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 #110 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was inequality.

Topics

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Timmins—James Bay.

Today, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-26 which deals with citizen's arrest and the defence of property, and clarifies the concept of self-defence.

The bill amends the Criminal Code in order to enable a person who owns or has lawful possession of property, or persons authorized by them, to arrest within a reasonable time a person whom they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property. It also amends the Criminal Code to simplify the provisions relating to the defences of property and persons.

First of all, we will be supporting this bill, which is essentially modelled after a bill previously introduced by our NDP colleague for Trinity—Spadina. I would like to congratulate her for her efforts in this regard.

You will recall that it all began in her riding back in May 2003, when the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart, David Chen, arrested a man who stole something from his store.

The Criminal Code allows the owner of property to arrest someone only if the presumed perpetrator is caught red-handed. In the case of Lucky Moose Food Mart, the owner arrested the thief one hour after the incident, when the criminal returned to the scene of the crime. As a result, the police charged the store owner with kidnapping, carrying a concealed weapon, assault and forcible confinement.

The charges of kidnapping and carrying a concealed weapon were dropped by the Crown, and Mr. Chen and his two co-accused did go to trial. They were acquitted of the charges of forcible confinement and assault in October 2010.

In order to protect citizens like David Chen from criminal prosecution, our colleague from Trinity—Spadina introduced a private member's bill to allow people to make arrests without warrant within a reasonable period. We are pleased to see that it has been reintroduced by the government.

It is important to note that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police supports Bill C-26. When he appeared before the committee, Superintendent Greg Preston said:

...CACP does support the passage of Bill C-26. We think it's important that citizens be recognized, that when they do act, they have self-defence available to them. We believe that this will assist the police in understanding, to be able to better determine whether or not somebody who does act does so lawfully.

...we'd prefer if we were on every street corner, but that's not the reality of the world. It is inevitable, and as such we certainly support the idea that they would be recognized for that.

It is important to understand that Bill C-26 does not reinvent the wheel. In Canada, the power granted to citizens to arrest without warrant is defined in section 494 of the Criminal Code. With regard to citizen's arrest, the only thing Bill C-26 does is to allow citizens to make an arrest without a warrant “within a reasonable time”.

Bill C-26 also includes amendments to provisions of the Criminal Code related to self-defence and the defence of property. These amendments will lead to long-awaited reforms that will simplify the complex provisions of the Criminal Code on self-defence and the defence of property.

In committee, Nicole Dufour, a lawyer and the coordinator for the Barreau du Québec's Criminal Law Committee, had this to say about self-defence:

The Barreau du Québec would like to offer its congratulations on the effort to simplify the legislation relating to self-defence, which has been criticized by the courts and by law enforcement bodies. In our opinion, these amendments do not alter the current case law, since the proposed provisions address the conduct and actions of a person who uses force, and not the outcome, for deciding whether the use of force in the circumstances is reasonable and lawful.

In committee, Hamish Stewart, a law professor at the University of Toronto, also pointed out the efforts to simplify the provisions on self-defence. He said:

The existing provisions of the Criminal Code have often been criticized for being unclear, for overlapping in ways that are not always clear, and for being difficult to explain to juries. There has been a long stream of criticism from lawyers, judges, and academics about the difficulty of interpreting and applying the existing provisions. So the attempt to take all these ideas of self-defence and put them into one section that would be clear and that would apply to all potential crimes I think is very welcome.

Although we support this bill, we regret that in committee the government rejected our amendment to specify that self-defence includes actions taken under the influence of what is referred to as battered woman syndrome. We wanted the bill to recognize that it is possible that a person who has been a victim of domestic violence might reasonably perceive the perpetrator of repeated acts of violence to be a greater threat than someone without this history might perceive the perpetrator to be.

We believe that the definition of self-defence must take into account the subjective perception of the circumstances rather than a purely objective perception of the situation. We thought that the terms describing the history of the two parties were not specific enough in Bill C-26 and we wanted to ensure that in this type of situation “the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances” from the individual's perspective.

The Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies recommended this amendment. Unfortunately, this government did not support it.

