This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #109 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was person.

Topics

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, in my own riding of Cape Breton—Canso, we had a rash of break-ins over a period of time in the Howie Centre, Sydney Forks area. We were fortunate. A member of the community, Seana Niedzielski, called a community meeting. There was a very good turnout. In conjunction with the Cape Breton Regional Police Services, she set up a neighbourhood watch program.

I am nervous about this piece of legislation because of something shared with us that evening. Police officer Paul Ratchford said that when people see someone trying to steal their barbecue, their initial reaction is to go out and confront the person. However, if someone is stealing something out of the backyard, he or she is probably not a very rational person. The individual may be high on drugs, such as cocaine or crystal meth. Those who confront these people are putting themselves at risk.

My question to my colleague is, should there be an education piece to go along with this legislation so that we do not unleash vigilantes across the country? There is a proper response for someone who sees a crime being perpetrated on his or her property. There is a rational process that should be pursued.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, I agree. It is an issue of what a reasonable person should do when faced with the situation, as my colleague has expressed. What do we do with someone who has indeed—

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order please. There was a question raised and the hon. member is answering.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, I know my colleague from Cape Breton. It is a wonderful part of the world. Next to my homeland of Scotland, it reminds me of being home when I come to Cape Breton. I have been there many times.

As the member described, if someone came into my backyard to steal my barbecue, he is right that the first response sometimes is to head to the door and prevent it. However, as I said earlier, I ought to take half a step back and question why I would go out. The person is bigger than me. Perhaps as was described, he or she may indeed be under the influence of a substance or may have a weapon. Therefore, the first response should be to dial 911 and have the police come. We should not take it upon ourselves when indeed we do not have to because we are not being physically confronted.

The issue is different if we are in a business and someone comes into that business or our home and attacks us or one of our family members. That is a huge difference. If someone is outside our home stealing property, such as in my case when folks decided to help themselves to the material in my big shed, that is a different situation altogether.

Therefore, I would implore Canadians not to take action themselves when indeed the action they should be taking is to have the police forces take the action on their behalf. That is why we have them. They do a good job. They are well trained and well prepared to take that type of action.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I appreciated the hon. member for Welland's speech. I support and share his rather serious concerns about the fact that corner store owners and others can decide to take justice into their own hands.

In committee, we heard from representatives of the Association of Professional Security Agencies. Most of their presentation involved asking the government to give the association more authority in order to allow the police to take care of more important matters.

I would be curious to hear my colleague's opinion in this regard. It seems to me that the training security guards receive is not necessarily the same as that received by police officers. This is one of our concerns about this bill—it allows a witness or the person he appoints to make an arrest in lieu of the police. Are we therefore not allowing many other people to take on a peace officer role?

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, clearly we do not want to create another quasi police force. We have a police force, whether it be the RCMP, regional police or provincial police, depending on the province and where we live across this great country. Day in and day out, we have officers who do the hard work that we ask them to do.

We need to ensure that the folks who are in security agencies make sure that the property is secure, that folks are not trespassing, that the doors are locked at night, that parking lots are clear, and that if folks get hurt or fall ill they call the appropriate authorities. In the case of a crime being perpetrated, their call to the appropriate authorities would be 911 to have the police come. They should not become an adjunct police force looking for additional powers to take on the role of a police officer, when indeed we have them available to us, as do they.

This bill should be about the unintended consequences for me as an individual when I do not have a security person looking after my house. When someone enters my door and I am confronted, I have the choice to either fight or flee. In all cases, when one can flee, one should flee.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg Centre. I actually prefer to speak before him, rather than after him, because I know he has a great speech.

I want to take a couple of minutes before I speak to the bill to say I had a chance to attend a function on Friday that was organized by some very young people in my riding. It gives me great hope for Canada when I see young people being involved in our community and setting an example for other Canadians. These young people have managed to raise $10,000 in a couple of months for BC Children's Hospital.

I just want to read out their names: Prineet Ghuman, Harmeet Nijjar, Mandy Badwal and Sharon Uppal.

These young people are in high school. I want to thank them for taking a leadership role in our community and raising funds for the BC Children's Hospital.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, today I rise to speak to Bill C-26, which amends subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code, dealing with citizen's arrest.

First I want to say that the New Democrats support the bill. It is actually something that my fellow New Democrat, the member for Trinity—Spadina, had been advocating for quite some time.

