Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to engage and speak to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons), commonly referred to as the Lucky Moose bill.
Let me begin my statements by highlighting the incidents that have led to the introduction of legislation of this kind by both the government and by the member for Trinity—Spadina.
On May 23, 2009, David Chen, owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto apprehended a man, Anthony Bennett, who had stolen from his store. After Bennett was initially caught on security footage stealing from the store, he returned an hour later. At that time, Chen, who was 36 and had two employees, tied up the man and locked him in the back of a delivery van.
When police arrived, they charged Chen with kidnapping, carrying a dangerous weapon--a box cutter, which most grocery store workers would normally have on their person--assault and forcible confinement. Crown prosecutors later dropped the kidnapping and weapons charges but proceeded with the charges of forcible confinement and assault.
Although Anthony Bennett, the suspect in question, ultimately pleaded guilty in August 2009 to stealing from the store and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, the crown moved ahead with the charges against Mr. Chen and his employees, since the Criminal Code, as it is currently written, stipulates that a property owner can only make a citizen's arrest if the alleged wrongdoer is caught in the act.
Obviously in this case the circumstances of the suspect's returning to the scene shortly after the offence was committed exposed a fatal flaw in the legislation, and this flaw has led us to this point.
It is also important to note that the suspect in question had stolen repeatedly from the same store, so this was certainly not a case of mistaken identity. We can be assured of that.
Eventually, after a court ordeal lasting a year and a half, Chen and his two co-accused were found not guilty of the charges of forcible confinement and assault on October 29, 2010. Obviously the process of a lengthy trial was distressing for Mr. Chen and his family, while also tallying significant administrative costs borne by taxpayers and tying up the valuable time of police, prosecutors and the courts.
In response to the ongoing concerns New Democrats heard from individuals across the country regarding a citizen's ability to make a lawful citizen's arrest, in September 2010 the New Democratic MP for Trinity—Spadina introduced a private member's bill to amend the Criminal Code in order to protect individuals like David Chen from facing criminal charges.
New Democrats have consistently welcomed the government's decision to incorporate the member for Trinity—Spadina's proposals into its legislation, first tabled in February 2011 during the 40th Parliament and now again in the 41st Parliament.
Let me now move to the specifics of the bill in order to parse out what is actually being proposed by the government at this juncture. Let me begin with the sections dealing specifically with citizen's arrest.
Currently, under subsection 494(1) of the Criminal Code, any individual can make an arrest without a warrant of a person he or she finds committing an indictable offence or who he or she believes on reasonable grounds has committed a criminal offence and is escaping from and freshly pursued by those with lawful authority to arrest the suspect in question.
Under Bill C-26, this section of the Criminal Code relating to citizen's arrest would remain unaltered.
Therefore the amendments being proposed apply solely to section 494(2), which applies to the owner or other persons in lawful possession of property or a person authorized by the owner or lawful possessor.
Currently such a person may make a warrantless arrest of a person whom he or she finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property. The proposed amendments would subsequently allow such a person to make an arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed.
Under the amendment, business owners or persons under their delegated authority would be rightfully allowed to make an arrest if they believed, on reasonable grounds, that it was not feasible in the circumstances for a police officer to make that arrest.
The final piece of Bill C-26 as it relates to citizen's arrest is the proposed new subsection 494(4). This section specifically clarifies that a person who makes an arrest under section 494 is a person who is authorized by law to do so for the purposes of section 25 of the code. Essentially, the purpose of this amendment seems to be to denote that although the use of force is authorized in a citizen's arrest, there remain limits on how much force can be used.
For those who are not fluent in legal jargon, essentially these amendments would permit citizen's arrests without a warrant within a reasonable period of time after a criminal offence is observed. This means that in the case of Mr. Chen, he would have been acting within his rights as a business owner to protect his property by detaining Mr. Bennett. By removing the onerous provision that requires the citizen's arrest to occur while the offence is being committed, we are moving in the right direction to ensure that business and property owners can properly assert their rights in defending their property.
I have heard from many small business owners in my great riding of Sudbury who were shocked at the prosecution of Mr. Chen. They support these changes, which I must again reiterate have been proposed from parties from all sides of the House. It is vital that we provide citizens with the lawful power to detain offenders when the situation warrants, and these amendments to the citizen's arrest sections of the Criminal Code strike an appropriate balance.
In addition to amending section 494(2) of the Criminal Code, this bill and its predecessor, Bill C-60, also propose amendments to the sections in the Criminal Code dealing with self-defence and defence of property. The bill proposes a substantive overhaul of the statutory language pursuant to sections 34 to 42 of the Criminal Code. Five of these sections are from the original Criminal Code of 1892, and the courts have indicated that there are problems with clarity in regard to these sections.
For example, the self-defence provisions in the Criminal Code have been described as confusing and have been much criticized as a result. In the case of R. v. McIntosh, Chief Justice Lamer stated that sections 35 and 34 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 McIntosh, however, has itself been called “highly unfortunate” for further muddying of the waters around the self-defence provisions.
