Mr. Speaker, as my colleagues have said, now they get to ask me the grilling questions.
First, I have to recognize and honour the work of the member for Trinity—Spadina. I know she is watching now. She has been engaged in this from day one. Nobody in the House has done more than the member for Trinity—Spadina.
It is of value to all of us to recognize that there is an important role we all play as members of Parliament in responding to our constituents, particularly at a time like this. A shopkeeper in her part of the world was unduly charged with some pretty serious offences, like kidnapping, for having made a citizen's arrest, but not in the time that the law prescribes.
Her reaction was twofold. One was to meet with the citizen and find out exactly what had happened, speak with police and prosecutors and, more than that, start to design the solutions. It is one thing in opposition to criticize. It is an even more important role when we are able to provide proposals to the government, which is what she did. The government has taken that acorn of a good idea and put it into Bill C-60.
The NDP has suggested to the government that if it were truly serious about this issue, it could work with us. It could talk with us now and we could fast track the element that is most critical to the question of citizen's arrest, which is timeliness. When something happens, how much time does a citizen have to make the arrest or must the arrest be made only in the act and commission of the alleged crime?
It is important for people watching to understand that the situation. That person had in fact stolen from Mr. Chen at the Lucky Moose and then ran down the street. The individual came back several hours later, quite audaciously, and attempted to steal again. If he had in fact stolen something the second time and had been grabbed by Mr. Chen, everything would have been fine and we would not even be talking about this. However, the man failed in his second attempt at theft.
Mr. Chen, recognizing it was the same fellow trying to do the same thing he had done just a few hours earlier, made a citizen's arrest, which under our Criminal Code is permissible. The problem was he had waited too long. Some number of hours had passed since the first crime.
When all of this came to light and went to the crown prosecutor, Mr. Chen was charged with a whole series of crimes. I believe assault was one, as well as confinement, which is essentially kidnapping. He was charged with kidnapping in a situation like that. When Canadians read this story or watch it on the evening news, they were offended that he was made a criminal. Somebody was attempting to defend his property and to do right, which was to arrest the individual because police officers were not available. The last thing members want to do with any legislation, guidance and laws that we establish in this place is to make somebody who started as a victim into a criminal, especially if something the person did was not criminal.
This is the point where we have to pause, following all of our discourse in this place and after talking to Canadians, and not give in to the temptation of oversimplifying what we talk about or suggest that a citizen's arrest is easy, safe and should be done on a daily basis. Any police officer will say that arresting somebody in the commission of a crime or after the fact is a dangerous thing to do. The criminals that people try to arrest could be violent or armed. For a citizen to do this is a very risky thing.
We saw the tragedy recently in the southern United States, where a lunatic with a gun shot a bunch of citizens, one of them a congresswoman. In the end, a citizen made the arrest. Along with friends, he was able to tackle the gunman to the ground. The only reason they were able to stop the guy was because he had to reload his gun, which is legal to have. Thankfully, the clip is not legal here. There had been a proposition in Congress earlier to allow guns with even bigger clips. One can imagine that if that law had passed, that fellow could have shot a lot more people that day. I digress, but in that moment a citizen's arrest was made, a highly risky thing to do.
It has been said a number of times by my colleagues in the House that we should not create an environment that promotes anything that looks, smells, tastes or gives the appearance of vigilantism. We have national, provincial and municipal police forces in our country. They do a good job for us. They do a dangerous job for us as citizens. This is how we come together as a society and determine that we will not police ourselves, that we will not have vigilante forces. We will have professional police forces, and that cannot be emphasized enough.
One of the concerns I have with the government is that in its tendency to oversimplify sometimes complicated questions, it wants to put them in eight second sound bytes, thirty second commercials with lots of dark images. On an issue like this, we cannot ever send out a message to Canadians that it is somehow now permissible to start seeking out criminals and forming our own little forces to do what police do because that is what we pay them and train them to do. It is an important consideration.
Some of my colleagues in the Conservative Party think this is not real, but we have incidences of this actually happening in society, so let us just be careful with it. Let us be thoughtful about it. Let us not be jingoistic. Let us not oversimplify the situation. That is what we are calling for in the New Democratic Party and I think it is a reasonable request, because oftentimes when making laws, one of the things we must be cautious about is making a law that applies to everybody based on somebody, one person guiding an entire law. That is a dangerous precedent.
The Conservatives love to hold up a particular case and then run politically on that case and make a sweep of laws, but it also runs the risk of unintended consequences. We make a law for one particular situation and it actually applies quite well, but the discipline of this place is that our laws apply to everybody in all circumstances and all moments.
