Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all my colleagues in the House from all political corners for allowing me to speak to Bill C-26, which deals with changes and amendments to the Criminal Code regarding citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons.
We have a bill that would streamline in many fashions many of the laws concerning the defence of property which are good and necessary. Some things need to be studied in committee to see if some of the provisions may be a little overbearing. Nonetheless, we do have the responsibility, and I think we are on the right track in dealing with this issue so far as we have evidenced in the media in the past year.
Several incidents took place, one in particular in Toronto. Other members in the House have talked about it so I will leave it at that for now.
The rationale of all this needs to be looked at in a broader context when it comes to self-defence. Self-defence, in many cases, has been used but with a very narrow definition. Other jurisdictions around the world have certainly made better use of it. I would look at it in the context of making it far easier for our court systems, our prosecutors, certainly, and our judges and juries.
In some cases the complex and out of date rules we are talking about were highlighted by recent high profile cases. Primarily the concern is that the old Criminal Code provision concerning self-defence provided that “Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force”. Thereby, it is confining self-defence to assault and noting that it could not have been the result of provocation.
The new legislation would remove the assault requirement entirely in speaking of force or threat of force, and also removes provocation. As such the bill may run into some aspects that may be going a little overboard, but nonetheless, it is certainly something we should analyze and discuss at committee. The principal thrust of the bill is one that is just.
People may invoke self-defence, both in common law and under statute itself. It is not as though, without the legislation, there is no right to self-defence in Canada. The legislation would reform and streamline the Criminal Code, which I have mentioned.
In regard to self-defence and defence of property, which is where the emphasis lies on that second part, the concern that should be addressed by committee is whether the Criminal Code would be changed too significantly.
The self-defence provision in section 34 now reads, “Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force”. That confines defence to assault, whereas this legislation makes no reference to assault or provocation, for that matter, and it speaks to the force or the threat of force.
Beyond the general risk that the bill may encourage vigilantism, there are concerns just how far the bill broadens itself with self-defence, which can be invoked and by whom it can be invoked.
I know we discussed this in the former bill, which was Bill C-60 in the last Parliament, and it was brought forth as a result of these high profile cases, one of which took place in Toronto.
The current law in Canada discussing self-defence is in section 34 of the Criminal Code, which defines the extent to which force is justified in repelling an unprovoked assault. Subsection 34(1) is a general defence that can be employed only by non-aggressors who never intend to cause grievous bodily harm or death through their actions.
This section requires that the following four elements be established by a person accused of using force against another person: first, the accused was unlawfully assaulted; second, the accused did not provoke the assault; third, the force used by the accused was not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm; and fourth, the force used by the accused was no more than was necessary to defend himself or herself.
Back to section 34(1) of the Criminal Code. It states:
--permits the accused to stand his or her ground, even when there is a possibility of escaping the situation. The question for the court is whether the force used was necessary to enable the accused to defend him or herself, not whether such a defence was wise in the circumstances.
Let us move on to subsection 34(2), which is interesting. It applies where the accused causes bodily harm or death, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in responding to an assault. Therefore, the accused is justified in using such force where he or she was under a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the initial or continuing violence of the assault and believed, on reasonable grounds, that he or she must use such force to preserve himself or herself.
Section 35 of the Criminal Code outlines the application of self-defence in those instances where the person seeking to rely on self-defence initiated or provoked the assault. It applies where the accused first assaulted the other person, but without intent to cause death or serious bodily harm. The law permits a limited defence where the response of the person attacked escalates matters and the accused must respond to defend himself or herself.
Therefore, we see the myriad of circumstances that are being painted by all of this and how, by streamlining the legislation, this would certainly make a lot of sense.
The proposed amendments that we are discussing here to the Criminal Code, section 494.1(2) on 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. This power of arrest would only be authorized when there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a police officer. Therefore, we must not take it upon ourselves to replace an existing security service that is in charge of maintaining peace and the law.
The reasonable use of force is also stressed in this particular application because it is very important that we outline this in order to make it easier for the courts to interpret, certainly for prosecutors, judges and juries.
It makes it clear in this legislation, by cross-reference to the Criminal Code, that the use of force is authorized in what we know is a citizen's arrest, but there are limits placed on how much force can be used.
In essence, the laws permit the reasonable use of force, taking into account all the circumstances of this particular case. A person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen's arrest. Therefore, we see, in this clear parameter that is set out, how this is to be enforced, how reasonable people, if we want to use that test, which we should, are to enact or protect themselves and their property.
Under section 494.(1)(ii), with respect to the current law itself, anyone may arrest a person whom they find committing an indictable offence of a person who, on reasonable grounds, they believe has committed a criminal offence and is escaping from, and freshly pursued by, persons who have lawful authority to arrest that particular person.
If we are caught in that situation where we are defending ourselves or protecting our property, and we are in a situation where we do not know if we have crossed the line in a particular case because we certainly do not want to, hopefully with legislation like this and the lengthy debate that hopefully will follow, we will be able to flesh out an idea as to just how in certain circumstances like this a reasonable person can behave.
