaw in the law where people see an injustice, then I think that a reasonable legislature should take some action, and we support that wholeheartedly.

I want to speak about the powers of self-defence. This is complex, as my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, has pointed out. I do not disagree with the overall thrust of his comments.

As it stands, sections 34 to 42 of the Criminal Code deal with the issues of self-defence. We have specific provisions which allow for self-defence of the person, property and dwelling houses. Historically, there have been reasons for that.

Within the provision for self- defence of a person, there are two categories. One category is for a victim of unprovoked assault. The other category is for a victim who may have started a fight, but the response is so overwhelming that he or she has had to defend himself or herself.

I have no doubt that the rules are complicated. I am looking at the annotated Criminal Code. It starts off with the section with which we are dealing. It then has a series of annotations from case law, covering what the courts have said about these various provisions. I see that even though we are only dealing with relatively short sections of the Criminal Code, there are more than a dozen pages devoted to the cases that have interpreted these sections. That tells us two things: number one, the provisions are litigated relatively often; and, number two, the courts have a history of actually interpreting that legislation.

Section 41, in reference to the defence of a dwelling house and assault by a trespasser, states:

Every one who is in peaceable possession of a dwelling-house... is justified in using force to prevent any person from trespassing on the dwelling-house or real property, or to remove a trespasser therefrom, if he uses no more force than is necessary.

That is a specific limitation on the use of force. I have been a victim of a break and enter in my house. For example, if someone came into my house and I had no idea what the situation was, I could not get a two-by-four, wait for the individual to come around a corner and crack him or her over the head with it because the person is in my house. If I happen to have a registered weapon or shotgun, I cannot shoot the person just because he or she is on my property.

When we were kids we heard stories about stealing crabapples. We may remember hearing about homeowners with salt guns. I do not think I ever saw a salt gun, but they were shotguns that people would put salt in. We had neighbours we were frightened of because they supposedly had a salt gun. If people were caught stealing crabapples, they would get shot with a salt gun. I have never actually met anybody who was shot with a salt gun, but it would probably be illegal. I hope it would be illegal, but that does not mean it did not happen. Similarly, if people walk on my property, I cannot tell them to get off my lawn and if they refuse, pepper them with a shotgun. That is unreasonable force. That is not force people are allowed to use under the Criminal Code.

In criminal law and the interpretation of law, words are very important. This is especially true when, in the case of these provisions in the Criminal Code, 100 years or more of judicial interpretation has helped to establish how these words are interpreted. An example would be the situation where there is more force than necessary. If people use more force than is necessary, they are going to be convicted of an offence. In fact, even outside the provisions of self-defence, section 26, which also applies to citizen's arrest, states:

Every one who is authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.

We are not changing that. Regardless of what changes are made to sections 34 to 42, this excess force provision would remain. I am saying this off the top of my head right now, but perhaps it is all right to get rid of the provision of no more force than is necessary because there is the excess force provision in section 25. However, I am using that as an example.

We agree that there may be some confusion. The Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that there may be some confusion in the law. It added more confusion, in the case of McIntosh, by deciding that sections 34 and 35 were somehow not separate approaches but should be looked at together. The question is how we can eliminate that confusion without causing other problems or encouraging people who might take the law into their own hands and do things that are dangerous.

We support the citizen's arrest case in principle and feel that there is no need for change to the provision. On the idea of looking at the whole question of self-defence, are we making it more likely to be abused? Are we making it easier to understand and to apply? Are we sending the right message to citizens? Or are we encouraging, perhaps, more self-help in situations where the police should be called or where extreme restraint ought to be encouraged? Obviously, people have a right to defend themselves.

I have practised criminal law among other kinds of law over the years. There was one individual who was charged with manslaughter who was acquitted on the basis of self-defence. They were very tragic circumstances. The individual who died should not have died. It was a complicated case because he died several days later after having hit his head. The simple question was whether the blow that caused him to fall was an assault or was in self-defence. If it was an assault, he was guilty of manslaughter even though it was a trivial blow. If it was a blow in self-defence, then it was not manslaughter. The individual ended up with a subdural hematoma, a cracked skull. He was not properly treated at the hospital and died three days later. Self-defence is very important for that reason: it can mean the difference between the kind of consequences that I am talking about and a proper defence to a charge. We have to be very careful in doing that.

We will support this bill at second reading. We want it to have careful consideration, which is code for not rushing it through, I say to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the committee. We do not want to see this dealt with in one meeting. We want to hear from people who have practised criminal law. We want to hear from experts in the Department of Justice, from the Canadian Bar Association and others. We need to examine it very carefully. We need to ensure that by making changes, we are not throwing away 100 years of precedent and all the advice that the courts have given. If we are starting off with a blank slate and a whole new law, it may take another 10 or 20 years of case law to understand what that means. Do we really need to go down that road? I think we have to answer that question with the kind of detailed study that can take place in a committee. I know the member from Athabasca who spoke earlier is on that committee, along with the parliamentary secretary, others with legal training and lawyers who have practised in the area. Also, we would rely not just on ourselves but the expertise of people who have analyzed these provisions, studied all the cases and who can help us ensure that we are doing the right thing.

Having said that, we will support this bill at second reading but we do want to have extremely careful consideration given to it in committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the intervention by the hon. member for St. John's East.

Having been a member of the bar for quite some time, I think this House can appreciate that the member offers views and positions that would be of value to us all in determining the overall merit and considerations of the bill.

The hon. member mentioned that the genesis of the bill was in a particular case. I believe it is was the Lucky Moose Food Mart case in Toronto. The shopkeeper basically felt that there was a requirement on his part to defend his property; he apprehended a suspected thief and was subsequently charged with assault.

The case went through the system and was resolved. I believe that either the charges were dropped or he was found not guilty. The hon. member may be able to refresh our recollections of it.

The question is as follows: does this particular legislation add any new remedies, any new penalties or any new circumstances that assist in those kinds of matters?

The case in point is that the citizen's arrest occurred after the theft of property. Does this legislation actually provide any specific means to deal with the specific case that was the genesis of this particular legislation?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, there are two things here: acting in defence of property as a self-defence, and defence to an assault charge.