If the Conservatives were truly serious about changing the situation that happened at the Lucky Moose store and some other situations, which is to allow a greater amount of time for a citizen to make an arrest, the New Democrats have offered to fast-track that. We said that we should get it done today. They could walk across the aisle, meet us halfway and we will do it. We are ready to change the law for the better.
The justice minister did not answer the question when I put that offer to him earlier. We are doing it explicitly publicly and we are doing it privately. We are willing and able to do this if what we are trying to do is make the laws better for Canadians.
The member for Trinity—Spadina made a suggestion to the government, the government took that suggested and added a bunch of other things to it. We are saying that we need to go back to the first principle of this, which is changing the period in which a citizen's arrest can be made. If that were done, the New Democrats would be on side and we would be ready to move. The government has said no to that so far. Perhaps with some quiet sober reflection over the weekend, hopefully sober, the government will decide that it is a sincere and legitimate offer on which it can meet New Democrats and actually get its so-called crime agenda, at least in some part, moved through.
It is also important to recognize that in Bill C-60, which is not a large bill, but the implications of at least two of the pieces, clauses 1 and 2, are things we need to very seriously consider as legislators, and that will require committee work and it will require witnesses. I would hope that the justice minister would also agree that we need to hear from people who understand the implications of law. We need to hear from our police forces. We need to hear from victims groups to ensure all pieces of the bill, as drafted, are right and in order.
I hope the government does not have the arrogance to say that its first draft of this is perfect. I would suggest that it is not. There are some things in the bill that we want to look at, get some research on and actually, for once, get some evidence. Would it not be nice to deal with evidence when dealing with a crime law as proposed by government? We have seen that in this place time and time again when the government has brought forward its crime agenda.
One of the question we have asked is about effectiveness. Do the Conservatives believe the law will be effective in reducing crime? They say yes but when we ask to be shown the proof, they tell us to get lost.
The second question we have asked is about cost. We would think the Conservatives would be preoccupied by cost, that they would be worried that, as they are running the largest deficits in Canadian history, they would also be concerned with the idea of what any proposed legislation would cost.
When we dealt with issues of the environment, they were obsessed with the idea of cost. Every second question from the Conservatives was about the costs, so we costed our bills. They refused to accept those numbers and kept going on about costs. Fair enough, they can ask questions like that, but when the tables were reversed, as they are now and we are asking what their crime agenda costs, they plead ignorance. They plead cabinet confidentiality, that the cost of a piece of legislation is so secretive and so important to national security that Canadians cannot be trusted with that kind of knowledge.
Who is paying for this little show? It is Canadians of course. With any piece of legislation, there should be an attempt to prove two things: Is it effective in getting done what we want to get done; and, what does it cost to implement. That seems reasonable to us.
The government, which is admittedly going to spend billions of dollars on its crime agenda, would cut programs that prevent crime. This is an offence to the sensibilities of Canadians to say that the only crime reduction program is a jail cell.
We know the importance of jails and prison time in a system of justice, but it is one component of the system and not the whole. The best crime program we could have is where crimes are not created in the first place. We would not hear from those victimized by crime because the crimes would not have happened. We have seen in this country, as well as in many others, that there are programs that work to reduce crime and we should be funding them.
Because Bill C-60 is addressing the needs of victims, the government in its most recent budget, cut grants for victims of crime by more than 30%. That seems strange. The government talks about victims all the time and how it is standing up for victims, but the same government cut the funding for victims by 30%. This is also a government that cut the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime by 98%. I guess they were not doing a good job, but we have no idea, the government has not justified that.
Government members commercials, ads and question period time and again say how the Conservatives are meant to be victims' great protectors, but when they get down to actual spending priorities, the Conservatives cut programs that are meant to support victims.
I am dealing with someone right now in my riding outside of Fraser Lake who tragically lost his daughter to a terrible crime. She was murdered just before Christmas and he is desperately trying to access some kind of funding to get out on the road to talk to parents about what happened in the case of his young daughter so families could avoid that happening to them. This began with Facebook, which was how the initial connection was made with her and the murderer. There is nothing that the government is offering; it is a tin ear, a tragedy and hypocrisy.
I grow weary of the government time and again pretending that it wrote the book and is the sole protectors of victims. However, when we look at budgets and real situations, its interest in victims is purely political and so much less on the moral and ethical side of the question which is of deep interest to New Democrats and has always been.
As a social justice party, we believe that to deter crime takes more than just minimum mandatory sentencing. There is more to the conversation. To become overly fixated on one solution, so that if all one has is a hammer, then every problem would look like a nail. All the government has is the same answer and it needs to expand. It has to mature this conversation.
