Mr. Speaker, a number of us have been waiting for Bill C-60 to come forward, at least we were hoping it would, although, as my remarks may show, it was never clear that the self-defence provisions of the Criminal Code, which the bill would purport to fix, were really broken. However, it does provide for a very interesting debate, at least for those of us who are interested in some of the micro details of the Criminal Code, especially as they relate to the common law.
As colleagues have already pointed out, on one level the bill was drafted to address a situation that arose in a Toronto Criminal Code prosecution. It is one that I got involved with on the street, as a number of publicly elected people did at the time because of the nature of the facts. I can say that the proposed new wording for subsection 494(2) is a reasonable attempt to address the fact sequence in that case. I am not sure that an amendment actually is needed, but I respect the intention of that portion of the bill.
The rest of the bill quite surprisingly purports to codify the common law provisions of self-defence and put them in the Criminal Code. I was not aware that these provisions were broken. I always subscribe to the adage that if something is not broken, we should not try to fix it. I am getting the impression that is what is going on with the other aspects of Bill C-60.
Let us go back to the first set of issues involving subsection 494(2) and the unfortunate events surrounding the shoplifting and attempted shoplifting at the Lucky Moose supermarket. That is a real business in the heart of downtown Toronto and is owned by a very fine gentleman, a proprietor and small businessman who is very hard working, as are his employees.
He was confronted by a shoplifter. The particular shoplifter is known to almost everyone who works there. He is a repeat offender and has a record longer than my arm. He is so notorious as a thief that his picture has been placed throughout the neighbourhood on lamp posts. His modus operandi involves going into an area with his bicycle, parking it, stealing something, getting on the bike and whisking away. As I say, he has a very lengthy record. He is before the courts now and probably will be for the foreseeable future, so there is no point in my saying much more than that.
The store involved is one that puts merchandise out front. Sometimes it is vegetables, fruit or flowers. Canadians in large cities will be very familiar with that format of a grocery store or supermarket.
What happened on that particular day was that the thief showed up once, stole merchandise, left in the way I described on the bike, and showed up again later. At that point he was recognized and the shop owner and his employees took steps to apprehend the guy, knowing that he had already stolen once and was preparing to do it again. The guy was apprehended. The outcome was shocking and really quite sad to me and many other people in that the shop owner was charged.
A few weeks ago the court case ended with the charges being dropped. In the meantime, the unfortunate proprietor had to undertake a defence. He had many people in the community supporting him. He had a good legal team. The sad thing was that this law-abiding citizen suddenly, in the course of defending his business, became an accused criminal.
This bothered me a lot at the time. Because it was before the courts there was not a whole lot any of us could do. We just hoped for fair treatment in the courts. That eventually happened, but at what cost to this law-abiding businessman in our community?
In my view, the whole story from start to finish should have been about that businessman, Mr. Chen. It should have been about him and his business and its place in our community, but for reasons I really cannot explain and none of us could, it was not about that. The police changed the story. The police turned him into an alleged criminal and it became a story about the powers of arrest by police versus the citizen. That was just wrong.
I do not know what part of the system went wrong, but I am not alone in saying that whatever went on in the days that followed that event, it did not happen properly. In my view, it was not even in accordance with the law as I read it. I think the police and the prosecutors made a mistake in forcing Mr. Chen to defend himself. I can only say that the police and the prosecutors were doing more to defend their own powers of arrest than they were to protect Mr. Chen and his business.
I say that sadly because in Toronto we have a very good police force. Its motto is “To Serve and Protect”, but one can only ask how much did it serve and protect Mr. Chen in this case. The police turned him into the alleged criminal and it took him a year to clear his name.
Was there a need to change the law? I do not think there was, but I can see the argument that there was. It is quite a normal reaction to say that if the existing state of the law is interpreted by the police as this, we have to change the law. I understand where that is coming from. I am just not sure that the police had the law correctly.
I did a bit of research, and needless to say I had a bit of help doing it. In looking at the law, of course it is related to the common law in that the powers of arrest that citizens have are buried in the common law. They exist. They are real. They are not a fiction. The Criminal Code does not say citizens have the power of arrest. The common law says that citizens have the power of arrest. In fact, citizens had an obligation to effect an arrest in the old days and if they did not make the arrest, they could be fined. Even though we do not fine people now for not making citizens' arrests, the powers are still there and they are referred to, at least indirectly, in our Criminal Code the way it has been worded up to now, and members should keep in mind our Criminal Code is over 100 years old.
In common law, the power of a private person to arrest is limited to treason or a felony that has actually been committed or attempted, or where a breach of the peace has been actually committed or is apprehended, and larceny, theft. Stealing is a felony in common law.