In the case of Mr. Chen, the arrest was actually what is called a citizen's arrest. What happened in his case was that when the police arrived after he had called them, they charged him with kidnapping, carrying a dangerous weapon--a box cutter--assault and forcible confinement. The crown prosecutors dropped the kidnapping charges and the weapons charges, but they proceeded with the forcible confinement and assault charges.

This legislation would make it clear that if he did what he did having seen the individual steal his items, it would have been fine. However, this was an hour later. The individual had left the store and had come back. He was no longer in the commission of the offence.

The changes to section 494 would actually have the effect of providing a defence to Mr. Chen without having to go through what he went through. I think he was eventually acquitted, but it was very unclear that acquittal would be the outcome of the case. This bill would clarify the fact that there would be a specific defence for what he was doing in that particular case and for anyone else in those circumstances. The law would now reflect that eventuality.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I would like to touch on three issues that the hon. member discussed: vigilantism, the use of excessive force, and the jurisprudence that has guided us on the provisions that we are amending.

I acknowledge, as the hon. member has said, that the question of excessive force remains intact. Certainly that is a question of public order and should be maintained.

One of the triggering points in the ability to make a citizen's arrest is that the person making the citizen's arrest has reason to believe that there is no prospect of an enforcement officer being able to respond.

First, in the member's opinion, is that a reasonable safeguard in trying to guard against vigilantism? Would he agree that although it is perhaps not an absolute guard against it, it is a reasonable attempt?

Second, we talked about the body of law that has interpreted the various provisions of the act that are being consolidated now. Would the member agree that there is a cycle to the law? An enactment is made and is interpreted by jurisprudence; now we have a recodification, and the cycle will recommence with the interpretation of the new provisions. Certainly we will still be able to draw from the previous jurisprudence in guiding us on what the boundaries of these new provisions will be.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I agree with the parliamentary secretary that there must be a reasonable grounds for believing that the police cannot effect the arrest. That is a safeguard against vigilantism. It is a minimalist approach, but it does take into account those circumstances.

Of course we want people to rely on the police in all cases, because it is dangerous to arrest someone if we do not have any training or do not know how someone is going to react or do not know the individual's mental condition. If the person is in an excited state or reacts with violence, we might not be able to control it. We do not really want to encourage it, but at the same time a defence would be provided. That is okay.

I agree as well that there is a cycle. However, if we are recodifying based on the jurisprudence, that is one thing; if we are starting off on a fresh tack and saying we are not going to do it this way anymore but will do it another way, then we have a whole different set of concepts, with different language being used. We are really losing the benefit of the analysis.

I am a new justice critic, so I am not going to suggest that I can pronounce on this legislation immediately. We do need to look at it carefully and have the benefit of experts to help us analyze it to see whether we are going to be able to use that jurisprudence in the new sections.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I am familiar with the case that brought this issue forward. It was the member for Trinity—Spadina who first brought this issue to the House.

I understand my hon. colleague's explanation that there are existing laws to prevent an aggressive reaction so that there is some protection for people who may be charged under the new law.

However, I have a concern. Would the very existence of this new provision, if it is approved, create an environment of permission through which certain individuals could be targeted?

For example, I represent a very low-income riding. There is often tension between business owners and people who are homeless and on the street. Some of them are probably ripping off stores, so we do get into this very fine area.

Besides the specifics of the law, would its existence create a more open environment that could lead to situations of people being targeted, for example, by private security forces? We have these forces in my riding, and they can be very aggressive with people.

There are issues and rights on both sides. I wonder if my colleague might comment on that.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, unfortunately we do have extreme circumstances in some communities because of the situations people find themselves in. We do not want to encourage vigilantism, and that is why we, as legislators, must be vigilant ourselves. That is why there is a requirement for an offence being committed. A store owner cannot take it out on someone who shoplifted something from the store two weeks ago. Individuals cannot set up their own police force. They cannot take it out on people.

I certainly hope that no store owner or security firm would think this legislation would give them permission to act in a way that they have not been able to act in the past. This legislation is extremely narrow and does not give permission to individuals to make a citizen's arrest.

Citizen's arrest has been around for a thousand years. I hope nobody will take this legislation as permission to act aggressively or to discriminate against people or target people on a list or whatever. That would be wrong and it would be contrary to this legislation.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to participate in this debate on Bill C-26, the citizen's arrest and self-defence act. While I may not agree with much of the government's crime and punishment agenda, this legislation is something that I can support in principle, although I do have some concerns that I believe may be able to be adequately addressed in committee.

As my colleagues have noted, this legislation replaces the current Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property. This change is welcome, because Canada's self-defence laws are complex and out of date, as the jurisprudence itself has demonstrated. This has been further highlighted by recent high-profile cases that have produced some less than ideal results, as already referenced in the chamber debate this morning. The bill would provide greater clarity, therefore, for prosecutors, judges and juries, as well as for those who may find themselves in a circumstance requiring them to defend themselves or their property.

Simply put, I support this necessary law reform. Indeed, a review and simplification of the entire Criminal Code is needed, as I indicated during the period that I served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General. I trust that the government will commit itself to a comprehensive criminal law reform and in that regard reinstate the Law Commission of Canada, which I and others found to be a very valuable resource in this regard.

While this legislation fixes on one particular section of the Criminal Code, much more remains to be done. It is important to point out, for example, that although it was raised at committee, a textual inconsistency that we have yet to correct in Bill C-10 adds, perhaps inadvertently, another error to the Criminal Code. Indeed, in the committee deliberations we found at least four errors in the French text of the Criminal Code as it is now, and errors with respect to the English and French texts when compared to each other. My point is that if we are going to add another piece to the Criminal Code, as in Bill C-10, we should correct it to the extent that we can.

Returning to Bill C-26, the changes to the self-defence provisions would repeal the current complex self-defence provisions, which are spread over four sections of the Criminal Code, and create one new self-defence provision. Currently sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code provide distinct defences to those who use force to protect themselves or another from attack, depending on whether they provoked the attack or not and whether they intended to use deadly force. In that particular regard, the use of deadly force is permitted only in very exceptional circumstances, such as when it is necessary to protect a person from death or grievous bodily harm.