Eric Gottardi, from the Canadian Bar Association, pointed out that the current legislation does not protect female victims of abuse very well and that it is imperative to correct this situation. In committee, he said:

It's well accepted in our case law that a reasonable person, acting reasonably in the circumstances of the accused, can have honest but mistaken beliefs about a set of facts. So someone might think that they're about to be attacked or they're about to be threatened, and they may act in self-defence. That, in fact, might not be the case. But as long as they honestly believed, and that belief was reasonable, then they are justified in using force to defend themselves, even in advance of an attack or in advance of a threat.

...

We're strongly against violence against women, and we support a law and an amendment to the law of self-defence that protects those women in their subjective belief that they are under imminent threat. It's our concern that subjective belief isn't adequately protected as the law is currently drafted.

I am extremely disappointed that the NDP's amendment was rejected and I can assure you that we will continue to press this issue. Furthermore, I met several times with women from La Mouvance, a women's organization in the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. These women do extraordinary work with female victims of violence. Unfortunately, they are not receiving any financial support from the federal government. Evidently, this government is not interested in helping women who are victims of violence by supporting the NDP's amendment.

There was a demonstration on the Hill today. We know that tomorrow, the Conservatives will be launching an attack on women in the form of Motion M-312. Canadians have fought for decades to give women the right to make their own choices about their bodies. Clearly, this government is determined to undermine women's rights. The Prime Minister has refused to clarify his government's position on this subject, and that has voters in my riding and across Canada worried.

Throughout our study of this bill, our primary concern has been to ensure that it does not encourage individuals to take justice into their own hands or to endanger themselves.

Personally, I agree with many of the witnesses who appeared before the committee to express concern that this bill gives too much freedom to the private security companies that are proliferating in Canada and Quebec. Even though a number of concerns were raised, we decided that this bill contains acceptable changes and that it will prevent people like Mr. Chen from being charged with a crime for defending their own property.

I am ready for questions from my hon. colleagues.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, a little earlier, as I was listening to the Conservative members' comments, I got the impression that they are somewhat confused about the meaning of standing up for victims and supporting victims.

Unfortunately, we often hear statements to the effect that the NDP is against victims and does not stand up for victims. However, in my opinion, there is a clear difference between more severe sentencing for criminals or revenge for victims and real protection, real support, for victims. For example, victims can be given tools to help them react better or better defend themselves.

Could the hon. member explain, for example, the relationship between the bill to make our streets safer and this bill, which provides real support to victims of theft or other crimes? Could she tell us the difference between the two?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for those comments.

She raised an excellent point. This government's position on criminal justice creates more victims than it helps. We cannot simply put people in prison without considering what they will do when they get out. Rather than investing in high schools and health, the Conservative Party would rather invest in new cells for prisoners. I find this very troubling.

This is an important point to raise. Rather than putting our young people and adults in prison, we must help them, particularly by addressing problems such as poverty and education.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, we recognize that the bill deals with citizen's arrest, self-defence and so forth, and has received fairly widespread support, whether it is in the House or from the public as a whole.

In part I would like to express what I believe are concerns held by people of Winnipeg North, the area I represent. They want to see more of action to deal with some of the crime issues out there, and ways of dealing with crime.

The member made reference to what I would classify as alternative activities for young people and how government could invest in those types of things and could enhance such things as community policing.

Yes, it is great that we have the bill before us. We know it is receiving widespread support in terms of its ultimate passage through the House today, but would the member acknowledge that we need to do more than just deal with bills such as this and look at other forms of preventing crimes?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation is an important step, but of course we need to take other measures.

It is important to note that the rate of crime is in decline in Canada, so the position of the government in terms of criminal justice is not actually based on facts or science. There are no studies that back the position of the government with regard to criminal justice. It is something that will not work in our communities. It is something that will not prevent criminals from committing more crimes.

My constituents are telling me that we should not be putting young people in jail, because they will come out as hardened criminals. That is something the NDP also noted in the House of Commons during debate.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, my question for my friend, the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, relates to the issue of private security firms.

Contrary to the advice of my friend from Winnipeg North, there are a lot of groups opposing the bill, including Tom Stamatakis, the president of the Canadian Police Association, who is quoted in today's press as saying:

We should take care that any changes made with this legislation do not have unintended consequence of broadening the current mandate of private security.