Half of the bill proposes measures that her private member's bill had previously called for. My colleague introduced that legislation, which was known as the Lucky Moose bill, in response to an incident that happened in the city of Toronto in 2009. David Chen, the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto, apprehended and restrained a man, Anthony Bennett, a few hours after he had stolen from his store. When police arrived, they charged Mr. Chen with kidnapping, carrying a dangerous weapon—which was a box cutter, which most grocery store workers would carry normally—assault and forcible confinement. Crown prosecutors later dropped the kidnapping charge, but proceeded with the charges of forcible confinement and assault.

According to the Criminal Code as it is currently written, a property owner can only make a citizen's arrest if the alleged wrongdoer is caught in the act. Clearly, this portion of the Criminal Code needed to be changed. My colleague saw that and introduced her private member's bill, and the government followed suit with its own very similar bill.

What surprises me most about this bill is that the Conservatives are proposing something in the realm of public safety that actually makes sense. It is very surprising that they are proposing something that is sensible, because what we have seen from the government, from the Conservatives' crime agenda, certainly does not make any sense at all. Most of the time the Conservatives seem to be living in some kind of alternative reality, completely devoid of factual information and common sense when it comes to crime.

Normally, instead of answering critical questions about a reckless public safety agenda that is destined for failure, the Minister of Public Safety has preferred to hurl accusations and insults across the floor, such as standing in the House and accusing me of supporting child molesters because I questioned the complete failure on the side of the government to estimate the cost of its reckless crime agenda.

Sadly, we know that the facts do not really matter to the government. In Senate committee hearings on Bill C-10, the public safety minister told senators to ignore the facts. He said, “I don't know if the statistics demonstrate that crime is down. I'm focused on danger”.

That was not the first time we have been told to ignore the facts by Conservatives when it comes to crime. In response to questions about Bill C-10, the Minister of Justice said, “We are not governing on the basis of the latest statistics”. When it comes to public safety, ignoring the facts seems to be in the Conservatives' talking points.

Of course they want us to ignore the facts, because the facts are on our side. The facts will tell us that their crime agenda will cripple our criminal justice system and will not make our communities any safer.

I am happy to see that the Conservatives actually support something worthwhile, Bill C-26, but this, unfortunately, is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to the Conservatives' approach to crime. While I support this bill, which has been improved by NDP amendments in committee, I remain very concerned about the safety of our communities across this wonderful country of ours.

The NDP priority in reviewing this legislation was to ensure that it did not encourage vigilante justice or people putting their own safety at risk. While we understand that there are concerns about these matters in relation to citizen's arrest, self-defence and defence of property, we have determined that the bill proposes acceptable changes.

It should be noted that all three of these concepts already exist in the Criminal Code. Therefore, the changes made by this bill would only modify aspects of our current laws and do not introduce anything radically new.

The justice committee heard from a diverse group of witnesses while considering this legislation, including the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Police Association, academics and practising lawyers. Although New Democrats have already supported the intent of this legislation, we have brought forward a number of amendments in accordance with recommendations of witnesses. One successful amendment we brought forward will place a greater onus on the courts to consider the history of the relationship between the individuals.

We recognize the great need for these sections of the Criminal Code to be updated, and although most of our amendments were defeated, we still believe this bill accomplishes an adequate update to the legislation and we support this bill. Also, legal experts the committee heard from were, in general, supportive of the proposed changes to the self-defence and defence of property sections of the Criminal Code. They all acknowledged that these clarifications were absolutely necessary.

In conclusion, I want to thank my colleague from Trinity—Spadina for her work on this issue and for bringing such a worthwhile issue to the House. I also want to thank the minister and members across the aisle for their support to bring this initiative forward. As I have mentioned, we do not often see anything sensible coming from that side of the House when it comes to crime. In fact, when it comes to crime, the Conservatives are usually detached from being sensibile altogether and pursue an approach that has been tried and has failed.

I hope to see the members opposite keen to adopt more New Democratic ideas in the future. We have many that I think make a lot of sense and are aimed at making our communities safer for all Canadians to live in.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. He expressed a sense of unease that I think many of us feel. Citizens, small business owners and people protecting their property have a right to ensure that they can stop crimes, if possible, but we see the habit of certain right-wing governments to fan the flames, in a sense, as we have seen in the United States, and to create the sense and expectation that citizens can go further. We have heard about the horrific murder of young Trayvon Martin in Florida, thanks to a piece of legislation that not only allowed for vigilantes but said that if vigilantes feel in any way that they need to shoot somebody, they are able to.

