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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

4 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, sometimes we meander on with little attention as to what we said. I apologize.

The member brought up a good point. The member may be talking about section 35. That is the overbearing part of the bill that has to be addressed. I hope we consider that because sometimes this stuff is not quite defined as to how one acts in particular situations.

My colleague brought up the point that in this case, if it is over excessive, then the courts need to have this legislation and that change in order to exercise due caution, certainly when it comes to prosecutors, judges and juries.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, we call this the “Lucky Moose” bill as it relates to what happened in Toronto in 2009. I can think of many small retailers in my great riding of Sudbury who would have done the same thing. The outcry right across the country was about what happened to the shopkeeper. He was charged with kidnapping and all of the charges that went along with that. We are seeing some important changes to the Criminal Code in the bill that would allow shopkeepers to move forward.

My hon. colleague talked a bit about the fact that we are not supporting anything that would encourage vigilante justice. We are not encouraging people to put their own safety at risk. That is important. We need to have a little more discussion and intervention at committee level on that.

Would my colleague comment on that piece of the legislation and what we should discuss at committee?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, this situation, certainly for shopkeepers, must be incredibly difficult. I have seen this in small shops that do not have money to spend on a security system to put eyes everywhere. We know what is going on as a result of them not having the right amount of security. I am sure this happens in the member's riding as it does in mine. In many cases, people make a move to protect their own property, but then what do we do after that? We do not want to be too excessive.

On the other hand, on the point about vigilante justice, there are many cases that come forward, but we have to be incredibly measured as to what we do. Some of this stuff is decided well in advance and one may do a particular act to ensure justice is served. The problem then is that the courts have to deal with it in the case of an assault or theft of property. There is a myriad of rules involved with different interpretations and these cases get bogged down, which is unfortunate.

The one good thing of the bill is that those laws would be brought together so the courts could easily justify how they would go about bringing the right ruling for those involved, certainly for those who have assaulted someone or who have been assaulted. Where does that put them when it comes to protecting themselves or their property and how far do they go?

The member brings up a valid point. Like him, I certainly look forward to how the great legal minds of the land interpret this legislation.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, my colleague for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor has come right to the point.

I have some difficulty with the part of the bill that deals with self-defence. There was an incident in my riding last year in which an ice cream truck, with children all around it, was robbed at gunpoint by criminals. The bill appears to give permission for people to come out of their homes with a gun and start shooting at somebody else who also has a gun. I am concerned that a very dangerous situation could ensue.

This incident happened in full daylight. People everywhere saw what was going on and they saw the gun. It was all extremely upsetting to everyone. Luckily there are not a lot of guns in our neighbourhood and no one had a long gun that one could get to start firing. However, I am very concerned the bill appears to give that permission. The people believed there was a threat of force being made on the owner of the ice cream truck and the children who were standing around. This would have given them permission to come out with equivalent force.

Could the member comment on that?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's story and it is a great illustration of what we are talking about.

The member used the words, “equivalent force”. I notice that the legislation and the Criminal Code mention “force met with force”, or “force by force”. We need to come up with a justified response as to what defending oneself and property is. As the situation was described, I agree, it could have easily escalated into being excessive. That is a situation that could get out of control incredibly quickly.

I would like to think that clarity would come to this in committee where we will be able to hear how this type of situation could be handled in the courts. The whole point of this is to provide our people who administer justice guidelines on how this would operate, how we are supposed to conduct ourselves within society and where we draw that line to say that we have the right to protect ourselves and our property, but to what degree. One cannot be too excessive with force in response.

I agree with the member's illustration. The problem is that irrational behaviour is met with irrational behaviour. Human nature is such that sometimes we are excessive without meaning to be.

I hope the legislation would look at cases and illustrations such the one my hon. friend raised. It is a good example of what we should be talking about in committee in order to make the legislation work for everybody, especially for the victims.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, for me, this is a troubling bill. We saw situations in Toronto and in Montreal where good Samaritans stepped in to help out in a situation and were shot and/or stabbed for their trouble. I think in both cases they were domestic disputes.