I noticed that my friend mentioned private security firms yesterday. One of her colleagues said that they do arrest and that this bill would not change things; however, the bill will allow them to leave the store and chase somebody and arrest them that day or later, so I remain concerned that the bill is opening the door to private security firms. I would appreciate my friend's comments.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a reasonable question that has already been dealt with in committee.

We see that this legislation is reasonable. This legislation is aimed at citizens such as David Chen, citizens who are protecting their own personal safety and property.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a real honour to stand in this House and represent the people of the great region of Timmins—James Bay.

When we talk about crime bills, crime prevention and crime strategies, it is unfortunate that much of the rhetoric in the House of Commons has not been to deal with the substantive issues but sometimes to create black and white caricatures or set up windmills. This is difficult because the issue of crime and law is complex and the solutions are sometimes not as simple. This is why the judges do need discretion in being able to interpret action and being able to interpret circumstances.

However, I find this has been a good instructive debate for Canadians to participate in and to watch, because we are trying to find a balance regarding the protection of ordinary citizens. This is something that communities have done from time immemorial.

For example, I live in the great little community of Cobalt, Ontario, where people look out for each other. I remember late one night I was coming home from a trip with my family and my little kids. I drove up in my beat-up little Toyota Tercel hatchback, which may not be the ugliest car ever built, but it was certainly in the top five. Barrelling in the driveway behind me was a big pickup truck with double wheels on the back. It sounded like a tank. Out jumped Bruce Miller, a big guy from Sherman Mine. He said, “Who goes there?” I almost fell over, and then he said, “Oh, it's you. I knew you were away. I just wanted to make sure when I saw the lights on at your house that nobody was robbing you”.

That is what neighbours do. We need to be able to say that it is okay for neighbours to check in on neighbours, that it is okay to stand up in a public square when something is wrong and say, “There are no police here, but a crime has been committed”.

In saying that, we have to be careful. We have seen in the United States where politicians fan the flames of vigilantism and horrible tragedies result, like the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. If we look at it, we wonder how could it be that a self-styled vigilante armed with a gun can patrol a neighbourhood and, when the police tell him to stand back, he believes his life is at threat. Under Florida law he only had to believe that. It is completely subjective. Issues of subjectivity do have a value in dealing with perception of violence or perception of threat, but they are not the only thing. We cannot just say, “I didn't like the looks of him. He seemed like a bad guy, so I shot him”. Yet, that is what is considered okay in the Florida legislature.

We have seen some of the crazy gun laws in many American states that think people should be able to carry a gun, a concealed weapon for self-defence, that they should be able to carry a weapon into a hospital because it is a citizen's right. That kind of over-the-top response creates dangerous situations.

I am looking at Bill C-26 from the sense of how we strike the balance between civic protection and ensuring that we are not putting people at risk. It is not about putting the so-called criminals at risk, but also the people who want to intervene. It is very difficult to intervene in a situation that could escalate. People need to have a sense of the ground rules. When the police are watching, they are certainly telling us to be careful about how we go about this.

There has been good discussion at committee. There has been good cross-party conversation.

On the issues of criminal justice, I had the great honour in the 1980s as a member of the Catholic Worker Movement to work with men coming out of prison and to live with men and women coming out of prison in the streets of Toronto. I saw a steady pattern in terms of recidivism. There were addictions. Addiction was probably the highest single cause of people committing crime. There were basic issues, such as a lack of a stable environment in which to actually get one's life together, and then there was plain stupidity.

I have known many cons through my work. Contrary to what we see in the movies, they are not criminal masterminds. That seems to be an oxymoron. Contrary to what my Conservative colleagues sometimes point out as these evil bandits who have to be locked up, sometimes they just make really stupid choices. I have talked to them about their choices.

I think that when we are looking at criminal policy, we have to remember that by far, the vast majority of people who end up in jail have made really bad choices. Should they be punished? Certainly. As a society do we need to have a plan to pull them back? Even more so.