The majority in R. v. McIntosh held that subsection 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 subsection 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. This 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.
The bill would remove current sections 34 through 37 and replace them with a new self-defence provision that would apply to all offences. The new provision would ensure that a person would not be guilty of an offence if they believed on reasonable grounds that force or a threat of force was to be used against them or another person, that any acts committed were for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or that other person, and that the act committed was reasonable in the circumstances.
The bill also lists a number of factors that might, among others, be considered when determining whether or not the act committed was reasonable in the circumstances. This list includes, among others, imminence of a threat; the use of a weapon by the aggressor; the size, age and gender of the aggressor; and the history of the relationship between the actors.
Furthermore, the bill specifically states that the defence would not be available when responding to threats from people acting in their official capacity to enforce the law--for example, police officers--unless the accused had reasonable grounds to believe that the person was acting unlawfully.
As they stand, sections 38 through 42 of the Criminal Code refer to the legal rights of people to use force legally in protection of their property against theft or damage. The first two sections refer to the defence of movable property and the latter three sections to real property and dwellings, as the code permits the use of more force to defend real property than movable property.
The Criminal Code also recognizes that it is often difficult to distinguish where defence of property ends and self-defence begins. As a father and husband, I know that if someone were to break into my home, my first concern would be for my daughters and wife, not for my home and belongings. Fortunately, the Criminal Code recognizes this fact, and because of this, it explicitly outlines situations in which self-defence can be evoked, such as when a trespasser refuses to leave a property.
It is important at this point to give a brief outline of what the five sections of the code authorize as they stand. Section 38 provides that a person can take back possessions from a trespasser provided that he or she does not strike the person or cause bodily harm, unless the trespasser continues to attempt to retain or take the items. At this point, the trespasser is deemed to have committed an unprovoked assault, and the provisions regarding self-defence come into play.
Section 39 provides a defence to an individual using force to defend property being taken by someone else with a legal right to it. Subsection 39(1) of the provision refers to someone defending property to which they also have legal right; subsection 39(2) refers to someone defending property to which they have no legal right. It appears that the aim of this section is to encourage people to reclaim property through legal means rather than through force.
Section 40 allows an individual to use as much force as necessary to prevent someone from breaking into his or her legally owned home. Section 41 sets out the amount of force an individual can defensibly use to prevent or remove a trespasser. Like section 38, this provision deems trespassers to be committing an unprovoked assault if they resist attempts to prevent or remove them, and therefore brings into play the provisions applying to self-defence.
The final provision on this issue, section 42, provides information regarding the force that can be used when taking back possession of real property from trespassers and the effect of a trespasser assaulting someone who is attempting to take back legal possession of their real property.
Under the bill being considered by the House today, these five sections would be repealed and replaced with a new single provision for the defence of property. Under this provision, individuals would not be considered guilty of an offence if they believed on reasonable grounds that they were peaceably possessing property or assisting an individual who they believed was in peaceable possession of the property; believed on reasonable grounds that another person was about to enter, was entering, or had entered the property unlawfully, and was taking the property or was about to do so or had done so, and was about to damage or was in the process of damaging the property; were acting to prevent or end such action; and the act committed was reasonable in such circumstances.
These provisions would not apply if a person who did not have legal right to property used force against someone with a legal right to it or, as in the self-defence provisions, if the person committed any acts against people with the authority to enforce the law, unless the person believed that they were acting unlawfully.
Having considered what this bill would do to the Criminal Code regarding self-defence and protection of property, it is now important to consider whether these changes are desirable and constitute good public policy.
Whenever looking at changes to the Criminal Code, a good place to look is to the organizations that represent the organizations that enforce the law. The courts have already indicated that the language in these sections of the Criminal Code require some clarification, so it is important that we work to clear up such problems. However, we must ensure that any change has a positive effect. For that reason, I am looking forward to following this bill at committee stage where I am hopeful that the legal experts will be on hand to shed more light on the ramifications of these changes.
Both the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association, which represents 41,000 front line police personnel across Canada, have been generally supportive of the changes brought forward in this bill in terms of self-defence and protection of property. However, they have also stated that they have some reservations and some concerns. Again, I look forward to these organizations speaking to this bill at committee to hear if there is any way that we can address the concerns that they have brought forward.
I am sure that both the police chiefs and the front line officers share my concerns that we do not want to make changes to the Criminal Code that would encourage people to participate in vigilante justice or to put their own safety at risk. While I know this is not the intention of the bill, I also look forward to hearing from people with a background in sociology and in criminology to ensure that this will not be the case and to strengthen the bill in this regard, if it is required.
I am happy that the government has brought forward this bill and I am happy to support it at second reading. The issues of citizen's arrest, self-defence and defence of property are all issues that need to be clarified in the Criminal Code and I am happy that we have this opportunity to do so.
I will be following this bill very closely through the committee stage and I hope that the government will be willing to work with the NDP to ensure that we are able to have the strongest legislation possible ready for debate at third reading.
I will take that acknowledgement from my colleague on the other side of the House as something that we all look forward to and is making Parliament work.