That is a far cry from this bill, but the question we are grappling with is how we can ensure checks and balances so that citizens do not get themselves hurt by thinking they should be able to intervene in situations where they should not intervene—police tell us all the time to step back and be careful—but can intervene in a way that will not result in their being unfairly penalized. There is a very narrow line between what is acceptable and not acceptable.

I want to ask my hon. colleague if he feels comfortable that the House understands where that division point is.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I understand the issues that small businesses are facing because I have a small business in Surrey. The member is right, we do not need to fan any flames on this issue. This is a common-sense issue. Businesses and citizens need to ensure that they use the existing services we have to protect themselves. Instead of relying on vigilantism, we need to ensure we use the resources we have, such as calling the police, ensuring their services are used before any measures that individuals may take. It is a tool that will help business owners move forward and protect their properties.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We are very pleased to have the benefit of his knowledge in this matter.

I especially appreciated that my colleague pointed out that Bill C-26—as I mentioned in my speech this morning—is an example of the work we can accomplish, even with the members opposite, when there is a little goodwill, instead of continual gags, time allocation motions and so forth. This bill is a fine example. We were able to discuss it without being told that it had to be passed at all costs in a certain time frame. There were discussions and debates, which were a little heated at times, but it was all done for the well-being of Canadians, the people we represent.

My colleague was also a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety, where we saw how difficult it can be sometimes to understand this government's reasoning. It accepted the bill introduced by our colleague for Trinity—Spadina. However, does he think that we will ever again have this type of co-operation from the government?

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I believe that Canadians expect us to work together across the aisle, and they also expect us to make rules, regulations and laws that are common sense, that protect and help Canadians in their day-to-day lives and that are backed with facts and figures. Unfortunately, my Conservative friends across the aisle have shown in the last number of months that they do not want to look at the facts.

If we want to make our communities safer places to live, they need to look at the facts, see what is needed, and work with the New Democrats and the other parties when they bring in legislation. We have a lot of ideas that can make our communities safer. We need to work together. This was an example of how we can do that, and the idea was from a member of the New Democrats.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Government Appointments; the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Airline Security.

The hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Surrey North for agreeing to share his time with me as we debate Bill C-26. I asked specifically for an opportunity to join the debate today on behalf of the constituents I represent in the riding of Winnipeg Centre.

Every time I poll the constituents in my riding as to what their top of mind issue might be, consistently for the last 15 years the number one issue has been safety, crime and criminal justice issues, safe streets and the right to walk the streets free of molestation and with a sense of comfort and safety. That has been the prevailing issue of about 34% or 36% of those people answering my surveys. Things like tax cuts are down around 8%, and perhaps that is a function of the socio-economic demographics of my riding as it is one of the poorest postal code areas in the country. Low income people are more likely to be affected by and have their lives touched by crime, violence and even the criminal justice system.

I am particularly interested in this legislation and how it would affect ordinary Canadians.

I also want to compliment and pay tribute to my colleague from Gatineau for representing the party on this sometimes controversial issue with integrity and a sense of balance that such a sensitive issue calls for. I also recognize the comments that were made by other members of the NDP and the origin of this particular bill.

The member for Trinity—Spadina can claim responsibility for us having this debate today as Mr. David Chen, the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart, resides in her riding. It was the very high profile issue associated with Mr. Chen's frustration at so often being the target of shoplifting at his small business that he was compelled to take what we would consider to be dangerous and extraordinary action but which most Canadians would agree was justified and necessary at the time.

However, we are dealing with a bunch of competing rights. As with many pieces of legislation that properly fall before the chamber, it is an issue on which reasonable people can reasonably disagree and therefore we do not want to take this issue lightly.

In the few moments that I have I will start from the premise that the benchmark of a civil society is the quality of its criminal justice system and that the criminal justice system should be measured by its fairness and its application instead of the concern that there is sometimes an arbitrary application of criminal justice issues. Also, in the element of fairness, we must take into account some of the driving forces underlying the problem as it is presented to us.

I am a former labour leader. I have negotiated dozens if not hundreds of collective agreements. Every time we sought to change a clause in a collective agreement, two questions were put to us by the management side: First, why do we want to make this clause change? Second, has this clause been a problem during the life of the collective agreement?