The new legislation in Bill C-26 would, as one section of the Criminal Code alone, permit persons who reasonably believe themselves or others to be at risk of the threat of force or of acts of force to commit a reasonable act to protect themselves or others. The act outlines factors to consider when assessing reasonableness, something I will address shortly.

With regard to defence of property, sections 38 to 42 of the Criminal Code currently outline multiple defences for the “peaceable possession” of property. The defences respecting the type of property relate to whether the property is either personal or real property, the possessory right of the possessor and of the other person, and the issue of proportionality in the threat to the property. In addition, the code requires that one consider the amount of force used when a property defence is raised.

I do not intend to address in particular the legislation with respect to these property defences in particular. Briefly, Bill C-26 would repeal what jurisprudence and experts have held as the confusing defence-of-property language, now spread over five sections of the Criminal Code, and remove in part the distinction between defence of real and personal property.

Under Bill C-26, one new defence-of-property provision would be created, eliminating the many other distinctions that currently exist in the code and arguably serve no purpose but to confuse and confound the matter. Simply put, the new provisions would permit a person in peaceable possession of a property to commit a reasonable act, including the use of force, for the purpose of protecting that property from being taken, damaged or trespassed upon.

In particular, my concern is not with the defence of property provisions, with which I agree, but rather with the new self defence provision, which I believe, while I support again this approach to amendment, may in and of itself arguably be overbroad.

I will state at the outset that it is not as though, without the bill, there is no right of self defence or citizen's arrest. Both exist as a matter of the common law. Both have been codified as statutes. Indeed, if we did not have a statutory basis, we would have the common law. Statutory reform now would in fact refine and, hopefully in this instance, improve our approach and understanding of this matter.

Primarily, the concern is that the current Criminal Code provision with respect to self defence provides that, “Everyone who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling, force by force”. Thereby, confining self-defence to assault situations and noting that it could not have been the result of provocation.

This new legislation would remove the assault requirement entirely, speaking of force or threat of force, and also would remove provocation. This is where I believe that committee study of the bill will be helpful.

What force or threat of force is contemplated by the new legislation? While one may consider that it refers to physical force, we might want to specify that, or we might also want to ask the question whether the legislation also envisages the threat of economic force in a bargaining situation, for example. This is not to say that the current limitation of the Criminal Code is self-defence only in assaults is the correct approach, but it may be that we would inadvertently be opening the door to other claims and concerns.

The legislation offers a list of factors to consider when determining whether or not the action taken was reasonable in the circumstances, and where the current Criminal Code, as I noted, speaks of provocation, something which this legislation would remove, the new legislation includes in its factors the person's role and the incident.

The question is whether this provision is meant to account for provocation. Might we want to amend it to say, “including whether there was provocation on his or her part”. To my mind, that would clarify the rules and what it is meant to address, as it may be inappropriate to eliminate the entire line of jurisprudence surrounding the notion of provocation.

I would like to focus on some of the factors list, as this is where I believe we may have to address it in committee, though again, as I say, I am supportive of the bill in principle.

The most concerning or disconcerting factor here is found in (e) in what would become section 34.2 of the Criminal Code. The factor, again with respect to determining the reasonableness of someone's self defence action, refers to the size, age and gender of the parties to the incident. Size and age I can appreciate. As one of the older members in the House, I can attest that people sometimes make certain assumptions about age, including sometimes about the imminent retirement of a member, which may be far from the mark.

The use of gender in this factor warrants a certain approach or critique. Indeed, some might call it a feminist critique, but I propose it just as a critique on the merits. What does “gender” itself have to do with reasonableness? If we are trying to address a size imbalance between the parties to a incident, is not the size factor itself sufficient? If we are trying to address a power or strength imbalance, might we use those words or some other phrase such as perception of potential force that could be exerted. As soon as we put in gender, we may be opening the door to the resurgence of a series of myths and stereotypes, which have, regrettably, undermined our criminal law, as we have observed most notably in the area of sexual assault.

This would open the door to all sorts of assumptions about gender playing out, either in police decisions to prosecute or in judges' rulings and the like.

The concern here is that we may see some relying upon and the furthering of the outdated notion of a weak, defenceless woman. If she is unarmed, we have a factor, as set forth in (d), whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon. Again, the question is what gender may be adding.

Its presence in the statute implies that there is some fundamental difference between capacities of men and women to protect themselves. While I remain unconvinced that this itself is something we should be addressing in this fashion, the point is that if there is a size or power or weapons imbalance, that is what the issue is, not the gender of the person.

On this point, too, we may have certain stereotypes about masculinity as well. Some men who are attacked or feel an attack is imminent, may respond aggressively, others more passively. Again, the question is whether this factor implies that only one type of response is appropriate. I think this is something that may warrant addressing on deliberation in committee.

A final factor that we may want to address is in (f), which refers to the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use of threat or force and the nature of that force, or threat. I can imagine that this could raise difficulties in conjugal relationships where there is a long and complex history between the partners and the focus of the police service or the judge may be on the physical relationship or force, not taking into account considerations like economic dependency or psychological force that are also important.

Indeed, I have a particular concern here that couples that may have had a disturbing relationship over time and then one partner crosses the line, a judge may pass it off as par for the course instead of addressing it as a serious act of conjugal violence. Again, this is something best addressed in committee.

The final concern I have with the bill has been raised by numerous academics and has been raised this morning as well. It is the potential risk for vigilantism, which we certainly do not want to promote this.

With reference to my comments earlier about the scope of self-defence no longer being just assault and the addition of the word “threat” of force, it may be that we are somewhat overbroadening this bill such that we may give a pass to those who really should not be engaging in matters best left to our informed and uniformed first responders.

I welcome this modification to Canada's criminal law. It would clarify and streamline self-defence and defence of property. However, as I mentioned, I have some concerns with some of the factors enunciated in this legislation. It is my hope that, through thoughtful and informed deliberation and debate in committee, we may be able to address these issues and favourably resolve them. The bill can then enjoy the full support of the House, as it now has, as a matter of principle, but then can be more fully supported with regard to any considerations that may raise some matters for concern.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, the issue addressed by this bill is so delicate that it is important to obtain expert legal opinions. My colleague from St. John's East spoke about the importance of studying this bill in committee to find just the right balance in order to ensure that it does not lead to the abuse of the defence of property and the person.

