Mr. Speaker, I am obviously pleased to be speaking today. This may be the last time we see each other before the upcoming election.
Bill C-60, as it is called by the government, has to do with self-defence and citizen's arrest. These are fundamental aspects of our everyday lives, but they can also involve diverse and extreme situations. How do we interpret legislation like this? How do we determine how far people can go in defending themselves and making arrests?
To give you a little background, the legislative summary of Bill C-60 states the following:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to enable a person who owns or has lawful possession of property, or persons authorized by them, to arrest within a reasonable time a person whom they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property. It also amends the Criminal Code to simplify the provisions relating to the defences of property and persons.
The bill significantly broadens the notion of self-defence and slightly broadens that of citizen's arrest. As I said earlier, the question revolves around the scope of these two notions, how this can be interpreted or how far people can go. Should we be setting the stage for abuse that is not prescribed and certainly not desired: abuse of the ability to defend oneself or abuse of the ability to make a citizen's arrest? Regardless, every person in our society should expect to have the full use of their property without having someone try to steal from them. That is obvious. Every person in our society should also expect to be able to move freely without worrying about being attacked and put in danger.
If someone tries to rob you, that is one thing. If someone tries to physically attack you, that is another thing. In these two cases, there are also elements that dictate how far we can go. That is why the Bloc would like to examine Bill C-60 in committee. It has to do with self-defence, which is a very sensitive and important subject.
For the Bloc Québécois, people have a basic right to defend themselves and their property within reasonable limits. This is already the case under the current legislation, but it is too restrictive. We are therefore in favour of a statutory amendment to allow honest citizens to defend themselves and their property or defend other people. However, we do not want to see an increase in the amount of violence in our societies. Quebec must not become the far west of old. Everybody would lose.
Some provisions are disturbing and could result sooner or later in situations that no one wants to see. We are therefore eager to study this bill in committee.
I am not a lawyer. I am not an expert in crime and certainly not a criminologist, but when this bill refers to defence of property or self-defence, certain things come to mind. For example, it was said that people could not use excessive force, or more force than necessary, to defend themselves or their property.
I have also heard it said that people could be prosecuted and sentenced for failing to assist someone in danger. When we speak about defending others, the following questions arise. What is excessive force when I am protecting my property? What is the extent of my responsibility to assist others in danger? There is my responsibility, but there is also my ability to do something. The context is important and must be specified, if we want to avoid excesses in either direction.
On February 17, the government introduced a bill broadening the concepts of self-defence and citizen’s arrest, especially to protect one’s property. This bill was in reaction to an incident that occurred in Toronto, where a shopkeeper was arrested and charged for having captured and detained a man who had stolen from him. The public was outraged by this arrest of an honest citizen, who had requested police help several times without always receiving it. In Toronto, and in Quebec as well, many people have the feeling—it is just a feeling, but it is an important factor nonetheless—that criminals are mollycoddled and the law does more to protect them than to protect honest citizens.
It is not surprising that the hon. members for Trinity—Spadina and Eglinton—Lawrence introduced bills to broaden the concept of citizen's arrest. However, these two bills only slightly broadened the notion of citizen's arrest whereas Bill C-60 substantially broadens the notion of self-defence.
As for citizen's arrest, Bill C-60 would amend the law to allow a property owner to make an arrest. Basically, a property owner would be given the right to arrest, within a reasonable time, a criminal who committed an offence, if the property owner has reasonable grounds to believe that it would not be possible for a peace officer to make an arrest under the circumstances.
Bill C-60 does not make many changes with regard to citizen's arrest, even though that is the pretext for the bill, but it makes sweeping changes with regard to self-defence. It takes away the requirement of necessity—the requirement of not killing an attacker unless absolutely necessary—and adds the possibility to defend oneself in reaction to a threat without defining what type of threat is likely to lead to legal violence. That is why I referred to determining the amount of force that can be used for self-defence and to the ability to defend oneself. Either way, we need to evaluate the ability to defend oneself as well as the force that can be used in these kinds of circumstances.
One potential concern about citizen's arrests is that the amendment could be misunderstood and things could get out of hand. In fact, Halifax's deputy chief of police has suggested that the federal government urge caution in the use of citizen's arrest. This is not only to ensure that a well-intentioned person does not commit a crime, but also to remind people that an arrest involves risks and that an ordinary person is not as likely as a police officer to be able to get control of someone who has committed a crime.
I would like to use the minute I have left to repeat what I said earlier, which is that everyone has the right to possess property without the fear of having it stolen from them by other people, and everyone should be able to live freely and without fear in our society. For this to happen, we need a responsible government that can ensure prevention, information and rehabilitation. This comes by integrating people socially and economically into society.
It was surprising that people did not resort to looting in Japan, which has suffered such terrible catastrophes, although that is often what happens here in North American society.
Thus, this happens through education, prevention and rehabilitation.