Mr. Speaker, I am going to use most of my time speaking about Bill C-60. I will open by summarizing what I think the pith and substance of the bill is, namely, two sections of the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code is a large book that stuck together all kinds of laws in the 1890s after Confederation. The book is that old. It is a compendium that started out with a bunch of general provisions, including regarding cattle stealing, treason and things that we do not see a lot of these days; high treason indeed is not something that we often see. The code has often been amended, however, and appended to it are all of the fact situations that we have lived through as a country and community over our great history.
What we are seeing today is a call for two things, the modernization of the code with respect to two parts of a citizen's life, that of self-defence against an offence and the powers they may have on behalf of the state in arresting or stopping the action of a fellow citizen. Thus the bill deals with what we commonly call self-defence and citizen's arrest. We are looking either to modernize the general provisions that have been around a long time and/or are reacting to a specific fact situation or a number of them that have happened in this country.
We have to step back as parliamentarians and say that it is always good to modernize or harmonize the law, in this case the code and its antiquated language, with respect to what is happening now. There is no question about that. It is not always a good thing to have the Criminal Code or any law chase after a particular fact situation, no matter how compelling the reason is.
Whatever is enacted to react to a specific situation had better go through the prism of the general welfare and good of communities so that it fits every other fact situation in these two important areas of self-defence and citizen's arrest.
The two aspects, self-defence and citizen's arrest, are so different from each another that they are about 400 sections apart in the code. The self-defence provisions, which are among our oldest provisions, are in the 30s and 40s sections of the code, and the so-called citizen's arrest provision is way up in section 494. They are very different. However, they are tied together in this instance here, because what we are really reacting to as parliamentarians are a number of fact situations where specific individuals, shopkeepers or small businessmen or homeowners, have taken action to protect either their property or themselves and, in many instances, detained individuals.
It is extremely important to look at it from the point of view of asking people that if this were to happen to them, would they want that protection in the law. Let us look at both citizens. There is a citizen who did something wrong by taking goods from a shopkeeper, from another citizen, which is wrong. If we were to say there were nothing in the code that covered that theft or public nuisance, I would say we ought to put something in it.
However, let us not look at this in isolation. There are various sections covering these. If there is theft, nuisance, harassment, racist acts or violent acts, these are now covered by the Criminal Code. Let us be clear about that. There are provisions that cover the fact situations we have all been listening to and talking about today.
The question is, in the absence of action by the state, should a person be able to stop or prevent the action as it affects his or her personal safety or property?
Again, those sections are now in the code. They do allow citizens to take the law, as we say quite frequently and pejoratively, into their own hands. The Criminal Code now provides for that. Anyone who says there are no provisions in the code for a person to apprehend and stop another citizen from doing something is not telling the whole truth. Those provisions exist.
The issue is how far should those powers go.
This is a delegation of a state power. The state has the right, and the obligation in some cases, to arrest an individual who is breaking the law. In the section in the 490s, as I mentioned, about citizen's arrest, a citizen who is not a peace officer can also undertake that task that has not been performed by a peace officer.
We would expect, therefore, that if that were to be the case, it would have to be done with great care, greater care than by a peace officer, who also has to provide reasonable grounds for arresting someone and to abide by all the laws, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The onus is even higher on someone who takes the citizen's arrest route to protecting him or herself, or property.
What we are trying to do here is have a debate as to whether the law as it sits is adequate, or whether we need to expand that law so greatly that judges and police officers would even have some doubts as to whether it would lead to increased vigilantism and the taking of the law into one's own hands.
I do not think there is anyone on any side of the House who is going to say that this is a simple question. It is a question of degree. The degree to which someone takes the law into their own hands on behalf of the state to protect themselves or their property is not a simple question; it is a metered question, a question that depends very much on the facts.
There was a saying in my days of reading the law that cases do not stand for grand propositions but turn neatly on their facts. That is really what we are talking about here. In the case of a shopkeeper in Toronto who was terrorized and humiliated and who had seen his livelihood, and perhaps his own personal safety, put in peril on many occasions, he decided that he knew who the perpetrator was and that he would apprehend the perpetrator after the fact.
What we are finding here is that if that action had been taken at the time of the incident, he would not have been charged with unlawful confinement. It is academic, but he probably would have had every right under the section as it now exists to take his citizen's arrest role seriously and have it ratified by police officers, prosecutors and the judges, if it have ever gone that far.
When this case really first came up, I knew many members of Parliament, and not just from the greater Toronto area and all parties, who felt very badly that this shopkeeper who had merely been defending his security had been charged. I do not think there is a person who did not feel for that citizen of Canada.
The question at that time seemed simple, I suppose, to me. I thought that at some point, on the volition of the government or that of the opposition or someone else's, we would change the Criminal Code, as I mentioned in my first remarks, so that it would evolve into a modern document. I thought that we would respond to this by suggesting that a reasonable time could elapse from the time of the offence to the time of the apprehension and that we would provide not just that defence but also the ability to apprehend someone under the citizen's arrest provision. I really thought that was maybe all we would be facing with respect to this whole area.
Let us remember that this could not have been a burning issue for the government before that incident in Toronto. Let us recall, as we do profoundly on this side, that the government has been in power for over five years and has had multiple opportunities to bring forward justice legislation. It has brought forward many justice bills that it has killed itself. At no time until Bill C-60, some five years after coming into power on a law and order agenda, a putative or Pyrrhic law and order agenda, did the government do anything with respect to these two issues in the code. It did nothing. These were not burning issues.