Could my hon. colleague tell me how we could go about finding this balance? We must protect people who want to defend themselves and the rest of the population in order to ensure that abuses do not occur and that people do not become de facto police officers.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, I tried to include these considerations in my remarks. The question is whether the response is rational and proportionate. This bill is an improvement over the existing legislation, which, as the case law shows, includes some vague and complex provisions. It is thus very important to have a debate to talk about the principles of the bill and to discuss the bill in committee, where witnesses can come and share their expertise on these issues.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's wisdom and guidance in this. He is very experienced. I appreciate that he is bringing these concerns forward prior to his pending retirement. I am just kidding.

The reality is that this is an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of my constituents. There have been several occurrences in my riding. I noticed that he talked a bit about some of the exceptions he had. I am wondering if, from his perspective, he has any experience with this.

I represent a fairly large rural constituency where response times by law enforcement officials are somewhat less than what one would expect in a municipal area. I am wondering if the member would like to speak to that and if he has any issues, concerns or prior knowledge with respect to self-defence and citizen's arrest provisions. Also, does he have any foresight or wisdom he could share with the chamber in regard to situations where someone might be 45 minutes to a couple of hours away from having a law enforcement officer respond to an emergency situation?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, I do think those are considerations that are important because different issues can play out in different contexts in different places. Therefore, the notion of what constitutes reasonableness may vary given the context, both geographical and otherwise, as well as what may determine proportionality, these being the two main criteria in this regard.

I will take this opportunity to address another factor that may pose a concern, which is (h), which reads:

whether the act committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.

The question is whether “knew was lawful” is enough or should it be “knew or ought to have known”.

I can imagine a situation with an undercover police officer and the person saying that he or she did not know the action was lawful and therefore he or she was justified in assaulting the officer in self-defence. Again, this may be another factor we may want to clarify. Therefore, should “including whether the person identified his or her lawful authority” be added, or is “knew or ought to have known” be sufficient?

The question points out, and I have used this particular consideration or factor by way of response, that there are a number of issues that will be best addressed in committee.

As the Supreme Court said, the contextual principle is crucial with regard to the interpretation and application of legislation and would it apply with regard to that geographical context and in relation to that contextual principle and the application of the notion of reasonableness and proportionality.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I know we will be studying this in committee in great detail but I noticed the term “proportionality” is relevant to the defence of persons. Does the member believe there is a place for a similar concept in defence of property?

Obviously, some people have different notions of what is the proper way to defend one's property from a trespasser. Is the word “reasonable” enough or should we have more? Is that something that the member would give some consideration to?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned, I was addressing most of my remarks to the issue of self-defence. I was not addressing the matter of property, which I felt was not the particular provisions that were eliciting concern.

I do believe the issue of reasonableness, as my hon. colleague mentioned, while being the generic principle, would apply clearly to both self-defence and in relation to property and proportionality in matters of self-defence.

I also tend to regard the notion of proportionality as being a relevant principle, if not also a generic principle and may also be applicable in matters of property as it is with regard to self-defence.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the speech by the hon. member for Mount Royal, particularly for bringing us back to the need for broader Criminal Code reform, particularly to look at bringing back the Law Reform Commission of Canada.

We have a situation where we generally agree with the objects of the bill, as I know the hon. member for Mount Royal and I did back in June when we looked at the megatrials bill. The efforts made to improve that bill so that it would work were gavelled out of order and we went right through to passing a bill with no changes.

We have just experienced the same thing with Bill C-10. The efforts made to improve that bill in the government's interest and toward the goals that it put forward were rushed through and, unfortunately, the amendments put forward yesterday by the Minister of Public Safety, which were so closely parallelled with what the hon. member for Mount Royal had put forth before, were ruled out of order, and appropriately, by the Speaker.

What chance do we have of his very sensible approaches being taken seriously at committee? Does he have any indication that we will have a different atmosphere around the committee with respect to Bill C-26 from what we have had with previous bills in this session?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has been very attentive and present at the deliberations of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, and knows of what she speaks.

I hope that when our committee deliberations return, we will do so in a way that permits for the informed and considered appreciation of legislation before us. I still believe the real problem with regard to the deliberations on Bill C-10 was that it was not, as some feel when they look at it, one bill; it was nine bills. They should have been unbundled. We should have addressed each of them separately.

My colleague mentioned the justice for victims of terror bill. I proposed four amendments, which were rejected by the committee. The government then reintroduced those same four amendments that it had rejected in committee. The Speaker, understandably, ruled them out of order. Maybe if we had time and consideration to put on that one bill alone, we could have come up with a better bill. The bill, as I have said, is transformative legislation that would have had a positive historical impact to give victims of terror a civil remedy that they had not yet had. It would have allowed them to hold their perpetrators liable.

I believe that is the same with the other eight bills that we had to consider altogether in one big bundle.

I would like to see the government take that principle of bundling and attach it to the whole question of a comprehensive reform of our criminal law, which is long overdue. Also, we need to reinstate the Law Commission of Canada to assist us in this very compelling, overdue and necessary task of comprehensive law reform in our country.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Delta—Richmond East B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code to address the issues of citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons.

Bill C-26 represents a responsible expansion of the citizen's power of arrest as well as a simplification of the self-defence and defence of property provisions in the Criminal Code. These reforms are balanced and necessary. Today, I would like to address some of the details of the law of citizen's arrest.

Many members will know the background to the citizen's arrest reforms proposed in the bill. For members who perhaps are not as familiar with this issue, let me begin with a description of what arrest actually is. An arrest consists of the actual seizure or touching of a person's body with a view to detention. Uttering the words, “you are under arrest” can constitute an arrest if the person being arrested submits to the request.

Arrest powers are found in a range of federal and provincial laws. The Criminal Code provides for several distinct arrest powers. Currently, under section 495, the police officers are empowered to arrest, without a warrant, any person who they find committing a criminal offence. Police officers may also arrest without a warrant any person who they reasonably believe has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence.