There was no power to arrest for a simple misdemeanour where there was no breach of the peace and where it was not necessary to arrest the offender to prevent the renewal of the act. Members should please recall, as I go through this, that the thief in the real life situation showed up again, apparently to steal again, with his bike, the same modus operandi, the same routine. He showed up again and that is, I repeat, a renewal.
For people who are interested in history, in 1892, the old system of misdemeanour and felony was wiped out and replaced in our Criminal Code and in the British system. However, abolishing the distinction between felonies and misdemeanours at that time had no effect on the principles of arrest without warrant in the common law, at least for breach of the peace.
Section 8 of the current Criminal Code permits all of the common law defences to be used. Citizens should take some comfort in knowing that all of the common law defences that we have had for hundreds of years, going back to the Magna Carta, still exist in the Criminal Code unless they have been explicitly removed, and case law across the country has confirmed that, similar to other jurisdictions.
I will read the current state of this as best I could research it. In the case of a breach of the peace, there is a power to arrest, without warrant, on the part of a citizen where:
(1) a breach of the peace is committed in the presence of the person making the arrest; or
(2) the arrestor reasonably believes that such a breach will be committed in the immediate future by the person arrested although he has not yet committed any breach; or
(3) where a breach has been committed and it is reasonably believed that a renewal of it is threatened.
I just referred to my research here, that is the case of R. v. Howell, which was a British Queen's Bench case.
However, the court dare held that there must be an act done or threatened to be done that either actually harms a person or, in his presence, his property.
In the Lucky Moose supermarket case, there was property and a threatened new breach of the peace, which was the taking, the theft, the larceny in relation to the property of Mr. Chen. That particular line of reasoning does not appear to have shone through in this particular court case but I believe it should have. I believe the prosecutor should have known that. I believe the police should have been told that. Mr. Chen should not have been charged.
In any event, he was charged but, fortunately, the judge who presided, in the end, made the right decision or decisions and we in Toronto have all gone on with our lives.
However, I found two things regrettable. One was the lack of appreciation of the prosecutors and the police of these of common law provisions. If that is the state of the art and our police and prosecutors do not know these common law defences and common law provisions that citizens have been basing their lives on here in our jurisdiction and under our Constitution for over a century, then maybe it is time to rewrite the code. We will write it down for them so they can read something and be satisfied with it.
However, I do regret that all of this transpired when I believe Mr. Chen had a very clear legal case that should have been made. I could not help but think that the police were trying to make the point that arresting people was their job, not the citizen's job. Yes, it is their job to do law enforcement, and they do a very good job of it across the country, but they should never place the citizen in a secondary or second-class role. Citizens, for whom the police work, should always be number one. This particular shop owner, Mr. Chen, up to that point in time, had not done anything wrong. He was just defending his own business. I do not know how the police did not see that. I hope the police understand my words as not being critical of their ongoing work on behalf of all of our communities, but their work in connection with prosecutors ought to be well based on the law.
This legislation seems to be a fix for the section of the Criminal Code that pertains to the facts of this case. Even though I do not feel that it was necessary, I accept that we can amend the code for that.
Accompanying this statutory amendment is a whole rewrite and codification of the law of self-defence under the Criminal Code. As I said earlier, if it is not broken, why are we trying to fix it?
I read one of the sections and it bothered me a bit. I will read the relevant words:
A person is not guilty of an offence if
(a) they either believe on reasonable grounds that they are in peaceable possession of property or are acting under the authority of [some who is]...;
(b) they believe on reasonable grounds that another person...is about to enter...the property...;
(c) the act...is...for the purpose of...preventing the other person from entering the property...;
(d) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.
There are many private properties In a big city. I cannot imagine all of the complications that will arise when we codify this and try to figure out what is reasonable and what is not, how much force someone is allowed to use before somebody steps off the public sidewalk, where the property line is, is it an individual or a corporation that owns the property, is it a condominium corporation, is it a landlord or is it rented property.
The government has not explained why it feels the need to rework and codify these common law provisions in the Criminal Code. The danger in doing it are that it will codify a part of the common law but not all of it or it will go too far, or it will not think of every fact situation in having codified the part of the common law that seems to be working reasonably well generally for us. By codifying it, the government is preordaining and structuring a result involving a sequence of facts that nobody ever thought of. We would then have to amend the code again because nobody ever thought of that particular set of circumstances.
I will be looking for answers from the government. It really has not stated why it felt it was necessary to write these new sections, to codify the common law self-defence provisions in the Criminal Code.
The minister said that the list of factors codifies well-recognized features of many self-defence situations and will help guide judges and juries in applying the new law. Is it new law or is it just old law codified? The government should tell us what needs to be fixed before we walk down this road of codifying something that has worked pretty well for us under our Constitution the right of self-defence. Everybody has a pretty good gut feeling for what it is and it has worked for us for over 100 years, maybe even 200 or 300 years.
I will be looking for those answers in the debate and I will be scrutinizing this bill very carefully at committee.