Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to the citizen's arrest and self-defence bill. As we know, a good portion of the bill, and the part that I want to talk about today, was originally put forward as part of a private member's bill by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina.
I support her idea to enhance the ability of small businesses to protect their property through the mechanism of citizen's arrest. As a small business owner myself, I know all too well the enormous challenges that small businesses face across Canada.
I support passing the amendments to section 494 of the Criminal Code in the bill dealing with citizen's arrest to permit arrest without warrant and within “a reasonable period” rather than the present wording, which requires an arrest contemporaneous with the event. This change was originally introduced by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina in her private member's bill as a result of an incident at a convenience store in Toronto, the Lucky Moose. The name of that store is well known, although it sounds like it should be a store in Thunder Bay—Superior North. The owner apprehended an individual, who had stolen an item from the store, some time after the theft had taken place. The amendment to section 494 has been supported, in principle, by chiefs of police across Canada, prosecutors and defence counsels.
Bill C-60 proposes compressing sections 34 to 42 of the Criminal Code, which deal with the defence of a person and property, into two new parts. The stated rationale is to clarify the laws on self-defence and the defence of property so Canadians, including the police, prosecutors and the courts, can more easily understand and apply the law.
The legislation would expand the legal authority for private citizens or persons with small businesses to make arrests within a reasonable period of time after they found a person committing a criminal offence either on or in relation to their property, ensuring the proper balance between the powers of the citizens and the powers of the police. It would also bring much needed reforms to simplify the complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property and clarify where reasonable use of force would be permitted in relation to the above.
The amendments to Criminal Code subsection 494(2) on citizen's arrest would authorize a business person or other citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she found someone committing a criminal offence that occurred on or in relation to his or her property. This power of arrest would only be authorized when there were reasonable grounds to believe it would not be feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a police officer.
It talks about reasonable use of force. The legislation would make it clear by cross-reference in the Criminal Code that the use of force would authorized in a citizen's arrest, but there would be limits placed on how much force could be used. In essence, the laws permit the reasonable use of force taking into account all the circumstances of a particular case. To be clear, a person will not be entitled to use excessive force in any citizen's arrest. That will continue.
There are some important considerations for us to take into account. A citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace or, generally speaking, properly trained to apprehend suspended criminals. In most cases, an arrest might consist of either actually seizing or touching a person's body with a view to detaining him or her or using words where the person submits to the arrest. A citizen's arrest made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious, unintended physical or legal consequences for those involved.
When deciding if a citizen's arrest is appropriate, a small business people, or other citizen, should consider the following things: whether a peace officer is available to intervene at that time instead and their personal safety, or that of others, that might be compromised by attempting such an arrest. They should report information about the crime to the police instead of taking action on their own whenever possible. They should have a reasonable belief regarding the suspect's criminal conduct and ability to identify them. Last, they can and should turn over the suspect to the police without delay once that arrest is made.
Let us look at the current laws in this regard.
Under section 494(1), people may arrest a person whom they find committing an indictable offence, or a person, who on reasonable grounds, they believe has committed a criminal offence and is escaping from, and is freshly pursued by, persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person.
Section 494(2) of the Criminal Code, which is the provision proposed to be expanded by the bill, currently provides that anyone who is either the owner or in lawful possession of or has been authorized by the owner or the person in lawful possession of that property may arrest a person if he or she “find committing” a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.
“Finds committing” means situations where the accused is caught in the act, committing that offence. This concept extends to take into account a situation where the accused has been pursued immediately and continuously after he or she has been found committing the offence. Also, the existing law requires that when a citizen's arrest takes place, the individual must be delivered to a peace officer without delay.
Let us talk about self-defence and the defence of property as it relates to the proposed amendments. The new Criminal Code provisions are being proposed to clarify the laws on self-defence and defence of property so Canadians, including the police, the prosecutors and the courts, can more easily understand and apply the law. Clarifying that law and streamlining statutory defences may assist prosecutors and police in exercising their discretion not to lay a charge or proceed with a prosecution.
Amendments to the self-defence provisions would repeal the current confusing law and create one new self-defence provision. It would permit people who reasonably believe they or others to be at risk of the threat of force or acts of force or damage to their property to commit a reasonable act to protect themselves, their property or others.
As I said before, I am a small business owner and I know all too well the huge challenges of many kinds that small businesses across Canada face. Therefore, I would like to raise some of the reasons that are collateral and that bear on the need for small business people to feel more empowered by the Government of Canada and to make their businesses more viable. They are struggling. Small businesses across Canada today, the small economic engines across Canada, are struggling through our recession because of a lot of red tape and a growing tax burden as we shift taxes off of large corporations and onto small corporations.
Small business people are straddled with usurious credit card merchant fees. I and my party have talked about this issue, again and again, the need to get banks and credit card companies off the backs, out of the pockets, the bank accounts and the wallets of small business people across Canada.