Police officers are trained to intercede and to think a certain way. In many instances, in many municipalities, police officers have actually been told after a certain point to break off car chases because of safety issues, and these are trained individuals.

My concern, and it kind of mirrors what was said before, is that we are opening a Pandora's box here, where people can take the law into their own hands, not fearing retribution by the law.

Could my hon. colleague comment on that?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, let me preface this by saying this is why I do not like allotment and curtailing of speeches. The two illustrations brought forward by my colleague are very good examples of how a debate in the House can be furthered with the illustrations we bring out.

I did not mention this my speech, but how police officers go about their job is underrated. They know their job and are trained to do this. Sometimes when vigilante justice takes over, the problem is we do not allow the right people to be involved in the justice the way we see it. The member brings up a good point when he talks about when police officers engage and disengage as an illustration of how we handle these situations. These are trained people. I hope this comes up in committee as well.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Sudbury, Financial Institutions; the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber, Arts and Culture; the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Employment.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Sudbury.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

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.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his very thorough and clearly knowledgeable and grounded presentation.

I have been going through the bill and trying to compare it with the previous legislation. I have to say, as a former legislative drafter in the office of the attorney general of Alberta, I am finding some rather peculiar things in this bill. I think the hon. member is making a good call that this go to committee. I share his views. I am sure the government means the best. It is trying to follow up and table a bill to fill a gap that our party had previously suggested be remedied.

However, if we look at section 35, unlike the previous provision, it simply says “a person who is not guilty of an offence”. An offence of doing what? The current Criminal Code says “an offence of assault or an offence using force”. So someone could do any offence and be absolved of liability.

There is also the issue of proximity and it does not seem to be clarified in these amendments. If we look at subclause 35(1)(b)(i) and (ii), they read, “has entered the property” and “or has just done so”, and (c)(ii) reads, “or retaking the property”. That could be a month later, five years later or anywhere. There do not seem to be any boundaries in this provision. It sounds like it merits a discussion in committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for all the hard work that she does for her constituents in Edmonton--Strathcona.

Her question relates to something that is truly important about today's debate and what we are trying to do. We are talking about how we see the need for some changes to ensure that what happened to Mr. Chen does not happen to another shopkeeper. However, we want to send this bill to committee to look at many of the articles that she spoke to in order to ensure we are getting this right.

We have the opportunity here to create legislation with all party support, to truly do the right thing, to ensure we are supporting our shopkeepers, individuals with self-defence, in all of those capacities, but at the same time we want to ensure we are not promoting vigilante justice and that we are ensuring that people do not feel the need to act further than what they would have to and to still utilize the trained individuals, our police officers.

I agree with my colleague. We need to get this to committee. We need to do further analysis and look at the details when we get this bill to committee.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear that my colleague across the way and his party will be supporting the bill. We certainly welcome that support and we know that there will be a lot of work done at the committee and back here in the House as it is debated.

I know the member represents an area that is not just urban but there are also rural areas in his riding. I wonder if he would talk about how this is especially an issue in rural areas. I live in a rural part of a constituency where there is no guarantee that if we see someone coming onto our property that a call to the police will have them there within 15 minutes or even half an hour. As people are in distant places throughout a rural riding, the call to a local detachment may be 30 miles away. I know in the past that many farmers and other people in rural areas were hesitant to approach anyone. When they see someone carrying out a burglary on their farm there is hesitancy but, on the other hand, they do not want to watch their property disappear. We have seen in the past where courts have forced some landowners, and rightfully so, to be concerned about standing up and trying to defend their property.

That is why we believe this bill has to come forward and why some of the rural members from our caucus on the Conservative side have certainly encouraged the minister to move on this. I am glad to hear the member will be supporting it.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is correct. I represent the great riding of Sudbury which encapsulates a large portion of the city but I do have a small portion of my riding that is rural. One of the interesting things about Sudbury is that we are now called the City of Greater Sudbury. From one end of the city to the other it takes 45 minutes to an hour sometimes just to drive through it. We have fantastic police services. My chief and all the officers who are in Sudbury do a fantastic job but the police cannot be everywhere all the time.