I think we can safely say in this example that there is justification for opening section 494 of the Criminal Code that deals with a citizen's arrest based on the extraordinary case of Mr. Chen and the Lucky Moose Food Market that brought the public's attention to this compelling issue.

The reason I began in the context of trying to describe the socio-economic demographics of my riding is that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. When we look at the high incidents of crime and in fact violence and contact with the criminal justice system in low income areas I think the argument makes itself.

When I look at the circumstances surrounding Mr. David Chen and the case that was put forward so compellingly by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, I am gratified to know that all parties in the House of Commons acknowledge the necessity but, at the same time, we are confounded by the Conservatives' approach to criminal justice issues in the 41st Parliament and, in fact, even in the 40th Parliament when they were in a minority situation.

We have seen issues used as an excuse to raise the spectre of crime and violence in the streets as justification for putting forward legislation that cannot be easily justified. I am thinking of Bill C-10 where the Province of Manitoba, my home province, actually came to the government asking for certain changes with the detention, for example, in the auto theft situation when Manitoba was experiencing a great rash of auto thefts, often by young offenders. The police and the courts were frustrated by the limitations of holding a young offender who may have been apprehended that evening in the act of auto theft, being released the same night and then sometimes getting picked up by the same police in yet another vehicle, all in the context of a 12-hour period.

The Province of Manitoba came to the federal government urging it to make changes to where young offenders could be detained overnight until such time as they could make their first court appearance. That found its way into this new bill that has been quite controversial, but talk about baby and the bathwater. The ultimate legislation that we wound up with went far beyond any reasonable justification.

As I illustrated, the first question we need to ask when we open legislation to amend a clause is whether there is justification for it. We need to know whether the clause has been a compelling problem? In many of these cases, the only thing we were trying to address was a straw man built up by the Conservatives to strike fear in the hearts of Canadians and then they tried to paint themselves as the great saviour, the only ones who could protect the people from this manufactured fear. However, all the empirical evidence shows us that the rate of crime, especially crimes of personal violence, et cetera, is way down statistically.

However, that did not stop the Conservatives from mailing ten percenters into my riding trying to whip up a frenzy of fear. I saw one of the ten percenters, back when MPs could actually mail ten percenters into other people's ridings, and it had a picture of a guy breaking through a window with his face shielded and with a knife raised above his shoulders as if he were going to break into our house and murder us in the night with a knife if we did not vote for the Conservatives to stop him from breaking in and killing us. That was the message, for all intents and purposes.

Even at a time when we are trying to calm people down and show them the actual statistics that the streets are safer than ever before, even in an area that experiences a great deal of property crime, et cetera, no one is at particular threat of being murdered in the night by this junky with a knife.

There is a dishonesty, a disingenuous aspect to this. The Conservatives are like a duck on a June bug when it comes to any issue associated with criminal justice issues and their reaction is far disproportionate to the actual cause, need and demand.

In the context of Bill C-26, our party supports it with concerns that have been expressed by many of my colleagues.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Madam Speaker, I have noticed that a lot of speakers have concentrated on one half of the bill and not on the other and I would like to give that opportunity to my colleague.

The bill is called the citizen's arrest and self-defence act. However, I think that we have had some weird court decisions involving people who were simply trying to defend themselves and the perpetrator came back to sue them. The bill would help to provide better clarity for the judiciary, police, crown attorneys and so on who would potentially lay charges or look at these individual situations.

Does the member for Winnipeg Centre want to address that aspect of the bill and indicate whether he thinks it is a good thing to have more clarity around issues of people acting in self-defence?

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that my colleague should raise that because I was just reading a quote by Alexander Solzhenitsyn who said:

Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.

Therefore, we need to aspire to more than just the legalistic relations we have in society if we are going to elevate the standards of living conditions as a community. There is a more holistic approach to criminal justice issues than are dreamt of in their philosophy.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my hon. colleague. I know that in the area of Winnipeg that he represents there are many poor people and many poor people suffer violence. When the Conservatives talk about safe streets, it seems that they talk about some people's safe streets and not other people's safe streets.

For example, in aboriginal communities in the far north and in the region I represent, Nishnabi Aski territory, there is a lack of police services and police stations because the federal government does not want to bother funding them. Ricardo Wesley and Jamie Goodwyn burned to death in a makeshift jail cell in Kashechewan because the federal government would not put sprinklers in this shack that the police had to use as a centre. None of this would be allowed anywhere else. However, when police work on isolated reserves they are often in very difficult situations and the families are put at risk.

