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.