Mr. Speaker, hard-working store owners trying to protect their own property should never be punished as criminals and the Criminal Code should not provide opportunities for that.
Since the David Chen Lucky Moose case, which I will go into a bit more, there was another instance in my riding. On Bloor Street, close to Euclid Avenue, there is a very nice restaurant called Maroli, which is owned by Mr. Naveen Polapady. Recently he faced multiple assault charges after confronting an apparent thief trying to steal his property.
I will not go into long detail as to what occurred during this incident, but his restaurant had been repeatedly broken into. He had called police. That did not have much impact. He felt the police had not been able to protect him. In the instance there was a struggle between he and the apparent thief and a noxious substance was thrown at the thief. It was a spice called masala. Some of my colleagues may know this noxious substance. It makes very good chicken. It is quite unbelievable that this spice could be called a noxious substance. Mr. Polapady was charged with assault.
Obviously, the law needs to be clarified and changed. Hard-working restaurant owners, such as in this case, should not be punished for trying to protect their restaurants.
The case of David Chen, owner of the Lucky Moose, occurred on May 23, 2009. He had been robbed quite a few times. The Lucky Moose is in my riding in Chinatown in downtown Toronto. His store is a very popular place where a lot of people shop.
A security camera showed that Anthony Bennett, a thief with a 32-year criminal record dating back to 1976, stole $60 worth of plants, which are called money plants, from Mr. Chen's store. Because the thief was not able to carry as many plants as he could, he came back an hour later to try to steal some more. He admitted that was what he wanted to do. Four or five were not enough. He wanted more.
Mr. Chen, after calling the police many times that past year, finally had it. He gave chase, caught the fellow and held him in a van. One could see bruises on Mr. Chen's body because Anthony Bennett had punched him. He was held and then police arrived four minutes later. Mr. Chen was charged with four charges: assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement and possession of a concealed weapon.
What was the concealed weapon? It was a box cutter, which any grocery store owner would have. They have to cut open cardboard boxes in order to get to the apples and oranges in those boxes. He carries a box cutter with him. He never used it and was not prepared to use it. He just had it because he was a grocery store owner. He was charged with possession of a concealed weapon.
As for forceable confinement, he wanted to ensure the police would come and arrest this person. Citizen's arrest is all about that. However, he was charged with kidnapping and forceable confinement.
The RCMP claimed that Robert Dziekanski had a stapler and that was an offensive weapon also. However, I digress.
Crown prosecutor, Colleen Hepburn, then offered to drop the kidnapping and assault charges if Chen pleaded guilty to forceable confinement and possession of a weapon. For this, he would receive an 18-month suspended sentence and a criminal record. Mr. Chen refused, and I am glad he did. The kidnapping and possession charges were dropped anyway. One of the reasons I suspect they were dropped was because it entitled the defendants to a jury.
By the way, Mr. Chen was not the only one charged. His cousin and his nephew, who assisted him, were also charged. It caused a tremendous amount of grief in the extended family. Mr. Chen spent a night in jail. His wife was worried sick.
The kidnapping charge was dropped. I think maybe the prosecutor was a bit worried that if there were a jury trial, Chen's peers would do the sensible thing and find everyone not guilty. Therefore, the two remaining charges were supposed to be heard in October by a judge sitting alone.
One might ask, what happened to Anthony Bennett? He received 90-days jail time, reduced to 30 days on the condition that he testify against David Chen, which he did.
What actually happened? The Criminal Code allows a citizen to arrest someone if caught committing a crime. It is a law that goes back to ancient times. Since then, surveillance cameras have been invented, so instead of a storekeeper standing guard all day, we have security cameras.
I have been in the Lucky Moose many times. Mr. Chen had installed large numbers of security cameras. Any reasonable judge would modernize the concept of citizen's arrest, including in Chen's situation, and accept camera evidence as sufficient grounds for later arrest. However, the act now states that one must arrest a person while he or she is committing a crime. If people are arrested inside the store, they have not actually committed the crime yet because they could say they were about to pay. If they do not pay at the cash register, which is right by the door, and leave the store, by that time they are outside which means the owner would have to give chase. This is what David Chen did. However, because it was after the actual crime being committed, the Criminal Code allowed police to arrest him.
The result was a lot of emotional and financial hardship. The case finally went to trial after a long time. By October 29, 2010, a year and a half later, the judge finally found David Chen, his cousin and his nephew not guilty. However, this was after a huge amount of money was spent on lawyer fees.