For an arrest to be lawful, the arresting officer must personally believe that he or she possess the required grounds to arrest and those grounds must be objectively reasonable. This means that a reasonable person standing in the shoes of the officer would believe that there are reasonable and probable grounds to make an arrest, which depends upon reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed.

In comparison to the power of arrest that every police officer has, section 494 of the Criminal Code also authorizes private citizens to arrest, again without a warrant, those found committing indictable offences, those being pursued by others who have authority to arrest and those found committing criminal offences in relation to their property. In all cases of a citizen's arrest, there is a legal duty on the citizen making the arrest, under section 494, to deliver an arrested person to the police forthwith. This term “forthwith” basically means as soon as reasonably practicable in all the circumstances.

As members can see, there is a clear distinction between the power of arrest for police officers and the power given to citizens. There are good reasons for these differences, many of which are obvious. Police officers are professionally responsible for enforcing the criminal law. They are trained in the use of force, including how not to get hurt themselves and how to minimize any injuries that may be inflicted on others, as well as being trained in the legal requirements for lawful arrest. As well, police officers are subject to oversight so that in cases where things go wrong, a citizen who may have been unlawfully assaulted can seek redress.

Private citizens are not subject to any of these conditions but, nonetheless, the law does recognize that sometimes only the private citizen is in a position to act in the face of criminality. The law would not be doing its job of promoting public peace if it left the citizen with no choice but to stand and watch as criminals committed their crime. No, the law must and does empower the citizen, in limited circumstances, to take part in the administration of justice where necessary.

In this regard, the particular power of citizen's arrest we are concerned with is the power to arrest people found committing an offence on or in relation to property. As I have already mentioned, the power of arrest for the private citizen arises where the citizen finds someone committing an offence on or in relation to property. In other words, the person must be found actually in the process of committing the offence for a private arrest to be lawful. This is a limited power and the law does not permit an arrest even a short while after the offence was detected.

I think we can all appreciate that the limitation of “found committing” can produce unjust results in certain situations. Canadians do not agree with criminal charges against a citizen who tries to arrest someone a short while after he or she was found committing a crime, for instance where the person returns to the scene and is readily identified as the person who stole property a few hours before.

Bill C-26 therefore proposes a straightforward reform to extend the period of time allowed for making a citizen's arrest. Specifically, the bill would expand subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada to permit property owners, or persons authorized by them, to arrest a person, not just when found committing a criminal offence on or in relation to property but also within a reasonable time after the offence is committed.

Many questions have been asked about what constitutes a reasonable period of time for making an arrest. It is not feasible to impose a rigid time limit on an arrest, such as an authority to arrest within four hours of an offence. A rigid time limit would likely produce unfairness in some cases, just as the existing rule that limits arrest at the time of the commission of the crime does.

It is also not possible to define or describe what constitutes a reasonable period of time. Whether an arrest was or was not made in a reasonable period of time must be determined on a case-by-case basis based on all the relevant facts and circumstances. Facts and circumstances that are likely to be relevant to such a determination include the length of delay, the reasons for the delay and the conduct of the suspect and the arrester, among others.

The proposed reforms also add an additional requirement where the arrest is made after the crime has been committed. This requirement is that the arrest will only be lawful if the person making the arrest reasonably believes it is not feasible for police officers to make the arrest themselves. This is a new safeguard that Bill C-26 would bring into law to ensure the law would not encourage or promote vigilantism. This requirement would ensure that citizens would only use this expanded power of arrest in cases of urgency and only after they turned their minds to the question of whether polices officers would be able to make the arrest.

It should not be forgotten that this new safeguard complements other safeguards already in the law of citizen's arrest. For instance, as I mentioned earlier, there is a duty upon any citizen who arrests someone to deliver that person as soon as possible to the police. This is another safeguard that ensures citizens are not in a position to apprehend a possible criminal and keep him or her confined for an extended period of time. Once apprehended, the suspect must be turned over to police. Failure to do so puts the lawfulness of the arrest in jeopardy and leaves the arresting person subject to prosecution.

These requirements are reasonable and appropriately balance the right of the citizen to take steps to prevent crime and apprehend criminals against the overarching objective of ensuring that it is the police who deal with suspects. The police have a duty to preserve and maintain the public peace and must remain our first and foremost criminal law enforcement body. This new safeguard, especially when coupled with existing ones, would ensure that they will so remain.

Finally, for even greater certainty, the reforms also specify that the existing provisions in relation to the use of force and effecting an arrest apply to citizen's arrest. These rules are set out in section 25 of the Criminal Code and apply to all actions taken by police officers and private citizens where they are acting for the purpose of administering or enforcing the law. According to section 25 of the Criminal Code, an individual who makes a citizen's arrest is “if he acts on reasonable grounds, justified in...using as much force as is necessary for that purpose”.

However, I would note that a person making an arrest will never be justified in using force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm unless he or she believes on reasonable grounds that it is necessary for self-preservation or to protect anyone under his or her protection from death or grievous bodily harm. This is the same rule that applies to the police. Its benefits and objectives are clear and obvious.

These are important reforms that will give Canadians confidence that when they act to arrest someone they have found committing an offence, the law will view them as law enforcers in an emergency situation and not as criminals.

However, Bill C-26 would do more than this. It would also simplify the law relating to defence of property and defence of persons, which are in dire need of clarification. Law societies, bar associations and judges have been calling for such reforms for decades. It is not that the law does not give Canadians the power they need to defend themselves. Rather the problem is that the way the law is written is so confusing that it makes it very difficult to understand what is and is not permitted.

However, there are additional consequences. Once they are raised in court, confusing laws require prosecutors and defence counsel to devote energy and arguments about the proper interpretation and they cause judges difficulty in explaining to juries how they should govern their decision making. The end result is lengthier trials, unnecessary appeals and additional cost to the system.

In a nutshell, the legislation seeks to simplify both defences so Canadians can understand the rules and govern their ability to defend themselves, their families and their property. Simpler laws would also provide better guidance to police officers who are called to the scene of a crime. They will be better able to make appropriate decisions about whether charges are or are not warranted.

