Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-60, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons).
The genesis of the bill was the arrest of Toronto grocer, David Chen, who apprehended a man who had previously stolen from his store. Mr. Chen was arrested and charged with forcible confinement after the perpetrator of the theft was caught outside his store by Mr. Chen who effected what, in his mind, was a citizen's arrest.
Under the current provisions of the Criminal Code, a citizen may make an arrest only when a criminal offence is being committed or has been committed and the alleged criminal is in the process of fleeing. Eventually, the court, after a lengthy period of time and a large public outcry, found Mr. Chen not guilty due to a reasonable doubt being identified by the judge.
As I look at Bill C-60, it tries to amend subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code to enable private citizens who own or have lawful possession of property, or persons authorized by them, to arrest, within a reasonable time, a person who they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that 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. It would also amend the Criminal Code to simplify the provision relating to the defence of property and persons.
We must be careful that the passage of this bill does not give the public the erroneous impression that individuals have the right to mete out any form of vigilante justice. The government has taken too long to introduce a bill on this issue, and when it came up with this wording, there are some issues around clarity. There is ambiguity. What are these things that need to be clarified? The ambiguity that is most concerning is what is meant by a reasonable amount of time between the act of violence that is committed on a personal property and when a citizen's arrest is made.
If this ambiguity is left unresolved it could lead others to inadvertently commit a criminal act. For example, let us say that we see someone breaking into our house or garage and stealling tools but we are not able to apprehend the person, if we were to meet that person next week in a park could we apprehend him or her then? What is a reasonable time? How does one get around it? If I see somebody breaking into my neighbour's house, what is my job as a citizen? Should I make a citizen's arrest? Where are the parameters? Those are the parameters of the citizen's arrest that are missing from this explanation or change to the act.
How do we ensure clarity? We need to have clarity so we do not have a repeat of what happened to Mr. Chen. Mr. Chen did what he thought was helping the police. He arrested the guy who was a repeat offender and because it was his personal property he thought he was doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the police arrested Mr. Chen and told him that he was doing the wrong thing.
I wonder how many of us would stop if we saw a theft taking place, take a picture and ensure the picture was correct so we could give it to the police do they could find the person. We know the police force is underfunded. It needs all the citizen help it can get. Where is this clarity that we are looking for? I know police officers have also raised concern about the legislation and I look forward to hearing those concerns. I would look forward to sending this bill to committee.
For a government that says it is a law and order agenda government, why did it take so long to bring about changes?
The member for Eglinton—Lawrence and the member for Trinity—Spadina both addressed this issue many months ago when they brought in a private member's bill. It was after they brought in the private member's bill that the government decided that it should get around to this issue as well.
I want the government to be smart on crime and to be alert on crime, not to make crime some election issue. These are crimes that affect citizens and that affect my daily life. I would like the government to clarify due process. How does the judge know what due process is? The judiciary should be given that clarity.
What determines a citizen's arrest? The police need to be given clarity so they do not repeat the mistakes that happened in Mr. Chen's case. If the police do not understand the interpretation of this bill, we will have another repeat of Mr. Chen's situation.
This is important for all of us. I will give an example that is very interesting. Spitting is not allowed on many streets, especially in Europe. People cannot spit on the street. Is spitting a crime? Do I take a picture? If I do take a picture, what do I do with it? How do I make a citizen's arrest? If I see a member's computer being stolen, what do I do about it? What is a reasonable time? When do I enforce it? As I mentioned, the police force does not have the wherewithal to arrive on time sometimes. It needs all the help it can get.
Therefore, when we are looking at making changes to that act, we should let the police do their justice job. If we are trying to apprehend a perpetrator and the perpetrator has a gun, what do we do? How do we protect ourselves? Yes, the police should do their job and, yes, the police cannot always be there, but when we are talking about citizen's arrests, let us be clear about what we want.
It is unfortunate that the government took so long. It is unfortunate that Mr. Chen had to go through this lengthy and costly legal process due to the ambiguity. I do not think the ambiguity has been clarified by what the government has introduced.
I hope the committee and its members will look at these concerns and that they will come up with a solution that provides clarity to the public, the police and the judiciary.