I remember my friend, Robert, who died recently. In his day, Robert was a huge, massive expense on the health and criminal justice systems because of his horrific level of alcoholism. At the time, we could not get Robert into even a rooming house. There was no public housing. I remember the Conservative government of Mike Harris, and many of his old gang are on that side of the House now, telling us that social housing was a failed principle.

It was not a failed principle. We needed to get a guy like Robert a place to stay. Once we actually got him into secure housing, he sobered up. At that point he was never again a burden on the medical system or on the criminal justice system. I think he was 20-some years sober before he died. We needed to find ways to get men like him out of crisis, and it was possible.

That is where social policy comes in. If members believe that government should not be in the business of ensuring some level of social housing, then people like Robert will fall through the cracks. If people have levels of addiction, they might break into a car and get whatever change they can.

Last year I was moving and my car was broken into, probably because of the Oxy epidemic. Normally my beat-up old Chevy does not have much in it worth taking, but I was in the process of moving. There was a vacuum cleaner that my wife had given me. I did not mind sharing my vacuum cleaner with the criminal underground of Ottawa. I could have accepted that. That was in the car. There were a couple of brooms. They could have had them. But my God, my Bob Dylan collection, original vinyl, was in the back, as were my grandfather's favourite Scottish and Irish records. I have not brought forward a private member's bill about mandatory minimums for people who steal vinyl. I did manage to get some of it back. I went to the record store. I did not get any of my Bob Dylan collection; that was gone, but I got the Clancy Brothers and Kenneth McKellar records back.

I said to the guy, “Listen. These are my grandfather's records. They were stolen out of my car.” I do not think they could have even bought one Oxy pill. I said, “I do not mind paying for them. I just want the records.” The guy said, “We were only selling them for 50¢.” Being Scottish myself, I would have spent $5, maybe even $6 on each of those records.

I am not saying this to make light of the situation. Perhaps if I had been at the house that night and saw the guy stealing my records, I would have run out and stopped him. I would have at least tried to offer him the vacuum cleaner instead.

When I go home at night through the market I have seen some situations that have started to escalate. I am not out with the late, late night crowd because parliamentarians are always in bed at an early hour, so I do not see any of the stuff that happens outside the nightclubs. However, it tends to be my perception that we are dealing with people with addictions, and sometimes people with addictions do desperate things.

The question is, if someone sees something happening on the street, such as a shakedown, an escalation towards violence, what as a citizen does the person do if there are no police there? There is the question of someone intervening, such as a shopkeeper intervening and stopping someone from stealing by saying, “You cannot do this. I am going to hold you until the police come.” That is a reasonable citizen's response. That is a reasonable societal response.

In terms of the larger of issue of what people do when they see relentless situations, particularly when there is drug addiction and people are resorting to crime, we need a larger societal response. That is why I talked about the interventions and about the lack of treatment centres in northern Ontario. We do see levels of addiction, mostly involving Percocet and Oxy. There is no place for people to get treatment. That is an issue.

We cannot just leave it to the citizen to address the crime problem. We cannot just leave it to the jails. We need a larger, more comprehensive view. We have not had a holistic view of crime and crime response in this Parliament.

We will be supporting this bill. It is one little piece of a much larger puzzle. I am more than willing to take questions from any of my hon. colleagues.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the earlier questions I had asked the member's colleague was in regard to how important it is that there be some sort of educational component to this bill with respect to citizen's arrest.

I profiled that there are some areas within our communities that would benefit more by having community policing, police officers visiting some of the stores in communities where there might be more value in terms of making sure people understand what the legislation actually enables a store owner to do in terms of making a citizen's arrest.

I wonder if the member would share some of his thoughts in regard to the value of and the need for an educational component. There is some misinformation out there in regard to what a citizen's arrest is.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent suggestion, because the question before us is about ensuring that we have the correct nuance, and nuance is difficult when we are talking about legislation. Legislation is like moving a massive glacier. We might move it two inches, but that two inches could have a huge effect on what is on the other side of the glacier. People do need to understand.

I find that in the north where we deal with the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service and mostly with the OPP, we have some really good community outreach. However, people need to understand that this is about being able to stop the guy who is ripping off the albums out of someone's car. This is not about saying that the person gets to beat the guy up. This is not about that person getting to exercise justice. He or she has no right to decide appropriate punishment, or to make the guy pay. This is about stopping a crime from happening.

