Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-60, which came to Parliament rather oddly. The Prime Minister went to Toronto to make an announcement about a man who had been arrested. This government is known for its piecemeal legislation. In other words, if something happens in Toronto, Winnipeg or Vancouver, the government suddenly jumps on it and introduces a bill to amend the Criminal Code.
The problem is that they go about it all wrong. That is the first problem. They amend sections of the Criminal Code. If it is not parole, then it is the parole act, at which point they amend sections on probation, release, etc. They jump from pillar to post and Bill C-60 is no different. We are going to explain the problem to those watching us. It happens. It concerns section 494 of the Criminal Code, which states:
494. (2) Any one who is
(a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or
(b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property,
may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.
This where the problem begins.
Allow me to explain. Let us just say you own a home or a convenience store, as in the case that led to the proposed amendment now before us. The convenience store owner was robbed. The owner saw the robber some time later and, when he recognized the robber, arrested him. The problem is he does not have the right to do that. It was the poor store owner, Mr. Chen, from Toronto, who was arrested, brought to court, charged with illegal arrest and sentenced. It makes no sense; we know that. However, the legislation says, “may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property”, in other words, the property he legitimately owns or the property regarding which he is authorized by the owner.
Therefore, you can arrest someone who comes to steal from your convenience store. If you are the clerk at a convenience store and a thief tries to take your money from the cash register, you can arrest him because the law says that you can arrest someone who is “committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property”. It is not a problem for one person to arrest another who is committing an offence: the former will never be charged. The problem arises, as in the case of the poor man from Toronto, when you arrest someone for a crime committed earlier. The police were taking so long to arrive that he thought it would be quicker for him to arrest the thief. Unfortunately for Mr. Chen, the thief was acquitted because it was an unlawful arrest, and the poor man found himself being charged with unlawful arrest.
Up to this point, it is a good idea to amend section 494 because people are unhappy, with good cause, as they feel that they cannot even arrest someone who has comes to rob them at home.
But a subtle point is being introduced in Bill C-60 and the proposed new subsection 494(2):
The owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property and...
This is where the problem arises.
(a) they make the arrest at that time;
It is clear that if someone is robbing a convenience store, they can be arrested. That is not a problem. However, this is what they want us to pass into law:
(b) they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.
That is going a bit far. This means that the owner of a convenience store, to use the same example, can arrest someone who steals money from the register. This happens often. I had many clients who went into a convenience store to steal. Convenience stores have a strange habit of always putting cases of beer on sale near the door, where anyone can see that a big case of 24 costs $24.92 instead of the regular price. Someone opens the door while another person steals the case of beer. You could say that the convenience store owners are asking for trouble.
If you see someone in the process of stealing, you can arrest them, no problem. However, the bill adds the following: “...they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds....” Those two points are important. Not only do they have to make the arrest within a reasonable time, but they have to believe that the police or a peace officer would not be able to get there. That is asking a lot of someone.
The Bloc Québécois is in favour of sending this bill to be studied in committee. We think that section 494 of the Criminal Code should be amended. This poor man arrested someone, knowing that this individual had come to rob him. That happens often. To come back to my example, there is a sale: 24 beers for $12.98. That will surely attract thieves. One of the thieves opens the door of the convenience store and the other grabs the case of beer. The owner of the store did not see him steal it, but after two minutes he realizes that he is missing a case of beer. He opens the door, looks outside and sees someone leaving with a case of beer. Under the current section 494, he could not arrest the individual because he did not catch him in the act. That is what happened in Toronto, but the individual decided that he would still arrest the thief and then ended up in trouble.
We believe that a solution can be found so that this section allows an individual to arrest someone. Clearly, if the owner does not immediately arrest someone who is stealing a case of beer, and if the police are not around the corner, it is over. Those are the two instances where something can be done.
However, we have issues with the bill. If it were only about amending section 494, all of the parties would have passed Bill C-60 to rectify that particular issue quickly. It is a Conservative thing. They are using Bill C-60 to introduce a series of amendments to sections 34 through 42 of the Criminal Code, which have to do with self-defence. And they are way out in left field on this.