Given that my hon. colleague has raised the issue of economic injustice, I would ask him why the government seems to favour certain people's safety, rights and privileges while other people are completely left out.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for adding a necessary element to this debate. It seems to me that the uneven application of the criminal justice system in this country perhaps serves as the most glaring and obvious charter challenge issue in the country. Certainly Canada's north and first nations are the most glaring examples.

The member invoked the names of two people who died in a jail in Kashechewan. I wonder if there is a member of Parliament present who believes that it would have taken 16 years to find the murderer of Helen Betty Osborne if she had been a white girl in The Pas and if there would have been a conspiracy of silence to bury the truth. We have a long way to go in the even application of the criminal justice system in this country.

However, we are satisfied that the bill addresses a legitimate concern and shortcoming in the Criminal Code. We are proud that we moved amendments to add some balance to the self-defence provisions. We took seriously, wrestled with and, I believe, added some satisfaction to the other side of this bill, which is, of course, the right of defence of property.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

April 24th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, I must inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill S-6, An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons), be read the third time and passed.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak at this third reading stage of Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons). We would amend the Criminal Code in two respects, in relation to the issue of self-defence and the issue of what is known as citizen's arrest, which is contained in section 494 of the Criminal Code.

The circumstances giving rise to this bill in the first instance arose through the case of David Chen who was a shopkeeper in the city of Toronto at a store called the Lucky Moose. On that particular day, the Lucky Moose was not so lucky because of an incident that ended up in an individual being arrested and subsequently the store owner himself being the subject of criminal proceedings. This gave rise to a consideration of the rules with respect to a citizen's arrest in Canada under the Criminal Code.

This was originally a private member's bill brought forward by the member for Trinity—Spadina, and it ultimately was incorporated into a bill by the government, which also decided it was time to give consideration to suggestions that had been made by many, including academics and the Supreme Court of Canada, which suggested there was a great deal of confusion in our law on self-defence. We had a provision with approximately eight sections of the Criminal Code that dealt with self-defence. They were not necessarily contradictory but gave rise to potential interpretations of contradiction and caused problems of interpretation and sometimes contradictory results in the case law. An attempt was made to change that at second reading here in the House. This bill on the whole is a reasonable, if not perfect, example of inter-party co-operation on the creation of legislation that is literally seeking to improve legislation that is brought before the House, in this case by the government.

We had agreement at second reading to proceed to committee and we went through a series of hearings where we heard from individuals including Mr. Chen, other representatives of shopkeepers and store owners, someone from the security guard industry, lawyers in private practice and officials from the justice department. Our expressed intention at second reading, when dealing with this legislation, was that we ought to be very vigilant here when we are taking provisions of the Criminal Code. I do not know if they have been amended in decades or even 100 years, since the Criminal Code was first codified into law. There were not many amendments to these sections. Some might say they had stood the test of time, but they had not stood it very well and it was time to revise it.

The worry was that when we make these changes, we did not want to make changes that would cause problems and that have unanticipated results. Therefore our intention was that we ought to be very careful, that we ought not to treat this as something that could be done in a perfunctory manner. There was some rush in December that this could all be done in a matter of three or four days before Christmas. That was not our view, in our experience of hearing from the witnesses and considering the amendments that came through at the committee stage. There were a dozen or more amendments, probably 15 or 16, proposed by all parties. I know there were a dozen NDP amendments and four by the Liberals, and maybe the Conservatives did not bring any amendments. I do not see any here on my list.

Nevertheless, there were very extensive discussions in the committee while hearing from witnesses and legal counsel who had acted in a number of cases and who understood the law. We heard from the Barreau du Québec and the Canadian Bar Association. They very helpfully offered their comments and advice.

Based on some of this, as New Democrats and as the official opposition, we put forward a series of amendments designed to improve the bill. I will say that some of them were accepted by the government members on the committee, and we are very pleased to see that. Others were not, and obviously we were disappointed that the measures we brought forward in those instances were not accepted.

However, it was a collaborative effort. We did our best as a committee to not only come to conclusions and be reasonable but also to listen to the advice of the officials from the department of justice who were there as technical experts on the interpretation of various provisions of the existing law and who had their opinions with respect to how it might be interpreted based on the existing case law.

On the basis of some of that, some of the amendments we had proposed as being beneficial were in fact withdrawn by us. I say that just to let members of the public who are watching understand how this process works.