Given that the profit margins in these stores are extremely slim, David Chen did not ask for it, but the community came together, had fundraising banquets and drives to help him pay his lawyer fees. The community also said that the law did not protect hard-working store owners and that it must be changed. There was a petition with 10,000 signatures on it.
The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism promised some time in 2009 that the Conservative government would take action. One year later, nothing happened. I then introduced a private member's bill, which I termed as the Lucky Moose bill. Actually the moose was not that lucky on May 23, but I called it the Lucky Moose bill. The bill would allowed for a flexible interpretation that, as long as the citizens' arrests were done within a reasonable amount of time, the store owners would be entitled to make them.
Unfortunately, nothing happened in the fall of 2010. I tried to push my private member's bill forward. It was on February 17, 2011, that the Prime Minister promised to introduce a government bill.
It is unfortunate it has taken so long. The bill passed first and second reading, but died when the election was called. Therefore, I am quite happy that another version of it, Bill C-26, which is very similar to my original Lucky Moose private member's bill, is now before the House at third reading. I hope in a few days the bill will pass the House of Commons into the Senate for approval and become law. It cannot happen soon enough.
Amending the Criminal Code would only assist in a certain way. To a certain extent it would clarify the law. At the justice committee, there was a diverse group of witnesses, whether it was the Canadian Convenience Store Association, the Elizabeth Fry Society, Professional Security Agencies, Quebec Law Association, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Police Association. They all agreed that this bill was good, but there were some flaws in it.
Our critic introduced nine amendments. Two of the amendments were successful and seven, unfortunately, were not. I really regret that. We did manage to get a related amendment passed, which would require a court to consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act. The second amendment would place a greater onus on the courts to consider the history of the relationship between individuals.
There is a great need for different sections of the Criminal Code to be updated. Even though at the end of the day seven of the amendments of the New Democrats were defeated, we still believe the bill will give an adequate update to legislation and that is why we support it.
My colleague is right in that we should also look at other issues connected to the case. We need better community-based policing. A store owner should not have to wait so long for the police to arrive. There needs to be much faster response time by police officers and they need to know their own community so they are familiar with the challenges some of the smaller store owners face. They also need to understand who are the regulars in the community who commit these crimes over and over again.
If we have community-based policing, then there would be a regular number of police who would become familiar with the neighbourhood. By and large, a lot of the people who are stealing are from the neighbourhood. The store owners who suffer from these kinds of offences and are victimized have by and large been in the community for a long time. They own small shops and cannot afford to hire private security guards, which is why they occasionally, unfortunately, resort to citizen's arrest or self-defence.
If the police had a much faster response time, then people like David Chen would not have to take the law into their own hands. When the charges were finally dropped and he was asked by the media whether he would do it again, give chase and perform a citizen's arrest, had he known what would happen, Mr. Chen said, “No, I would probably wait for the police to come”.
I think 99% of store owners would probably give that kind of response. They would rather have the police come to deal with a criminal offence. The problem is that there is not a faster police response time.
On the other side, we have a person like Bennett, who was living in the community and is not anymore. He was not able to get into treatment programs initially, maybe in the late 1970s or early 1980s when he started committing crimes because he was addicted to drugs.
I do not know whether he has any mental health issues, but I do know that a lot of these criminals who commit theft and break and enter are addicted to drugs, and others have mental health issues, and yet we have a system in Canada where we do not have sufficient mental health treatment programs, especially within the communities.
If people have access to drug treatment or mental health programs, they can get clean and are able to start again. However, once they come back to the community, because there is not a community-based program to support them where they live, some of these folks end up re-offending, end up being hooked on drugs again and end up committing petty theft, victimizing the local store owners.
That is why the NDP believes that aside from amending the Criminal Code, aside from helping hard-working store owners to protect their own property, we really need to be smart on crime. We need to find some ways to have better community-based policing. We must have community-based treatment programs, drug treatment and mental health support, because if we do not do that we will end up throwing a lot of people in jail who will come out and re-offend over and over again. People like Naveen Polapady, a restaurant owner, and David Chen, a grocery store owner, will continue to be victimized.
To conclude, I am very happy this bill is finally in front of us for third reading. I hope it will pass without any problems and that the Senate approves it so that at the end of the day David Chen and others can feel that justice is on their side, not against them.