Small business people pay fees to the credit card companies that are above and beyond what it costs them to provide average Canadians with the service that is required. Small business people are left with no choice but to pay those usurious fees because they cannot run our businesses without those credit cards. So far the government has not gone to bat to protect small businesses from usurious credit card companies and banks.
Another challenge that small businesses face is a government which has been constantly shifting tax burdens, tax responsibilities off large corporations and onto the backs, not only of average Canadians, but onto the backs of small- and medium-size business firms.
In the late 1970s, the marginal corporate tax rate on large corporations in the U.S. and Canada was the same, at 36%. Today it is still 36% in the United States, but through the Mulroney years, the Chrétien years, the Martin years and now under the current government, those taxes have been reduced. They are soon to be 15% and the government, through the HST, is shifting them onto average Canadians and the burden of collecting and doing the paperwork for that will fall on small businesses.
It has also been shifted through things like the EI premiums which are about to increase again, increasing the cost to Canadian workers and Canadian small businesses.
Despite the fact that small businesses are usually locally based and invest and hire in their local communities, governments, and the current government especially, have favoured large corporations with across-the-board tax cuts, whether they make sense or not, whether they result in investment in Canada or not, whether they keep jobs in Canada or not.
When the NDP government came in 11 years ago in Manitoba, it made a promise to take the tax burden off small businesses because it understood that it is small businesses which are creating jobs. In fact, 80% to 90% of all the jobs created in Canada for many decades have been created, not by big businesses, but by small businesses. The Manitoba government kept its promises and reduced the provincial corporate tax rate on small businesses from 11% down to zero. The government and small businesses in Manitoba have demonstrated through growth, prosperity and job creation, that this has been the economic engine which has made Manitoba the most prosperous province in Canada today with balanced budgets, high employment and weathering the recession almost without even noticing it.
Small businesses in our communities take many forms, from mom and pop convenience stores on the corner all the way up to significant engineering and consulting firms and software developers. In fact, 76% of small- and medium-size businesses earn revenue between $30,000, all the way up to close to $500,000 a year. Now, $30,000 may seem small to us, but it is important to a family that uses it to grow its business and support its children. Small businesses are major economic engines, pint-sized engines which jointly drive the economy of Canada and are growing, not shrinking, and staying, not leaving the country or leaving town, and adding jobs, not cutting jobs.
It is about time that our small businesses got more help and more respect from a government that is happy to hand out billions of dollars in senseless, unnecessary tax cuts to oil giants, big banks and big insurance companies.
Small businesses represent almost 98% of the total number of business establishments in Canada. That number comes from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses. Small- and medium-size businesses employ 55% of all the working individuals in Canada.
Service jobs are important. Government jobs provide important services across the nation. Union jobs in large companies are important to our economy. It is true that many of the dollars generated by large corporations do trickle down to small businesses in the community. But, to reiterate that number, over half of the direct jobs in Canada are jobs that relate to small- and medium-size businesses.
Small- and medium-size businesses are taking the lead on research and development in Canada, which is something we desperately need if Canada is to address our perennial shortfall in productivity and competitiveness.
Large corporations in Canada spend a piddling 0.8% of their revenues on research and development. Small- and medium-size firms spend an astounding 5.8%, almost 6%, of their revenues on research and development.
I am an evolutionary biologist and the best evolutionary strategy through a billion years was a main gene pool with outlier populations. It is in those outlier populations where progress, where evolution occurs, feeding that genetic material into the main gene pool.
Similarly, small businesses are the places where the new ideas come from. Steven Jobs and Bill Gates at one time were small businessmen. Look where some of these small businesses can go. We need to support them and help them.
Small businesses are exporters. They play a big role in keeping Canada a trading nation. Over 85% of all Canadian exporters are small- and medium-size businesses.
These facts and statistics show how vital small- and medium-size firms are to Canada's economy and to the future of every Canadian and every member of Parliament. We work for the Canadian taxpayers and increasingly, the Canadian taxpayers are average Canadians and small- and medium-size businesses.
Small- and medium-size businesses create jobs right here at home. They inject dynamism into the Canadian market, which we desperately need and they invest their revenues back into our communities. They do not export those investment dollars back to the United States. They do not pay them out in ridiculously over-the-top, obscene CEO salaries which then get stuffed into tax shelters in the Caribbean and in Panama.
Canada needs to do more to support our small- and medium-size firms. We should be encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit which in the past has driven so many Canadians to take a chance on a great idea and see where it goes.
Whether in Thunder Bay, Geraldton, Longlac, Marathon, Schreiber, Terrace Bay, Red Rock, and so on, in my riding of Thunder Bay—Superior North, we need to help and grow our small businesses, particularly given the role that the government has played through NAFTA, softwood lumber and non-help in the recession to our forest industry in northwestern Ontario. To a large extent, it is small businesses which have hung on bravely and are saving us.