We have legislation that is brought forth. If it is a government bill, it is brought forth by the government. It is debated at second reading. It goes to a committee where witnesses are heard, often expert witnesses, in this case lawyers, but also members of the public, who we heard from in this particular case. Then we have what is called a clause-by-clause study in committee on each element and each word, if it comes down to that, especially when we are dealing with criminal law because every word is given a meaning by the courts.

We came forth with amendments that we thought were appropriate. These were then debated in committee at clause-by-clause consideration with experts, and ultimately what we have before us at third reading is this bill as amended.

That might sound a bit tedious, but it is also extremely important. What is written in these sections of the Criminal Code determines what the courts call the liberty of the subject or the freedom of a citizen. A citizen's freedom can often depend on the interpretation of one, two or three words in the Criminal Code. That is why it is important.

Let me give an example of why that is. The amendment to the citizen's arrest provision is designed to change the law so that a citizen's arrest, which under the existing provisions of the Criminal Code must be made at the same time as the commission of an offence, has now been changed. The new wording will say that the arrest to be made within a reasonable time.

That sounds like a small difference, but it can be the difference between the guilt and innocence of someone who is charged with making a citizen's arrest that, as in the case of David Chen, was not while he caught someone in the commission of an offence but was a couple of hours later. That person had left Mr. Chen's store after being seen to steal something, came back a couple of hours later and was then arrested. Mr. Chen was charged with kidnapping, unlawful confinement and other charges.

He was eventually acquitted by a judge, but nevertheless the crown and the police felt very strongly that they had the right and should have the right, and expressed no regrets for it afterwards, to arrest the store owner and charge this individual because of their understanding of the wording of the act. The judge found extraneous circumstance, but it would be unusual for the words not to be applied as they were in the Criminal Code.

The change to add “within a reasonable time” is a good one, and we accepted that. We also thought, however, and this is where one of our suggestions was rejected by the committee, that there ought to be a further protection in the sense that while an arrest should be made within a reasonable time, and we agreed with that, it should be made at the first reasonable opportunity.

We had evidence before us suggesting that the law was too broad, as it was written by the government, that it would allow for organizations such as private security operators to turn themselves, essentially, into private investigators who would act as agents of individuals and arrest somebody at home some time later. We tried to put some constraint on that by saying it had to be not only within a reasonable period of time but at the first reasonable opportunity.

Another amendment, which was defeated, suggested that it should be within a reasonable period of time after the offence is committed and at a place that is within reasonable proximity to where the offence was committed. In other words, it does not have to be in the store. If the individual was found down the road some 20 or 30 minutes later, he or she could be arrested, but the individual could not be hunted down over a period of time, such as after finding out where the person lives and arresting him or her at home. People would be required to phone the police to say, “Here is the address of the guy who stole from me. I am satisfied that he lives there. Would you arrest him, please?” That was rejected and there were arguments made on both sides as to why and why not.

However, other amendments we proposed were accepted. For example, when we talked about the other topic of self-defence, we wanted to ensure the court was going to take certain factors into consideration and added an amendment of our own. We wanted to ensure that it must take into account the relevant circumstances of the other parties involved in the act, and also other factors. Those factors listed in the original bill had to do with size, age and gender of the parties. We sought to add the physical capacities of the parties because gender by itself may not be sufficient. There could be a man with a slight build, a mild manner and incapable of doing certain things, or there could equally be a woman who was in fact a formidable opponent, trained in physical combat, martial arts or any number of activities. When taking into account the person in respect of self-defence, one should take into account not only gender but the physical capacity.

These are just examples of the kinds of changes that were made in our committee to improve the quality of this bill.

We had some reservations about some of the wording, which is evident in the dozen or so matters we brought forward, but on balance we are satisfied that what we have at the end of the day is an improvement over what was there. As to the confusion that reigns to some extent on the issue of self-defence over the last number of decades that has been recognized by our courts, there have been at least attempts to resolve it with the best information and the best we have been able to bring to the task up until now. We did not want to see another 20 years of litigation to determine whether we made a good choice or not. That was our worry.

We have given it the kind of scrutiny that a legislative committee is expected to. That is important. That is, after all, our job. We come here to represent our constituents on all sorts of levels, whether they be major policies in terms of economic development, international affairs, the redistribution of wealth and taxation or attempting to solve social issues like housing and poverty, but we also make laws. One of the laws that governs all of our citizens is criminal law. In crafting those laws we, the people in the chamber, are the ones who have the ultimate responsibility for passing those laws. This is a prime example of how a committee would look in detail.