We cannot support them in that. There are a number of amendments proposed for sections 34 through 42. It is worth reading some of them. Anyone who has practised criminal law, for the defence or the Crown, anyone who has argued a case will know what this means.
Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.
Subsection 34(1) is very easy to understand. If you are attacked, you have the right to defend yourself. But if someone punches you and you use a baseball bat or pool cue to defend yourself, in a bar for example, and you cause grievous bodily harm or even death, that is clearly not a case of self-defence. Someone who is attacked on the side of the road has the right to defend himself. Everyone has the right to defend himself against a violent attack, as long as he does not intend to cause death or grievous bodily harm.
They are trying to force us to accept certain things. The bill would amend section 34 with a new subsection 34(1), which reads:
A person is not guilty of an offence if
(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
And there is more. Listen to this:
(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and
(c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.
They dare to add another amendment:
(2) In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court may consider, among other factors,
(a) the nature of the force or threat;
(b) the extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;
(c) the person’s role in the incident;
(d) whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;
(e) the size, age and gender of the parties to the incident;
I could go on. What they would have us swallow makes no sense. It is clear we will never, ever accept that.
They want to put every ruling from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Quebec Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal for British Columbia that ever defined self-defence into the Criminal Code.
With all due respect to the Conservatives, I must say that the concept of self-defence has evolved over time. The definition of self-defence is no longer as open as we thought. We have taken into account the force necessary to repel the attack if, in so doing, the person did not intend to cause death or serious bodily harm. If that is not clear, then it is up to the court to decide. It is not up to us to define the concept of self-defence for the court.
This would also be added:
(f) the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat;
(g) the nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force;
It does not make sense to try to define self-defence in the Criminal Code. We cannot accept that. The courts have given rulings and when people were dissatisfied, they filed an appeal. If they were still dissatisfied, the case went before the Supreme Court, which established, once and for all, the definition of self-defence and how self-defence can be invoked by defendants.
We cannot accept all of this. There are examples of legitimate self-defence. Here is one such example. One of my clients goes into a convenience store—this has happened a few times—except he does not know that this is the fifth time the store has been robbed. Nor does my client know that the store owner has a 12-gauge. For the benefit of my Conservative friends, a 12-gauge is a weapon, a shotgun. So he has a 12-gauge shotgun under the counter. The owner tells himself that this is the last time someone is going to rob his store. My client enters the store and, yes, he goes about assaulting the store owner to steal from the cash register. I am not saying that my client is a charming man or that he should win a Governor General's award. That is not what I am saying. I am saying that my client goes into a convenience store and robs it. He has no weapon. He leans over to reach into the cash register to take the money. What does the store owner do? He pulls out the 12-gauge shotgun and shoots him. He does not shoot him in the head. He does not shoot him in the heart. He shoots him in the legs to make sure this guy remembers him. He does not want to kill the robber. That is what he told the court.
With all due respect, I do not think that this qualifies as self-defence. The court agreed. I defended the accused. The owner came and said all this before the court. Clearly the judge said that his behaviour did not constitute self-defence. What is self-defence? I repeat: self-defence is “repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself”. When someone shoots another person in the leg with a 12-gauge shotgun, the courts assume that the person did so with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm. In this example, the man was convicted.
Bill C-60 is well-intentioned in aiming to solve the problem of defence of property. However, a distinction must be made between the defence of property and self-defence. Self-defence applies when an individual is the victim of a personal attack. Motorist A is driving down the highway—and this has happened on more than one occasion—and is cut off by another motorist, motorist B. Motorist A does not like this. He pursues the other vehicle and cuts the driver off. Motorist B parks his vehicle and hits motorist A with a baseball bat. This is not self-defence.
What was well-intentioned risks going nowhere because clearly we are not going to agree to amend sections 34 to 42 on self-defence. There is too much in there. The courts have ruled on the definition of self-defence, on the defence of self-defence. We have to let the courts do their job.
However, and I will end on this point, the idea of amending section 494 of the Criminal Code is well-intentioned and we can work on amending this section so that it does what society is asking for.