From year one to year five of a mandate, there is a fact situation that all members of Parliament react to in a positive way. That is, they want to help, and the Conservatives came forward with Bill C-60. However, the bill does not make that little change to the code that would fit the fact situation and make the criminal law more modern and responsive. The bill perhaps goes too far, which is the argument being made as bill moves along to committee.
I say this because the Prime Minister visited Chinatown in Toronto, as reported in The Toronto Star, where he said that previous governments had refrained from stiffening the law because:
they [had] wanted to avoid vigilantism, which is a genuine threat to the rule of law.
However, he added that many Canadians believed that “the right balance [had] been lost in the justice system“ and that there was a sense that criminals were protected at the expense of victims.
I had my researcher look back to see if there were any quotes specifically on this aspect of vigilantism and self-defence and the provisions for citizen's arrest. However, there had been no comments made by the Prime Minister or his justice minister on reforming this law, until this fact occurred.
So we have a Prime Minister who is commenting on previous governments. I would say that the indictment is against the Prime Minister and his various justice ministers who, for five years, have done nothing about this problem, which they seem to think existed for some time. It is a bit misleading for the Prime Minister to say that in a political scene, of course. However, he also wanted to make the police feel secure by saying at that time that the:
—police are the first line of protection against crime—
—which everyone would agree with—
[And that] Police officers will continue to have the responsibility to preserve and maintain public peace as Canada’s first and foremost criminal law enforcement body.
That is fine, but what this act would go ahead and do is perhaps to give people the view that as citizens they are now going to have more powers to prevent wrongdoing as they see it on their property. This is not me saying this, but the deputy chief of the Halifax Regional Police service, not that of a minor, inconsequential backwoods or half-professional force but one of the best police forces in Canada. The deputy chief of the Halifax Regional Police said of the law as it is that:
It doesn’t give any great power of citizens to go out and grab people on the street.
He said that as part of a round table discussion with the Minister of Justice at the time. Throughout the article by the Canadian Press reporting what he said, he was very cautious in suggesting that any accretions to public arrest powers should be exercised very conservatively, which is not a word that I use very often. He said that these were not matters that people should engage in without some caution. He said that the law enforcement agencies had enough of a challenge in teaching experienced officers how to interpret the law, and wondered if it meant now that they would have to go out and give citizens courses on how to perform a citizen's arrest.
Experts outside the government and outside of Parliament have also recognized that the rules around self-defence, the extension of citizen's arrest, tell us that if someone performs an action in reaction to an assault or an invasion or perceived invasion or threat to personal property, he or she might act in a physically, emotionally, or other harmful way to another person.
The person would then have to have a defence to not be charged or convicted, and that is generally in those provisions that I mentioned in the low 30s and 40s of the Criminal Code on self-defence.
The idea that one could tinker with self-defence on a situational basis is rather appalling. The police officers who participate in round tables do not come to those round tables with written amendments to the laws that the government then puts up on the television screen the next day after consulting with Department of Justice lawyers.
I heard today at committee that a number of provincial prosecutors who were talking about amendments to a bill were not consulted on the bill as presented. There is something wrong when ministers of justice and prime ministers do not consult police officers and crown prosecutors when amending legislation.
We have had experts from the police and prosecutorial communities say that because each case is unique with widely diverse and sometimes contradictory evidence, no broad policy statement is intended with respect to the use of a firearm in the defence of one's home, for instance. This was in response to a situation where certain charges were dropped against a person who was defending his home. This tells us that these are very complex issues.
While the government has put forth a bill that seemingly reacts to a very small set of circumstances, it has in fact opened up a Pandora's box that must be studied very vigilantly and diligently at committee to make sure that the box is not too wide open.
As I said, everyone has sympathy for the shopkeeper in Toronto. This is one of those issues that unifies all parties. I heard the NDP speak eloquently about the situation, as have the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. However, instead of bringing a bouquet, the Conservatives bring an entire flower garden to the issue. It is confusing. Are we just responding to a particular set of circumstances for which minor amendments to the code would suffice, or are the Conservatives trying to open up a very dangerous Pandora's box that might lead certain people to believe that the law of Canada has changed?
I saw the Prime Minister on television for the usual 6.8 seconds. He said that we were allowed to take that law, and we do not really need the charter, but if someone goes across the corner of our property with a Ski-Doo, we can defend that.
This is not an urban or rural issue. It is not a male or female issue. It is not an issue that divides on the basis of race, religion, or in what part of the country one lives. It is the Criminal Code of Canada and it has to apply in every fact circumstance.
The good people of Grand Manan Island in my province of New Brunswick had a problem several years ago. People from the mainland were going there and selling drugs to their young people. They frequented or lived in a house which the community felt was the centre of this activity. It is alleged that the people got together as a community and burned the house down and ran those people off the island.
As a father of three young children and a former mayor of a city, I understand local politics. I understand about protecting the community. On one level we would say, good for them that they cleaned up the community. However, we might recoil and think that if an illegal activity was going on, where were the police? Why were the police not able to do the job that should been done?
We might ask the question of the police and they might say that they are severely under-resourced, that the troops the RCMP in rural New Brunswick were supposed to get did not come, that the resources they are supposed to have are not there and it is a rural and remote community and they just cannot enforce the laws that are on the books. We would have an understanding of that.
However, to open up the law to let people burn other people's houses down is not necessarily a solution. In the trial sentencing, if there was wide open judicial discretion in this case, a judge might take into consideration the volition of the community and, while saying it was wrong, be a little merciful on the sentence. In fact, that is what happened in my province and it showed that the system worked. It is under-resourced, but it works.
However, not all of this law is good law and we will take a good look at it at committee. I want to commend those who spoke in favour of the good provisions that helped the store owner in Toronto.