Most of the justice committee members are lawyers. I happen to be a lawyer, but I do not for one minute believe that one needs to be a good lawyer to make good laws. I would be the last person to say that. Also, we had good advice to the committee from witnesses who are not lawyers and also from members of the committee who had their points of view on both sides, our side as well as the other. They put their common sense, knowledge, experience and brainpower to the task of making the law better. This is a good example.

My colleague, the previous speaker, talked about how this particular government uses the criminal law for political purposes. That is a big shame. It is a serious shame. I had the honour of being the justice critic since last October. I am not anymore; my colleague is now the justice critic, and I commend her to her new role. I know she will be equal to the task. It is an important job.

I do decry, along with the previous speaker, my colleague from Winnipeg Centre, the attitude the government has toward criminal law. It is the most appalling, degrading kind of debate. We should not even give it that name. To suggest that someone is obviously in league with child pornographers or pedophiles if that person disagrees with the government's idea of what the criminal law ought to be—the wording and nature of crime and punishment and how to go about dealing with that—is the most appalling abuse of parliamentary precincts that I have encountered, and I say that with some experience: I was first elected to Parliament 25 years ago next July.

That is the most appalling thing that I have heard in this Parliament and the other parliament that I was in with the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is appalling for the government to suggest that people who disagree with it are in league with criminals and are here to defend...well, on one day it could be pedophiles, the next day terrorists, the next day child pornographers. It is appalilng that the government would do that.

However, amidst all that, there was this small island in dealing with Bill C-26, in which the justice committee sat down and talked, for the most part civilly, about the rules governing self-defence. It is an extremely important part of our criminal law. The right of citizens to defend themselves when under attack or under a threat to their lives or safety or property is a most important right that citizens have, and a criminal law should reflect a proper understanding of how that ought to be interpreted.

The right of citizen's arrest is not something new. It did not come about as a result of the Criminal Code. In fact, the citizen's arrest predated the development of police forces. At one time that was the only way that people were arrested for crime, by an act of a citizen. When we codified the common law, much of the criminal law was governed by common law, and in many respects it still is in some countries, including England, although it has codified things recently.

The citizen's arrest is also a fairly fundamental kind of right that citizens have to defend themselves and to arrest someone who they find committing an offence. Both of these things are extremely important, and we did have, with the work of this committee, a very small island of working to try to improve it.

It is not perfect. I hope the courts will not take 10 or 15 years to figure out what it really means and I hope we will not have controversy, but I think we have done a good job, and we support the bill as amended.

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, I understand that the committee struggled with this bill. It definitely improved it with a number of amendments, which are welcome, but no amendments were allowed to the section on citizen's arrest.

Clause 3 creates for the first time, under proposed section 35, that not only can the person who owns the property issue a citizen's arrest but also a person authorized by the owner. A number of witnesses before committee raised concerns that this could give rise to a growth in the private security business with the ability to execute a citizen's arrest after an event. It appears to be the view of some of the committee witnesses, from what I see in going through transcripts, that this would be a gift to private security firms.

I understand that the member feels that he has reached the compromise that he must reach and I respect his opinion on this. I have to go on record as saying that it looks as though I will be the only member of the House to vote against this bill. That is because I am deeply worried that it would create problems down the road.

Could the hon. member tell me how he feels about private security firms taking advantage of this legislation?

Citizens Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is sincere in her concern about this particular issue. It is something that we looked at and raised some concerns about. That is why some of these amendments in terms of the proximity to the place were brought in. They are an attempt to at least put a ring around some of the activities that one witness suggested private security firms could engage in.

I take issue with my colleague's notion that no one other than the owner could take action in the past. As the member will know from her own experience, often a private security agency operates in a store. Sometimes operatives are disguised as shoppers, and they can actually arrest somebody who is shoplifting, take them to a room within the building and call the police. They can effect an arrest. That is not really new. I am not as worried about it as my colleague is in terms of creating a new right.

I do have concerns about what security companies may be up to. They are supposed to be regulated by the provinces, not by the Government of Canada, so we ought to let our provincial counterparts know that this is something they may opt to look at and keep an eye on in case security companies go beyond what is a reasonable mandate for them.