The proposed new defences would boil down to a few simple considerations. In the case of defence of the person, did the defenders reasonably perceive that they were or that another person was being threatened with force or were they actually being assaulted?

In the case of defence of property, did the defenders reasonably perceive that property they peaceably possessed was or was about to be interfered with, such as by someone taking, damaging, destroying or entering property without legal entitlement?

In both types of cases, did the defenders respond for the purpose of protecting themselves or another person from force or for the purpose of protecting the property in question from interference?

Finally, in both types of cases, did the defender act reasonably in the circumstances?

These are the key components for defences which allow a person in emergency situations to engage in conduct that would otherwise be criminal. Just as it is not possible to provide a definition or an answer in the abstract to the question of what is a reasonable period of time for making an arrest, it is also not possible to set out what actions are reasonable in self-defence or in defence of property.

What is reasonable depends entirely on the circumstances and the reasonable perceptions of the person faced with the threat. There are many relevant considerations; in fact, a list of factors that may be considered is provided in relation to self-defence and defence of another. This list includes a range of factors which frequently arise in self-defence cases, such as the nature of the threat, the presence of weapons, and any pre-existing relationship between the parties, and the proportionality between the threat and the defence of response.

In the case of defence of property, the nature of the threat to the property is likely to be the most important consideration. If someone is threatening to burn down their neighbour's house, such a threat would likely permit a greater defensive response than if the threat were merely to place an unwanted sticker on a neighbour's car.

I trust that it is now apparent why the reasonableness of the defensive conduct can only be assessed in relation to all the facts.

I would just like to address a few small points that relate to the defence of property. It is crucial to understand the limits of the legal ability to use force to defend property. This is not a defence that allows people to use force to protect or assert ownership rights.

Ownership rights, and many other legal interests in property, are matters of property law, which is a matter of provincial responsibility. Disputes over these types of issues must be decided by the civil courts if the parties cannot agree among themselves.

The defence of property only applies where there are real time threats to physical possession of property or threats to the state of property in someone's possession, such as a threat to destroy or render property useless and ineffective. That is because in emergency situations there is no recourse to the courts. If someone steals or destroys another's belongings, they are gone before the civil courts can assist.

The overarching function of the criminal law is to promote public order and public peace. The law therefore cannot sanction the use of force to protect property in any circumstances other than where a present lawful situation is threatened in a manner such that seeking civil recourse at some later date creates the risk of a permanent deprivation or loss of the property in question.

The law allows people to preserve the status quo, not to solve ongoing disputes with violence.

There is one last matter that I must address in relation to the defence of property. The new law of defence of property, like the current law, does not put any express limits on what can be done to defend property; however, I would like to note for members that our criminal courts have unequivocally rejected the use of intentional deadly force in defence of property alone as unreasonable.

In the case of self-defence or defence of another, these defences allow for the use of intentional deadly force, depending on the circumstances. This is because it is a life that is being threatened. It is only reasonable for individuals who face a serious threat from another person to protect themselves. If the nature of the threat is such that it is reasonable to counter that threat with deadly force, that may be acceptable, depending on the circumstances.

Threats to property are not the same. Human life always outweighs our interest in property. So when the situation is one where damage or destruction of property must be balanced against the determination of human life, the property interest must give way to the greater interest in human life.

Some conflicts which appear on the surface to involve threats to property only do in fact also pose a risk to human life. For instance, individuals whose homes are invaded are likely to feel that their property is being interfered with and on that basis does have the right to use force to evict the trespasser; however, this does not mean that a homeowner is without recourse and must submit to anything the trespasser intends. Rather the homeowner is also likely to feel personally threatened by the presence of the trespasser in such circumstances.

In any case, where a person has succeeded in entering a home without permission, especially if it is at night, that presents a situation in which any reasonable individuals would perceive danger to themselves and other occupants. Where such a threat is reasonably perceived, self-defence and defence of others becomes available and indeed may be the operative defence if deadly force is ultimately used.

I think all members can agree that clear and simple defences and a citizen's arrest law that provides flexibility for variations in the circumstances will allow all Canadians to take necessary and reasonable steps when the circumstances leave them no other reasonable options.

I urge all members to support this important legislation.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Madam Speaker, this week, the hon. member for Delta—Richmond East said that it was not necessary to consult experts or do research to draft a bill and that it was enough to simply consult Canadian families.

I find this somewhat worrisome since, today, the opposition is trying to pass this bill at second reading so that a serious discussion can occur in committee. The hon. member for St. John's East mentioned that he expected to hear from legal specialists about self-defence and defence of property in committee.

Today, what does the hon. member think about these specific expectations?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Madam Speaker, this matter will be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights where it will be considered, as any legislation is considered.

The member may have misunderstood me last week. I did not say that research was unnecessary. I said that, in fact, there are so many comments about the justice system and the lack of confidence in it generally that this is something we can also take into account. However, this matter will definitely go to committee to be studied there. We will await those outcomes.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the parliamentary secretary would like to comment on the circumstances which gave rise to the citizen's arrest changes because they were concerning. The owner of the store was charged by the police who arrived on the scene, after being called by the individual. He was then charged with kidnapping, possession of a dangerous weapon, unlawful confinement and assault.

This gave rise to a lot of the publicity and concern about the case. Does that indicate some lack of clarity in the citizen's arrest provision?

Does the member think that what we are doing here is the minimal amount that needs to be done because we do not want to encourage people to effect citizen's arrests when other alternatives are available?

One would not know the state of mind of the person, and quite often those effecting citizen's arrests do not have any training as to how to handle people.

Would the member comment on that and whether she thinks there are sufficient safeguards in the citizen's arrest provision?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and his hard work on the justice committee.

This is not in response to any particular situation and I really cannot comment on the specifics that the hon. member has alluded to.

There are many areas in the Criminal Code where the law has been so long standing. In the modern world and the unfolding of many different circumstances, it is very hard to comprehend for all involved, the judicial system, judges, law enforcement and citizens, as to what is appropriate and what they can and cannot do in a given situation. Of course, for law enforcement it is much clearer. We are trying to modernize the law and simplify it to the extent that it makes it clearer what the citizen's arrest powers are.