There is a level which people are not able to go beyond and if they do, they cannot go crying to the public if they are arrested by the police for going beyond it. The education component is going to be very important. I am sure the police will play a large role through community policing.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know there are concerns within other parties in the House. I regret that having come to some consensus through the committee process members who have concerns seem to feel they have to hold their noses and pass a bill that may well open the door to some serious problems in our society.

I note that the vice-chair of the Canadian Bar Association, Eric Gottardi, is quoted in today's paper as saying this is a gift to the rent-a-cops. He said, “Such personnel often lack the necessary range of equipment or adequate training to safely and lawfully make arrests in a manner proportionate to the circumstances”.

Even at this late stage we should insist that the sections relating to citizen's arrest be left alone and remain as they are now in the Criminal Code and not extend them, as this bill does.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, the reality is that private security exists already and that is not going to change. Are there concerns about how private security contractors are used? Certainly, but the bill is not going to change their reality in our society.

We think that the bill is a good bill. It is good because there has been push-back on both sides in order to deal with some outstanding concerns. If my hon. colleague feels that she has to hold her nose to vote for it, well, making laws is like making sausages. It is not the easiest thing. We do not get everything we want. Law is not easy either and there are always going to be grey areas. That is what will be interpreted by the courts.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, in Hamilton a number of years ago there was a situation where a Bell technician was outside a hotel and a husband and wife had a dispute. He held the husband because he thought the husband was going to injure the woman. The woman turned around and buried her shoe in the back of the Bell technician's head. It just shows us that when we give that kind of extra leverage to the public, there is a certain risk factor.

I wonder what the member's comments are on that.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot say anything about what happens in Hamilton because I share a seat with a guy from Hamilton and I have played gigs in Hamilton and it is a pretty tough town. I was told when I went to Hamilton that I was in the big city and I had better behave, so I am not going to mention anything about what happened at that event.

There are always altercations. There is always going to be push-back. There are always going to be issues of how people defend themselves. What we are trying to do is clarify the laws. To use the example of the Lucky Moose that was being hit again and again and with no police there, it is not unreasonable for the shopkeeper to be able to stop the criminal.

My colleague's advice is wise. We have to ensure there is discretion. We have to remind people to be careful. It is better to wait and let the police do it. People should not get hurt over a box of Smarties.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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 Beaches—East York, National Defence; the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Saint-Jean, Flooding in Montérégie.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest.

Bill C-26 demonstrates that the committee process in this House can actually work, when a bill starts out as reasonable in its aspirations and its general content. I will speak mostly to the self-defence provisions, which have not been getting as much attention during this debate, and I hope to have time to speak to citizen's arrest. If not, I am happy to answer questions.

The NDP worked in good faith within the committee and advanced a number of amendments, two of which were accepted. We feel that the legislation could be better yet, especially, from my point of view, on the citizen's arrest portions. However, we also feel that it has been somewhat improved and that, in general, it started out as worthy legislation. For that reason, we believe this bill should be supported, as my colleagues have been indicating.

With respect to the legislation that was originally tabled, I must commend the parliamentary secretary, the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, for his speech on December 1, 2011, when he introduced the bill. His speech was a model of thoughtfulness, tightness and elegance of exposition and, indeed, care taken to explain the bill's purpose and its relationship to the existing law and to the general principles of criminal law. That speech should be taken seriously when the legal profession begins to interpret Bill C-26, when it becomes part of the Criminal Code, with respect to the provisions on self-defence of the person, defence of property and citizen's arrest.

What is very interesting about both the reforms in Bill C-26 and the speech of the parliamentary secretary is the contrast with the approach of the current Criminal Code provisions. This is partly due to the origin of the current provisions in one of the original versions of the Criminal Code well over a century ago. However, the present Criminal Code provisions are best characterized as a patchwork quilt of relatively detailed provisions that are responding to a range of concrete situations. Partly because of that level of detail, these provisions have for some time been criticized, decried by some as needlessly complex and increasingly confusing, as we have had layer upon layer of judicial interpretation over the years.

