Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to speak to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).
The New Democrats are happy to support the bill, at least insofar as it would expand the legal authority for private citizens to make an arrest within a reasonable amount of time after they find that person committing a criminal offence.
It is important to understand that the bill would do three things: first, it would extend the time period from the present Criminal Code situation in which a person may make a citizen's arrest; second, it would amend the defence of persons provisions of the Criminal Code; and, third, it would amend the defence of property provisions of the Criminal Code.
It is the New Democrat Party's position that the first part of the bill is an appropriate amendment to our law that our party supports. With respect to the other two sections, we believe that those sections should be split from the bill or otherwise studied independently in committee prior to making any changes in that regard.
Again, the legislation would expand the legal authority for private citizens to make an arrest from the present situation which allows citizens to make that arrest if they catch someone in the commission of a crime; that is, any citizen of Canada can make a citizen's arrest lawfully under the Criminal Code provided that they make that arrest during the commission of that offence.
Canadians saw a spectacle last summer where a Toronto shopkeeper arrested a person who had come to his store on multiple occasions and stolen from him. His name was David Chen and the name of his store was the Lucky Moose. The thief returned to the store within a very close amount of time from having robbed it earlier, I think within the last day or two, and entered the store again. Mr. Chen had a videotape of this person, so identification was not an issue. Mr. Chen and his staff held that person until the police arrived.
What happened next is something that I think revealed the problem with the current law, which is that upon arriving at Mr. Chen's store, the police did not arrest the alleged thief, but arrested Mr. Chen and charged him with a number of offences, including unlawful confinement and other such, I think, completely unreasonable offences.
Of course, at the time, the police really had no choice but to do so because the law, as it currently stands, says that a person may only make that arrest during the commission of an offence. Since the thief had arrived at Mr. Chen's store not during the commission of the offence but within a day or two later, Mr. Chen was not within his rights, under the Criminal Code, to make that arrest.
The bill would also bring reforms to simplify or clarify, according to the government, the Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property, and clarify where reasonable use of force is permitted in relation to those issues.
The amendments to subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code, on citizen's arrest, would authorize private citizens to make that arrest within a reasonable amount of time after they find someone committing a criminal offence that occurs in relation to property and the power of arrest would only be authorized when that person has reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a peace officer or, in other words, a police officer.
The legislation would also attempt to clarify, by cross-reference to the Criminal Code, that use of force is authorized in a citizen's arrest but that there are specific and concrete limits placed on how much force could be used.
In essence, the laws currently permit the reasonable use of force, taking into account all of the circumstances of a particular case and, of course, the current Criminal Code and the bill would continue to make it clear that a person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen's arrest.
There are very important considerations in the bill. A citizen's arrest is a very serious, potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a peace officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace nor, generally speaking, properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals.
In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person's body, with a view to detaining him or her, or by using words where the person submits to the arrest. Citizen's arrests made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious, unintended, physical or legal consequences for everybody involved.
When deciding if a citizen's arrest is appropriate, people should consider a number of factors, including whether a peace officer is available to intervene at that time, their personal safety or the safety of others, and whether that safety would be compromised by attempting an arrest. They should report information about the crime to police instead of taking action on their own wherever possible. They must have a reasonable belief regarding the suspect's criminal conduct and identity, and of course, they must turn over the suspect to the police without delay once an arrest is made.
I want to give credit where credit is due. My colleague from Trinity—Spadina, upon learning of Mr. Chen's situation, immediately went to work, as New Democrat MPs are renowned in the House for doing, by drafting a private member's bill, Bill C-565. The NDP responded to the situation before any other party in the House did.
My colleague drafted a bill that dealt surgically and precisely with the situation at hand. It could have been law today if the government had simply agreed to pass Bill C-565 by unanimous consent. In fact, all the parties could have done that. That bill would have expanded the time in which a citizen could make a citizen's arrest, which is all that is required.
The situation Mr. Chen faced was that he made an arrest after the commission of the offence and that is what put him in jeopardy. If we had amended the Criminal Code, we could have clarified that situation. The problem with the bill the government has put forward is that it goes beyond that. It purports to amend the sections of defence of property and persons in the Criminal Code, which are not situations that were required to be amended because of the Lucky Moose situation and which, of course, will slow down this legislation because now all parties in the House have to study carefully what those sections mean.
After my colleague drafted her bill, I was proud to second it. My colleague and I then toured small businesses in Vancouver Kingsway where I brought up the situation of Mr. Chen and the Lucky Moose to small business owners and asked their opinion. I also drafted a petition asking whether or not small business people would support my colleague's bill and there was overwhelming support.
The conversations I had with small business owners in Vancouver Kingsway made it clear that small business people are very concerned about theft, pilferage in their stores, the very slow response time of police, and the inability of police to deal adequately with the problem of shoplifting. These are hard-working store owners who employ thousands of my constituents and deserve to be better protected from those who would steal from them. I heard from small business people that their margins of profit are very thin and the difference between a small business owner making a living or not very often depends on the amount of crime, whether vandalism or theft.
I also met with the head of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Society and Tony Lam, and I heard their experiences. The shop owners in Chinatown in Vancouver tell me that their very existence is threatened by the crime experienced in the Downtown Eastside. They have to hire private security. They say that police are so over-stretched they are unable to respond. I want to talk for just a minute about that because part of the problem underlying this bill is the problem of over-stretched police.
I have met with police board representatives, police officers, chiefs of police, and with municipalities across this country. They tell me that the 2,500 police officer positions the government promised to create have not materialized. They have said that the $500 million in federal policing costs are being downloaded to municipalities. They told me that in order to make their streets safer, and ensure that citizens and businesses are protected, they need more community policing.
That is the underlying problem that this bill seeks to remediate. Citizens are now placed in the position of having to do what they pay taxes for, which is to get police to respond to crime. However, that does not happen when the government does not provide the necessary funding for long-term positions, does not target the money to provinces to create the positions, and does not create enough funds to hire the civilian staff necessary to support the police officers.
I am proud to support this bill and small businesses in this country, and to ensure they can protect themselves from crime.