With Bill C-60, we have offered a solution that the government, to this point, has refused. We hope it reconsiders over the weekend because time is pressing. The member for Trinity—Spadina worked on her legislation months ago.
This bill is not enormous at ten pages, French and English. It is not as if the government had to write some massive document, that is it, but it took months. We are on the eve of an election threat and the government is not willing to fast track or move at all. Again, it is as if the Conservative government is the sole owner of justice and rightness in this country, and that is offensive to Canadians.
At committee we need to talk about what is permissible in defence when making a citizen's arrest. How can we assure that so-called proportionality in the use of force in a citizen's arrest matches the threat of the crime? That is absolutely critical. Otherwise, we could create a situation in which Canadians believe they can use twice or ten times the amount of force to prevent a crime and the courts will refuse them. The government bears a certain responsibility to make sure that impression is not put out into the public because people will end up going to jail and will get hurt.
We must remind folks as often as we can that the citizen's arrest is not meant to be the first option. The bill, thankfully, does not change the order of law in Canada that says if one has a reasonable expectation that a police officer can make the arrest, then one must seek that first because they are better at it. They have guns, handcuffs, a badge and the law. These are important things to have when making a citizen's arrest.
Seeking help of a police officer is first and foremost, and that cannot be pushed to the side, forgiven or dismissed. We need to understand that it continues under Bill C-60. We need to have it confirmed because the government has written more than we have offered.
We believe that offering solutions is what this place should be about for Canadians. We are concerned that some of the standards used in this bill are subjective. They are not hard and fast. We need to understand what “reasonable force” is. We need to understand what “a reasonable amount of time” is. This is critical for us to understand.
Is the government imagining that several hours after a crime someone can still legally make a citizen's arrest? Is it a day later? Is it several days? Are we going to allow the judges and juries to decide what “reasonable” is? These are important things for us to understand.
As the minister noted earlier, some of the laws that we are affecting here are more than 100 years old, and some of them have not seen any substantive changes in 100 years. If we are going to modernize this thing, let us modernize it properly. What will the effects be on the day to day lives of our citizens?
There is a potential for prosecutorial over-reaction, as it is sometimes called. We get a very enthusiastic public prosecutor coming forward, as we saw in the case of the Lucky Moose, ringing up a whole raft of charges that had little or nothing to do with the actual citizen's arrest in the case in Toronto. That is something that we also need to be concerned about. Government courts often give prosecutorial direction. They give some inclination and direction to those lawyers who work on behalf of Canadians, for the crown, as to what the guidelines for prosecuting a case are. That is important. We do not see those here and those are not meant to be in legislation, but it is certainly something government has to be cognizant of. What kinds of directions will be given to prosecutors to ensure we do not have folks out there hoping to make a name for themselves or who are just reading the law in such a limited and circumspect way that we end up with charges that to Canadians seem out of control and disproportionate to what is going on? We want to ensure that the reasonable time is offered in a succinct way.
We have seen, with the latest budget and, I expect, we will see it in the next budget, how much out of balance the government is by dealing with crime only after it has happened versus trying to prevent it in the first place. I attention is due. It has been so out of whack that billions of dollars have gone into more prisons and prison guards, which is very expensive. A prisoner in maximum security will cost $138,000 per year on average. A female prisoner in the same system will be as much as $178,000 per year. That is a lot of money and this is billions of dollars to build this, much of which is being dropped on the backs of the provinces that had no hand in crafting many of these laws. These are provinces that are not exactly flush with cash.
To not have been properly consulted on the raft of laws the Conservatives have brought forward, but to have a bill attached that the provinces also have to buck up to, for a government that wishes to have peace in the federation, wishes to have some sort of respect for our colleagues who work at the provincial level, it sure is making it difficult on them, straining relations because it is straining the budget. Some provinces have come out and said that they are directly opposed to some of these laws because they will be forced to build more penitentiaries. This is something we need to be careful about when we bring legislation forward.
The New Democrats have offered the government an olive branch. We have said that we are willing to move forward today, particularly on clause 3, all the way through committee and back here because it is something we believe in.
The member for Trinity—Spadina has been front and foremost on this from day one looking for some sort of justice for some of the citizens she represents. It seems incumbent upon the government to listen and entertain a reasonable offer, one that will make positive change in the country, and leave those parts of the bill that need further study to the study they need. However, to leave the entire bill in jeopardy and not listen to the offer made by the New Democrats today, on behalf of the member for Trinity—Spadina, is a mistake. It is hubris, it is arrogance and it is something the government has too much of an inclination toward. If the government wants to make something positive happen, we can do that. We are willing to meet the government half way and hope it will meet us the other half.