This would allow for the understanding that it may not be just at the exact time of the committing of an offence but a certain time after, if the police cannot be brought into the situation, where a citizen's arrest would still be appropriate within reasonable circumstances.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

December 1st, 2011 / 11:50 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today and speak to Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).

This is an excellent example, an all too uncommon example I would submit, of a government making sound legislation because consensus was sought and achieved with respect to the substance of the bill.

All parties agree with the essence of this legislation. All parties have commented publicly and foreshadowed to the government over the last two years that this legislation would be a positive amendment to our Criminal Code. As I will touch on a bit later in my remarks, that does not mean that certain provisions of the bill do not require careful scrutiny. That, I am sure, will happen at committee.

The bill would basically alter a person's ability to make a citizen's arrest. It clarifies the times when a person is entitled to defend either his or her person or property. These are both positive and overdue steps.

This legislation is an example of good law being made. The government can ensure widespread support when it seeks consensus. That also ensures smooth and timely passage of legislation, which all Canadians want to see as opposed to seeing contentious legislation put forward that eventually gets slowed down, obstructed and criticized heavily.

I want to contrast this legislation briefly for a moment with what I think is the typical and common approach of the government, and that is to generally plow ahead with highly partisan, ideological and often controversial pieces of legislation that do not reflect the majority of support in Canada.

Government members have obviously memorized their speaking lines well. It is a rare day in the House when we do not hear four or five government members stand up and say that they received a strong mandate from the Canadian people for their platform. We know that is political spin and is not correct because we all understand math.

We know that in the last federal election 61% of Canadians voted and the government secured the support of 39% of that 61%. We also know that 61% of Canadians did not give a mandate to the Conservative government. It is useful for the government to keep that in mind. In order for the government to have a positive and successful legislative agenda, it would do well to remember the fact that seeking consensus, as the government has done on the bill, is a much sounder and more democratic way to proceed as a government.

I do want to congratulate the government on this piece of legislation. Our late leader, Jack Layton, valued fairness above all other attributes in political life. He often stated that it is the job of an opposition to propose as well as to oppose, and when we do oppose to do so constructively. He would have been the first person in the House to advocate that we should give credit where credit is due.

In this case, I am pleased to give credit to the government for introducing this legislation. That is not hard to do in this case because the substance of this legislation was really an idea that was proposed by the New Democrats, in particular, by my hon. colleague from Trinity—Spadina. I will talk about that in a moment.

I want to talk a bit about the bill and where it came from. Bill C-26 would specifically amend section 494 of the Criminal Code, dealing with citizen's arrest, to provide greater flexibility. These changes would permit a citizen's arrest without a warrant within a reasonable period of the commission of the offence. Currently, section 494 requires any citizen's arrest to occur while the offence is being committed.

As I go through the history of the genesis of the bill, members will see why the current definition in the Criminal Code has proven to be problematic.

Bill C-26 would do more. It would also change sections of the Criminal Code that relate to self-defence and defence of property currently encoded in sections 35 to 42 of the Criminal Code of Canada. According to the government, these changes would bring much-needed reforms to simplify and clarify complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property. They would also clarify where reasonable use of force is permitted.

I am advised that the current language has been in the Criminal Code for a very long time. I am led to believe it may even be original language or language that certainly is well over 50 years old, or even closer to 100 years old. It is always positive for us as legislators to review language in our statutes to ensure the language is up to date and clear to Canadians.

As we know, it is one of the precepts of Canadian law that citizens are presumed to know the law. In order for citizens to be able to comply with the criminal law in this country, obviously they must understand it.

It is a positive step that we are actually looking at these sections of the Criminal Code. I am not 100% sure that the language in the legislation is exactly what we want it to be. However, I commend the government for putting the focus on these sections. I do think the bill goes a long way, even in its present form, in clarifying those complex provisions.

Half of the bill proposes measures that New Democrats have called for previously through my colleague from Trinity—Spadina's private member's bill which she introduced a year and a half ago. Therefore, it follows that we will support the bill at least at second reading. The part of the bill that we proposed is the part that amends section 494, which deals with citizen's arrest, to permit arrest without a warrant within a reasonable period of the commission of the offence.

I want to make it clear that we must tread a careful line, because expanding the role of citizens to become involved in arrests or to use force to defend themselves or their property is a carefully balanced one. We want to ensure that we do not encourage an unhealthy or dangerous form of vigilantism. The balance between ensuring our citizens have the right to act rationally, logically and reasonably in protecting themselves and their property and doing their part to ensure that criminals are apprehended can be done so in a fair, safe and legal manner.

I will talk briefly about the background to the bill, which is what brought the legislation to the attention of the House.

On May 23, 2009, Mr. David Chen, who is the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto, apprehended a man, Mr. Anthony Bennett, who had stolen previously from his store. After Mr. Bennett was initially caught on security camera footage stealing from the store, he left the store, but returned to the Lucky Moose one hour later. At that time, Mr. Chen, the proprietor, and two employees apprehended Mr. Bennett. They tied him up, locked him in the back of a delivery van, and called the police. When the police arrived, they assessed the situation and applied the Criminal Code as it currently reads. They ended up, perversely, charging Mr. Chen with kidnapping, carrying a dangerous weapon--a box cutter, which most grocery store workers would normally have on their person--assault, and forceable confinement.

We were left with the perverse situation of a person who was defending his property in his store, who had 100% concrete evidence that the person had stolen from him not only hours earlier but I believe on several occasions in the past, did what I think any reasonable person would do in that circumstance. He apprehended that person and called the police.

Crown prosecutors later dropped the kidnapping and weapon charges, but proceeded with the charges of forceable confinement and assault.

Again, according to the Criminal Code as it is currently written, a property owner can only make a citizen's arrest if the alleged wrongdoer is caught in the act. Ultimately, Mr. Chen and his two co-accused were found not guilty of the charges of forcible confinement and assault on October 29, 2010. We often talk about court cases that we do not like, or we criticize judges when we feel they have not made the right decision. This is a case where all Canadians would applaud the wisdom of the judge who, notwithstanding the Criminal Code's provisions, saw that justice was done.