I agree with what my colleague is saying. People in a rural area who see some type of burglary or something going on want to act. They want to ensure they are protecting their neighbours' property and their own property. However, if we have that fear of standing up for our own property and what happened to Mr. Chen, we may well see crime increase in the rural areas, which is not what we want to see. We are not talking here about vigilante justice, of farmers going around with pitchforks or people in the city going around with various kinds of weapons. What we want to see are people being able to stand up and feel good and defend their property.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will bring this back into the urban setting. In many municipalities we have security personnel who are charged with writing tickets municipally. They are not police officers or law enforcement officers in any way. Just in the interest of playing devil's advocate or allowing us to think beyond the absolutes that this bill represents, what does my colleague feel the pitfalls of this bill would be in regard to these individuals as citizens, as well as city employees, getting involved in law enforcement in this way under this bill?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault NDP Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are many scenarios we could bring forward where, ultimately, the sad consequence would be death or severe injury of someone getting involved in an instance where he or she was not necessarily trained for that. We are not trying to create a bill that allows for everyone to become their own judge and jury. What was the movie with Sylvester Stallone, Judge Dredd or something like that? We are not trying to create that. What we are talking about here is looking at how we can ensure that an individual or a shopkeeper, like Mr. Chen from the Lucky Moose in Toronto, and I am using him often, does not need to go through the hardships that he went through for a year to protect his own property.

I think there are some very key elements that we need to study in committee. We need to get this to committee to bring forward the scenarios the member talked about and the scenarios that my hon. colleagues have mentioned in the past. There are experts in our country who could come forward as witnesses at committee who could really help us create the best possible legislation to support this type of legislation.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to address Bill C-26, yet another crime bill from the Conservatives. I will begin by just commenting on this preoccupation with crime.

Since the election, we have seen bills introduced in this House on human smuggling. We had the omnibus crime bill, which wrapped together nine separate statutes. We have seen no fewer than eight private member's bills addressing issues of crime and law and order, whether it is increased sentences for someone involved in an unlawful act with their face covered, whether it is taking away rights of people who are on employment insurance, whether it is mandatory minimum sentences over and above those contained in Bill C-10, the private member's bill on hate speech, the imposition of sanctions on someone who proposes to prevent the flying of the Canadian flag.

Crime rates in this country are declining, the severity of crime in this country is declining but we have an ideological focus and preoccupation on crime.

We have some big and pressing problems in this country. We have problems with a patchwork of health care conditions and health care regimes across the country. We have serious poverty issues that are not improving. We have an outstanding report from a committee that has not been addressed in this Parliament. We have unemployment right across the country. Unemployment is a particularly bad situation in my riding. The single most common constituent inquiry that I get in my constituency office is asking for a job. We have the conditions of first nations, in fact that is what we addressed in our last opposition day, where we have Canadians living in third world conditions.

However, here we are with another bill on crime, not poverty, not jobs, not economic development, not health.

What I propose to do in my remarks is initially set forth some of the background, then review the provisions of the law that presently exist, go over the changes that are proposed, talk about some of the concerns that we have and then, as I do expect that this will go forward to committee, address some of the concerns that we have with respect to how legislation has been treated at committee so far in this Parliament.

By way of background, the legislation proposes to expand the legal authority for a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds a person committing a criminal offence either on or in relation to his or her property. This expansion would not affect the role and responsibility of the police. The preservation and maintenance of the public peace remains the responsibility of the police.

The legislation would also bring much needed reforms, quite frankly, to simplify the complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property. It would also clarify where reasonable use of force is necessary.

When we get into talking about the specific offences, we will see that where there presently are multiple sections with respect to citizen's arrest and defence of property, they are being actually streamlined into one, which, on its face, certainly seems like a sensible thing to do.