The Bill C-26 provisions are, in contrast, a model of simplicity and distillation to the core principles in their essence. I dare say that their formulation owes a lot, although I cannot say this is for sure the case, to the civilian tradition within our multi-juridical heritage, with its preference for unifying principle and generality when we are codifying the core areas of the law.

A passage from the parliamentary secretary's speech speaks to this approach. When the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe spoke to the self-defence provisions in Bill C-26, he stated in part:

If we were to ask ordinary Canadians if they think self-defence is acceptable, they would say that it is acceptable when their physical integrity or that of another person is threatened. I think they would also say that the amount of force used should be reasonable and should be a direct response to the threat.

The reforms proposed in Bill C-26 are centred on those basic elements. Because of the general nature of these ideas, one law based on these fundamental principles should be able to regulate all situations that arise involving defence of the person. We simply do not need different regulations for every set of circumstances. All we need is a single principle that can be applied to all situations.

There is a lot of merit in the conceptual clarity and the focus on unifying principle that is represented by that passage. However, the common lawyer in me does worry a bit if the idea of “a single principle” is seized upon to the exclusion of what he also mentions, which is “all situations”.

General principles only live and breath and become coherent in the real world where, hopefully, most Canadians live, when they are brought to bear on concrete situations to allow more nuanced rules to emerge gradually. It is for this reason that it is a virtue of the new clause 34 in Bill C-26 on self-defence that it is grounded in a general idea, that of reasonableness of response, but this is also expressed, which is important, as “reasonableness in the circumstances”. That is clause 34(1)(c). However, it is all the better that clause 34(2) then goes on to list nine factors that are relevant to the contextualized approach to the general principle of reasonableness.

The NDP was very concerned that these factors would themselves be principled and at the same time useful for real world decision-making of ordinary citizens, then of police and prosecutors and, finally, of judges in their exercising of judgment as to whether a self-defence situation has arisen. In particular, an NDP amendment that was accepted modified the chapeau for clause 34(2) and that amendment is most welcome. It appears before the list of the nine factors and states:

In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court shall consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including, but not limited to, the following factors....

That sets up well the various factors. This phrasing interacts with factors (e), (f) and (f.1) in the provisions to provide a good basis for the criminal law to be responsive to the very particular challenges of applying self-defence in the context of abusive relationships, which is an area I know many members in the House have some concern about, especially where women have been subjected to patterns of violence and psychological abuse by their male partners. I think it is important to recognize that the parliamentary secretary himself, in his speech on December 1, recognized this when he said:

Another factor is whether there were any pre-existing relationships between the parties, including any history of violence and abuse.

This last factor is particularly important in cases where a battered spouse must defend against an abusive partner. As the Supreme Court has noted in the landmark case of Lavallee, it is sometimes difficult for a jury of citizens to understand how a battered spouse might stay in an abusive relationship or how the person might come to understand the patterns of violence of the person's partner. These cases do not arise often but when they do, sensitivity to these factors is crucial.

Having praised the parliamentary secretary's speech on December 1, I would also like to add that the response speech from the previous justice critic, the member for St. John's East, was also a model of constructive and thoughtful parliamentary engagement. While he expressed general support and appreciation for the intent behind the bill, he also raised questions aimed at ensuring that, during the committee process, the overhauled existing provisions of the Criminal Code did not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. In that respect, he said:

We need to examine it [Bill C-26] very carefully. We need to ensure that by making changes, we are not throwing away 100 years of precedent and all the advice that the courts have given. If we are starting off with a blank slate and a whole new law, it may take another 10 or 20 years of case law to understand what that means. Do we really need to go down that road?

I will end by saying that it is really important to understand that there is a conundrum built into law reform. Does judicial interpretation and the perceived understanding of the law go by the wayside when new law is enacted, especially when such detailed provisions are replaced by general provisions in criminal law? It must surely be the case that we, and by “we” I mean citizens and the legal profession, do not reinvent the law of self-defence from a whole cloth. We must engage with what was the living law under the old provisions and forge a new living law under the new ones that is in communication with what went before it.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know the member is new to his portfolio but he was not at committee to hear the testimony. We heard testimony that suggested that, in this particular case, judges should use their discretion for victims instead of criminals, as that member's party has been saying.

