Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege for me to rise in the House today to speak to this issue, one that is taken very seriously by my constituents. It arises from an incident that happened a few years ago near the small rural community of Tees, Alberta. That community is located approximately a 45-minute drive from the nearest RCMP detachment. That particular RCMP detachment would be involved.
On that particular evening, the resident who lives there was awoken in the middle of the night, one o'clock in the morning roughly. I do not know all the details as I was not there, but based on the various media reports and information that I have, he was awoken. I believe his spouse was outside checking on the farm. He has young children present and he noticed three individuals trying to steal a quad from his yard. They were actually using his own truck to do so.
Being at a remote farmhouse, the individual in question grabbed some tools and went outside, and started pursuing these individuals down the road. He ended up using his own car to knock the truck off the road and, of course, knocked the quad into the ditch. There were some ensuing calls to neighbours and a roundup began to catch these individuals. They had been captured and then took off again inside one of the vehicles. Without going into too much detail about all that happened, it ended up that some force was used.
The individual who was defending his own property ended up having more charges laid against him than those who conspired to go out and steal his private, personal property that he worked hard for. As a law-abiding citizen he paid his taxes and used his after-tax dollars to buy this property. He did everything by the rules, played by the rules. He is actually one of these individuals who, if an RCMP or police officer needed help or support, would come to the aid of a police officer. Yet, because of the confusion surrounding citizen's arrest and the levels of force that could be applied, more charges were laid against the individual in the defence of his property.
This is outrageous. This has outraged so many people in the community that so much money was raised, and I have never seen a better reason for fundraising to happen in a particular community. A defence fund was set up for this individual. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars was donated by concerned property owners, law-abiding citizens who thought it was an egregious miscarriage of the interpretation of the rules of justice that the individual in question would have more charges laid against him than those who perpetrated the crime. After dispensing some of the trials, the three individuals who conspired to go out there and steal his property faced a grand total, among the three of them, of 45 days in jail and $400 in fines.
The individual who was defending his own property went through the process of plea bargaining and so on with his defence fund and his lawyers, looked at the situation, and made his own determination. I am not going to presuppose what the rationale was, but he pleaded guilty to one charge and the other charges were dropped. This particular individual was then sentenced to a total of 90 days in jail. So, for the defence of his own property, the individual, who did not follow or there was not clarity in the rules of the defence of property and in the laying of citizen's arrest and so on, ended up getting a greater charge than those who conspired to go out and steal the property from this individual in the first place.
This offends the sensibilities of the voters I represent in the constituency of Wetaskiwin to no end. Without going into the details, were there mistakes made on both sides? Absolutely, there were some mistakes that were made. However, I want to put no doubt into anybody's mind that some serious changes needed to be made when it came to these charges
In a previous career, prior to becoming a member of Parliament, I had the honour and privilege of serving as a law enforcement officer. I was not a police office. I was a conservation officer, a national park warden, for a short time, so I do understand some of the nuances surrounding some of the difficulties that law enforcement officers face. We cannot be everywhere all the time. We cannot be there to serve the needs or to prevent all crimes all the time.
However, what has happened in our society and even though those who purport to say that crime rates are on the decrease, the reality is there is so much minor property crime going on, which I hear all the time in my constituency, that it simply becomes a matter that is more civil than criminal.
What normally would have happened is the individual, instead of taking matters into his own hands and pursuing the thief, doing what a good Canadian citizen should have done, and by the way, as a law enforcement officer, most of the serious charges that I laid did not come about as a result of any on the ground policing or patrols I was doing, they came as a result of information that I received from citizens reporting crimes, poachers and so on.
Police officers rely on the general public to have that information so that they can respond. They rely on the testimony of these individuals in order to lay charges because police cannot be everywhere all the time.
In this case, the individual responded and took the matters into his own hands, as a good citizen would do, knowing that the alternative would be to phone and wait for the police, knowing it would take 45 minutes to an hour at best, to respond if they had someone who could actually go to the scene.
All that would have happened is they would have filled out a report. The property owner would have then taken the report to his insurance company which would have taken off the deductible, and the individual would then be responsible for replacing the property out of his own tax dollars. The thieves would likely not have been caught and everyone's insurance premiums would have gone up slightly in order to compensate for this seemingly revolving situation of minor property theft. I hear this story all too often. It happens all of the time particularly when it comes to things like quads and recreational vehicles.
Being the good citizen that he was, my constituent pursued these individuals and as a result ended up in more trouble. What I really want to stress is the offence of the sensibilities of my constituents, but the clarification that we needed in this legislation. That is what happens in this case.
This legislation proposes several changes. One change is rather than, as the existing law states, a private citizen having to actually catch someone during the commission of the offence, he or she cannot lose touch with them. It means that if I am going to lay a citizen's arrest, I have to follow in hot pursuit. I cannot, under the current legislation, do anything other than catch someone in the commission of an offence or in pursuit of that person after witnessing a particular offence.
This leads us to the case where Mr. Chen knew that a person had come into his store several times and committed offences. It was great that he was acquitted, but the offence of the sensibilities of the Canadian citizens was that he was charged in the first place. That is what this legislation seeks to change and I believe there is support around the House to do that. That is a great thing.
The other change in the legislation is to clarify the defence of property which is now spread out over three or four sections in the Criminal Code. This change seeks to consolidate that information into something that is more clear.
I cannot stress enough how important it is that members of the House get behind this piece of legislation. I said it before and I will say it again, as a former law enforcement officer, I know all too well how much I depended, needed and relied upon information from the public. We rely on the public to serve law enforcement officers with the ability to have the information, to lay complaints, to lay charges with the extension of the protection of property and the clarification of the rules when it comes to individuals laying charges as private citizens for people who they know have committed an offence within recent history.
That is the language that will have to be tested, but it would only seem to make sense that it would be a natural extension of the vast majority of law-abiding Canadian citizens who would be comfortable assisting the RCMP, their local police department, or whatever local law enforcement agency they would happen to be working with by getting actively involved beyond just phoning the police or phoning Crime Stoppers, but actively engaging in that and assisting police. We know that the job is hard enough. We know there is enough out there that police officers face on a day to day basis. It only makes sense for society to have a more active and participative role in that.