Quite frankly, in principle, the bill is a good one. We do believe that more discussion is required. We have some concerns about whether the provisions in it with respect to self-defence are overly broad. We do hope that our frank and informed discussion, which is respectful of the views of all at committee, will address those concerns. We hope that there will be some openness that, quite frankly, we have not seen so far, to considering reasoned amendments. That was by way of background.

The bill addresses citizen's arrest and defence of property. The current law with respect to citizen's arrest is found in section 494 of the Criminal Code. In 494.(1) we find that:

Any one may arrest without warrant (a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or (b) a person who, on reasonable grounds, he believes (i) has committed a criminal offence, and (ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person.

In 494.(2) of the Criminal Code, the provision sought to be expanded by the bill, currently provides that:

Any one who is (a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or (b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, 2rrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

“Find committing” is defined under the Criminal Code as meaning situations where a person is basically caught in the act of committing the offence. This extends to a situation where the accused has been pursued immediately and continues, after he or she has been found committing the offence.

Also the law requires that when a citizen's arrest takes place, the individual must be delivered to a police officer without delay. That is the law as it presently stands.

The proposed amendments with respect to citizen's arrest would authorize a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds someone committing a criminal offence that occurred on or in relation to property. It expands the time frame.

This power of arrest would only be authorized where there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a police officer.

The legislation would make it clear, by cross-reference to the Criminal Code, that the use of force is authorized in a citizen's arrest, but there are limits placed on how much force can be used.

In essence, the law permits a reasonable use of force, taking into account all the circumstances of the particular case. A person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen's arrest.

A citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain the 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 a person submitting to an arrest.

A citizen's arrest made without careful consideration of the risks may have serious unintended consequences to those involved. When deciding to make a citizen's arrest, people should be aware of the current law.

The considerations for people who decide to embark on this course of action can essentially be summarized in three points: first, people must consider their safety and the safety of others; second, they must report information to the police, which is essentially the best course of action instead of taking action on their own; and third, they must ensure that they have correctly identified the suspect and the suspect's criminal conduct.

That is the current state of the law and the amendments that have been proposed with respect to citizen's arrest. In principle, the bill is a sound one in terms of expanding the time frame within which a citizen's arrest can be made.

There are some other concerns that I will address toward the end of my remarks. However, our concerns with respect to the bill and to what needs to be carefully scrutinized at committee, quite frankly, do not come under that clause of the bill.

The other issue that is dealt with in the bill is self-defence and defence of property. Of particular concern to us on this side of the House are the provisions with respect to self-defence.

The existing law with respect to self-defence and defence of property is found in multiple sections of the Criminal Code, which is in need of reform. The bill is on the right track in terms of streamlining and consolidating into one section the provisions with respect to self-defence and defence of property.

The current laws with respect to self-defence can be found in sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code. Distinct defences are provided for a person who uses force to protect himself or herself or another from attack. These depend on whether he or she provoked the attack and whether he or she intended to use deadly force.

The provisions with respect to defence of property are found in sections 38 to 42 of the code. There are multiple defences for the peaceable possessors of property, consideration of the type of property, whether it is personal or real property, the rights of the possessor and of other persons, and the proportionality between the threat to the property and the amount of force used. These are all things that must be taken into account when the defence of property is raised.

I have one final comment with respect to the use of deadly force. The use of deadly force is only permitted in very exceptional circumstances, and rightly so. For example, where it is necessary to protect a person from death or grievous bodily harm. The courts have clearly stated that deadly force is never considered reasonable in the defence of property alone.

The legislative reforms currently being proposed would not make any changes to the law with respect to deadly force, and quite frankly, none are necessary. It is absolutely clear enough and not in need of reform. The courts will therefore continue to make any necessary changes on a case-by-case basis, developing the common law where it is appropriate.

That is the current state of the law with respect to self-defence and defence of property.