A citizen's arrest may, without careful consideration of the risk factors, 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. In the current law there is safety or the safety of others, reporting the information to the police, which is usually the best course of action of course as we all know, instead of individuals just taking action on their own. Therefore, there is also a great deal of responsibility on individuals to notify the authorities in addition to defending themselves or their property.
One must also ensure that they have correctly identified the suspects and their criminal conduct. Therefore, we must be clear of mind on the offence.
Of course, being rational human beings, sometimes rationality takes over and, in particular cases, acts of desperation take place. Nonetheless, in these circumstances, I believe what we need to provide the courts with the ability to interpret and bring justice to the fore so that this particular case can be looked at in the right way. Again, I remind all members in the House that the function there is to provide that type of clarity for judges, prosecutors, and of course juries.
Moving on to the proposed amendments, there are new Criminal Code provisions being proposed to clarify the laws on self-defence and defence of property, so that again the police, prosecutors and the courts can more easily understand and apply the law. Clarifying the law and streamlining statutory defences may assist prosecutors, and certainly the police, in their discretion not to lay a charge or proceed with prosecution if it is found to be excessive.
Amendments to the self-defence provisions would repeal the current complex self-defence provisions I spoke of earlier. In particular, it ranges over four sections. The sections I speak of are sections 34 to 37. This is part of what this bill would do, which is to provide that clarification, certainly in this particular case. As we saw the high profile cases unfold, we realized that discrepancies took place and it was hard to interpret. Therefore, we have done this in a responsible way. When I say “responsible”, it leaves this House, it goes to committee for further study, and that I look forward to seeing.
Amendments to the defence of property provisions would repeal the confusing defence of property language that is now spread over five sections, those being sections 38 to 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. The new provision would permit a person in “peaceable possession” of a property to commit a reasonable act. Again, that reasonable person test that I spoke of. Therein lies the key to this. The person has been defined as owning a piece of property, a possession, and therefore the spirit of this would assume that the person would be allowed to act accordingly to protect that peaceable property, and for the purpose of protecting that property from being damaged or trespassed upon.
Under sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code, distinct defences are provided for people who use force to protect themselves or another from attack, depending on whether they have provoked the attack and whether they intended to use deadly force. Again, I understand that the impacts of this could be severe in many cases. They are in defence of an irrational act and therefore, when in that position, defending their own property or person, under irrational behaviour. It is not an easy circumstance to be in. However, certainly for the sake of the courts dealing with and prosecuting cases like this and coming to a logical conclusion, we must provide that clarity for prosecutors, judges and juries in many of these particular cases.
The use of deadly force is also something we have talked about, both with Bill C-26 and Bill C-60. We realize that the use of deadly force is talked about quite a bit and there is not a great understanding of it, but it is permitted in very exceptional circumstances; for example, where it is necessary to protect a person from death or bodily harm.
The courts have clearly stated that deadly force is never considered reasonable in defence of property alone. The legislative reforms currently being proposed would not make any change to the law relating to deadly force, so the courts would therefore continue to make any necessary changes on a case by case basis, developing the common law if and where applicable. As I mentioned before, this is the common law aspect and also the statutory law.
There are some issues that have been raised by stakeholders. Many people remember the high profile media reports that came from many cases where self-defence was used, not just for the right of individuals but also for property, as I mentioned in the high profile case that took place in Toronto. One of the issues that came up was that of encouraging vigilantism. People have been sounding the alarm bells over that and it is something that needs to be discussed and filtered when it comes to committee.
In principle, I think we are on the right track here, but certainly this is something that has to be of great concern. Obviously there are legal minds far greater than mine, as I have no formal training in law, so I look forward to hearing some of the witness testimony that will come at committee regarding the particular ways in which this could be abused. Nonetheless, I am sure that potential witnesses would agree that the intent here is to make this a clear, decisive law that allows our courts to function, and to prosecute any particular cases where the defence of one's self or property pertains.
A Canadian press article notes that “Several provinces have complained the new legislation will cost them millions as jail and prison populations inevitably rise”. That is a debate we have had here before. It is an extension of Bill C-10. I have mentioned this before in my deliberations about Bill C-10 and I will not go into it further.
A lot of the provinces have complained that they are now in a position where the incarceration of individuals and the increased rate of incarceration will have an effect on how they handle their budgets and how they spend money on health care and education. That applies to people who are sentenced to less than two years. We have heard from several provinces over the past little while that this could be particularly onerous for them in light of some of the budget deficits that they want to downgrade.
Section 35 of the Criminal Code outlines the application of self-defence in those instances where persons seeking to rely on self-defence initiated or provoked the assault. That is an important part of this. This is the part of the Criminal Code that we need to consider.
Other criteria apply is that the defender did not at any time before the need to protect himself or herself from death or bodily harm endeavour to cause the death or bodily harm. There is an obligation upon the defender to decline further conflict and leave or retreat as far as is feasible before the need to defend from death or bodily harm arises. This could be contentious in many forms.
As I reiterated earlier, I believe there is a case here in principle and scope for us to push this legislation forward, send it to committee and take notice of potential witness testimony, so we are able to change legislation if need be by amendments and make the necessary changes to the Criminal Code regarding the defence of oneself and the defence of property. We can do this for the efficiency of our courts.