Anthony Bennett for his part pleaded guilty in August 2009 to stealing from the store and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

I want to pause for a moment and say to those people who feel that the bill encourages vigilantism, I would respectfully suggest that is not the case. It does not expand any powers of a citizen to make an arrest over what he or she has now. It simply alters the timeframe in which that arrest can be made. Right now if Mr. Chen had caught Mr. Bennett in the act of stealing from his store, he would have been perfectly entitled to do what he did, but the fact that it happened an hour later, under the current law renders that same act a criminal act. I think all Canadians would join with all members of the House in asserting that this is not a reasonable or logical approach to the law.

In February 2011, the government introduced Bill C-60, which was based on my hon. colleague from Trinity—Spadina's private member's bill. I should pause and say that immediately after Mr. Chen was charged, it was my colleague from Trinity--Spadina who met with Mr. Chen, helped translate his position to the media and to the public. She then went to work as she often does so diligently and drafted and introduced a private member's bill that would have done exactly what Bill C-26 proposes to do with respect to lengthening the amount of time that a citizen's arrest is possible.

Again, I will commend the government one more time in saying that the government, wisely and to its credit, adopted that bill. The Conservatives saw a good idea when one was introduced. That also shows that Parliament can work very well, contrary to what some Canadians might think about this place. It is sometimes the case that we do co-operate and make a law of general improvement to our country.

Unfortunately, my colleague's private member's bill and Bill C-60 died on the order paper when Parliament dissolved in March 2011. Bill C-26 was introduced in the 41st Parliament in a virtually identical form to Bill C-60 from the previous Parliament.

I want to turn to the other sections of the Criminal Code that the bill deals with. In addition to amending section 494 of the Criminal Code, Bill C-26, like its predecessor Bill C-60, also proposes amendments to the sections in the Criminal Code dealing with self-defence of property and person. Bill C-26 proposes a substantive overhaul of the statutory language in sections 34 to 42 of the Criminal Code. Five of these sections are from the original Criminal Code of 1892. As I said earlier, modernizing and clarifying this language is long overdue.

The courts for their part have also indicated that there are problems with clarity with respect to these sections. For example, the current self-defence provisions of the Criminal Code have been described as unwieldy and confusing and have been much criticized as a result. In the Supreme Court of Canada case of Regina v. McIntosh, Chief Justice Lamer, as he then was, stated that sections 34 and 35 are “highly technical, excessively detailed provisions deserving of much criticism. These provisions overlap, and are internally inconsistent in certain respects”.

The judgment of the majority in the McIntosh case, however, has itself been called highly unfortunate for further muddying the waters around the self-defence provisions. The majority in McIntosh held that section 34(2) of the code was available as a defence when the accused was the initial aggressor. The argument was that Parliament must have intended for section 34(2) to be limited to unprovoked assaults because it enacted section 35 to deal specifically with situations where the accused was the initial aggressor.

That argument failed. The ruling seemed to go against the history of self-defence law, which pointed to a sharp distinction between unprovoked and provoked attacks.

I have read the bill from beginning to end. This bill does a commendable job of clarifying that confusion which the highest court in our land pointed out.

As I said before, crime and complying with the law has been a dominant theme of the government. We all want Canadians to comply with the law. It is incumbent on us as parliamentarians to review that law and make sure it is clear and understandable. It is hard to expect people to comply with law that they do not understand. I must say that in reading this bill, it does a great job of clarifying when a person can use self-defence when the person is feeling a threat to his or her physical security and also when there is a threat to the person's property.

There are important considerations to this bill that I certainly expect the committee will study when it reviews the bill.

A citizen's arrest is a serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace, nor properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals. In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person's body in an effort to detain the person, or where the person submits to the arrest. It can be dangerous both to the person making the arrest and the person being arrested, and in fact anybody that is around those two people.

A citizen's arrest made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious unintended consequences for those involved. When deciding whether to make a citizen's arrest, a person should be aware of the current law and consider the following: his or her safety and the safety of others; reporting information to police, which is usually and I would say overwhelmingly the best course of action instead of the person taking action on his or her own; and ensuring that the person has correctly identified the suspect and the criminal conduct.

I would hasten to add that the bill does not authorize a person making an arrest to undertake whatever actions the person believes are possible under law. What it does is put careful constraints around when a person may make a citizen's arrest and when a person may actually employ the defence of self-defence, whether it is against the person or his or her property.

For instance, the bill has a number of provisions that import the concept of reasonableness. This is a concept that is well known and often used in Canadian law in many different respects, both civil and criminal. It ensures that before people can avail themselves of these provisions of the Criminal Code, they must be acting reasonably; they must have a reasonable basis to act before they do; and in the course of carrying out their self-defence, they are not entitled to break the law themselves. They are not entitled to assault someone. They are not entitled to use unreasonable force. They are entitled to take reasonable, minimally invasive steps that are necessary to accomplish three basic goals: make the arrest, if that is the only reasonable prospect in the circumstances; defend their person; or defend their property.

This is something the committee, when it goes over the bill, should keep firmly in mind. We must make sure in clarifying, improving and modernizing the law that that balance is carefully met. Some people have criticized the concept of the bill because they are worried that this is going to open the door to some form of unreasonable vigilantism. They are right to have that concern. That is what we must make sure is not done in this bill.

I conclude by pointing out that what is more concerning is the defence of property as opposed to defence of person. I believe those are two slightly different circumstances and what is reasonable in terms of people defending the integrity of their physical persons may be a different circumstance than what may be reasonable in defending property. Although property is important to defend, I believe there is a meaningful distinction between those two things.

I congratulate the government on bringing the bill forward. The New Democrats support this at second reading and look forward to working co-operatively in making this bill law for all Canadians.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his speech and the clarification he provided.

He mentioned the importance of judges and the judicial system in the rendering of decisions. In the case he presented, the judge rendered a very wise decision, which showed that he had taken into account all the circumstances. This case also shows the importance of our judicial system and the trust we must have in it and in judges.

I would like the hon. member to expand upon the importance of our judicial system and the profession of judge.