As I indicated, the amendments proposed to streamline it deal with the fact that the current law has provisions in multiple sections. The Criminal Code provisions that are being proposed would clarify the laws on self-defence and defence of property so that Canadians, including police, prosecutors and the courts, can more easily understand and apply the law. Clarifying the law and streamlining statutory defences may assist prosecutors and police in exercising their discretion not to lay a charge or to proceed with a prosecution.

Amendments to the self-defence provisions would repeal the current complex self-defence provisions spread over those four sections of the code, sections 34 to 37, and create one new self-defence provision. That would permit a person who reasonably believes himself or herself or others to be at risk of the threat of force or of acts of force to commit a reasonable act to protect himself or herself or others.

The debate, and the discussion in courtrooms across this country, will be on the legal interpretation to be applied to the word reasonable. Plenty of jurisprudence exists now with respect to that within the criminal law. We are not exactly forging new ground by using the word reasonable in multiple places within the Criminal Code.

The amendments with respect to the defence of property provisions would repeal the confusing defence of property language that is now spread over five sections of the code, sections 38 through 42. One new defence of property provision would be created, eliminating the many distinctions regarding acts a person can take in defence of different types of property. There are different provisions for different types of property.

The new provision 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. Again, the provisions with respect to defence of property do appear to make good sense. This is an appropriate way to add clarity to the provisions of the code.

The provisions of this bill that require the most careful examination at committee are those with respect to self-defence, I believe.

The concerns with respect to self-defence and the concerns with respect to defence of property, citizen's arrest, the concerns with respect to the bill generally, relate to vigilantism. The concerns relate to people taking the law into their own hands and taking unreasonable risks to prevent crime or defend themselves.

I have been involved in a medium-sized business, a business which has 16 retail stores across the country. We would constantly advise our store managers that if they found themselves in a situation where someone is coming in to rob the store, they should not be heroes. They should pass it over, be as observant as they possibly can and then let the police do their job.

This will be outside the actual parameters of the legislation, but I think it is absolutely critical for the government department responsible for this bill, when it comes into effect, to have a pretty substantial public education campaign. People need to know exactly what the impact of the bill is and what the changes are to us in everyday life. Industry associations should be involved.

The biggest concern about this bill in my mind is not so much the contents of the bill but how it is going to be perceived in the public. If it is perceived in the public that now their rights to defence of property, to self-defence and to citizen's arrest are greatly expanded, the unintended consequences could be very severe. It could, quite frankly, be scary.

To summarize, our party will be supporting the bill in principle. We have some concerns about the scope of the self-defence provisions. We agree with the provisions with respect to property defence. It is appropriate for this bill to go to committee.

The discussions and the conduct of the justice committee with respect to Bill C-10 do not inspire confidence. The imposition of time allocation with respect to such an important bill, the automatic defeat of any opposition amendment without substantive discussion or consideration is something that we sincerely hope will not be repeated with respect to this.

If there is a discussion, if there is open consideration of constructive amendments, then we do have a chance to do something good here. I hope we do.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the benefits of the discussion on this bill is the fact that there are those who may have been in situations where they were reticent to act simply because the law was somewhat fuzzy and people were more concerned about being on the wrong side of the law than actually taking the action that should have been taken.

My colleague sort of muddied the waters when he started off his speech by talking about the preoccupation of this government with crime. He said that crime rates were dropping. In fact, in many areas of criminal activity the rates are actually on the rise. Even if they were not, does the member feel that the current levels of crime are acceptable in the areas of child sexual exploitation, drug trafficking near our schools, selling drugs and destroying the lives of children and young people? Is the member actually satisfied that in those areas of criminal activity the current rates are acceptable?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, this gives me an opportunity to provide my colleague opposite with something that was just printed in The Economist today, which states:

The crime rate in Canada fell last year to its lowest level since the early 1970s, and the murder rate is back where it was in the mid-1960s.

My response to my colleague is this. There is no doubt with respect to the evidence. The evidence does not seem to matter. Crime rates and the severity of crime are falling in our country, yet there is an absolute preoccupation with the law and order agenda on the part of the government and that has been reflected in the workings of the House since the election.

After spending 60 days going door to door in Charlottetown during the election campaign, the crime agenda did not top mine. It was about poverty, jobs and economic development.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I listened with care to the member's speech. I share his concern about the detail of the new legislation, particularly on self-defence. It is already a complex area of the law and there has been 100 years of traditional interpretation. If we are starting down a new road with a different approach, I wonder how long it is going to take to get the proper understanding of that law through the courts. I share his concern that there ought to be a detailed study in committee, but I also share his worry that it might not get the kind of consideration it deserves.

Has he received any comfort from the comments of any government members today that they will take a proper approach to this legislation, do the kind of detailed study that is required, listen to experts and be willing to modify the legislation if it is needed?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say yes, but, quite frankly, I have not. Actions speak louder than words. I am the associate justice critic for the Liberal Party, so from time to time I am pressed into duty. So far in this session of Parliament, in the limited time I have spent in the justice committee, what I seen does not inspire confidence. I am primarily involved in the veterans affairs committee and the conduct of the party that controls the committee is such that there is not room for consideration of amendments from the other side.

It strikes me that some of the amendments presented in Bill C-10 were rejected by members in committee, but are now adopted as their own. Let us hope that something like that will not be necessary and that it can be dealt with in committee. There seems to be a will on that side of the House. Let us hope that a new leaf will be turned.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I want to deal with the area that the member for Charlottetown raised as a concern, and that is how the public may perceive the bill. I also should mention not only are the crime numbers dropping, and the last thing the government wants to see is the facts, but in the last Parliament, when the member for Charlottetown was not a member, the government destroyed the greatest rehabilitation program in the federal system and that was the federal prison farms. That was a huge mistake and it will cause problems down the road. It was the greatest system within the prison system for rehabilitation. It taught prisoners skills that they could use in any occupation, not just farming. I sat on the committee and the government members did not want to see any of the evidence. They discarded that program and now we have lost another good program.

My question relates to the concern that the member raised about the perception of the bill with the public. Are people really thinking they have the right to take the law into their own hands? That is a very legitimate concern and would have unintended consequences.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the single biggest concern with respect to the bill is how it will be perceived by the public. If it is perceived in the public as opening the door to vigilantism, we will have done a disservice.

There are good aspects to the bill. I believe that it will become law given the will that is expressed in the House. If and when it does, it is extremely important that the public understands just exactly what it means and that there be an awareness campaign. As I indicated, if we have shopkeepers feeling that it is open season in terms of protecting their property and that their rights have been vastly expanded, we are going to create more problems than we have solved by this.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Dan Albas Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a brief comment and a question for my colleague. First, I have to point out my utter disappointment that the party, which once said how important it was to clarify the people of Canada's rights through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, does not seem to be interested in debating the merits or the challenges of this common sense bill, a bill that clarifies people's rights if they are personally attacked or their property is attacked. Instead the members are focusing on other bills and other arguments for other days.

Does the hon. member have specific issues with Canadians being expressly clarified as to how they can best protect themselves and have a justice system that will stand behind them? I would like to know what those are and I would also like to hear his thoughts on property rights and how the bill addresses that.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, there are some good things in the bill. First, the provisions with respect to citizen's arrest are good. The provisions with respect to defence of property are good. The provisions with respect to self-defence, require further discussion because they may be too broad. There may be some other language required other than multiple use of the word “reasonable” and that is where a reasoned discussion at committee should take place.

Although the question would seem to imply that we are at polar opposites with respect to this debate, quite frankly, we are probably much closer to the government's position than the question would imply. The specific provisions that need further study are with respect to the broadness of the self-defence provisions of the bill.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

December 1st, 2011 / 5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill: Bill S-201, An Act respecting a National Philanthropy Day.

I also have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill to which the concurrence of this House is desired: Bill S-1002, An Act to authorize the Industrial Alliance Pacific General Insurance Corporation to apply to be continued as a body corporate under the laws of Quebec.

The bill is deemed to have been read the first time and ordered for a second reading at the next sitting of the House.