We also heard experts at committee say that for years they have been seeking clarification of the law on self-defence. During my time practising criminal law there was a tremendous amount of confusion to say the least relating to many aspects of self-defence. I wonder if the member would not agree that we should listen to the experts in this case. Even the Canadian Bar Association said that it wanted clarification of the law.

Would my colleague not agree that it is a good thing for the government to stand up for victims instead of criminals and allow judges to use their discretion as well?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to working with the member on the justice and human rights committee.

I do not think the premise needs to be accepted that the NDP views judicial discretion as only something that should be relinquished when it is a case of the wrongdoer. That is not at all what we have been saying. In general, judicial discretion needs to be respected in our legal system.

We are consistent that in the revised bill with respect to the very open textured rules on self-defence, we think discretion will work, keeping in mind that the judgment of ordinary citizens will be equally important. The law cannot wander too far away from basic common sense.

However, we also believe that when it comes to things like sentencing, judicial discretion is also needed. We are being consistent.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to welcome my hon. friend to the House. This the first time I have had an opportunity to put a question for the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth. I hope he will not mind if I trespass on his time to follow-up on a response from one of his caucus colleagues.

The hon. member for Timmins—James Bay made the mistake of thinking that I planned to vote for this bill. I do not plan to vote for the bill. I am fairly certain that I am the only member of Parliament who finds it objectionable to expand the powers of citizen's arrest. I note particularly that, while the member for Timmins--James Bay said that this little change was nothing in terms of citizen's arrest and private security firms, it would in fact create a new opportunity for people to arrest some reasonable time after the offence.

How does my friend from Toronto—Danforth feel about that?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was upfront in my remarks when I said that I, like many people, have qualms about playing around too much with the citizen's arrest provisions. However, the committee and ultimately the government in its proposed bill has this right.

The member is absolutely correct. It is true that there is a small extension of citizen's arrest to include the arrest within a reasonable time after someone has been found committing an offence. However, there are a number of safeguards. This cannot be done if it is at all reasonable to expect the police to show up and do the job.

There are a couple of other provisions that I do not have time to go into that really attempt to send the signal that the Lucky Moose shop case with David Chen is really the paradigm. We need to work out from that, use that as the analogy and not accept this as a licence for anything resembling citizen's arrest gone wild.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the member for Toronto—Danforth to the House and congratulate him on his new portfolio as deputy critic for justice. This is the quality of debate and the type of thoughtful, reasonable and well-researched remarks that we can expect from this member after just a few short weeks. I cannot wait to see what he will be capable of in a year or two.

I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak on Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code in relation to citizen's arrest and the defences of property and persons. In reality, the heart of this bill came from the New Democratic Party, specifically from the member for Trinity—Spadina. We need to pay tribute to her work because she put in place many of the aspects of the legislation before us.

I would also like to note that it is nice to see that for once the Conservatives are willing to accept a good idea from the opposition. I certainly wish the Conservatives would adopt more of our good ideas. If they had, of course, there would be not be 90,000 more unemployed families. If the Conservatives had taken our advice, we would not have the highest debt load of Canadian families in history. If they had taken our suggestions and listened to the NDP, then we would not have seen a real wage reduction of 2%.

Going back to the bill, it has its origins in the attention brought to a citizen's arrest two years ago at the Lucky Moose Food Mart in downtown Toronto, as many members have already stated. The owner of this store was a persistent victim of shoplifting. A shoplifter who was seen in his store walking away with some property apparently came back an hour or so later. Based on his experience in trying to get the police to respond to shoplifting events in the store, the owner felt that the only way to actually have this fellow charged was to apprehend him himself. As a result, the owner was charged with assaulting the individual and forcible confinement. This case caused a lot of controversy, some of which had to do with whether policing was sufficient in the area.

We know that in larger establishments like chain supermarkets and retail stores there are often paid security services. They have the resources to better protect themselves. These paid security services have training in apprehending people and are more familiar with the Criminal Code than the average citizen. They, in effect, perform a citizen's arrest based on seeing someone commit a shoplifting offence. They phone the police and hold the shoplifter until the police come, which is what Mr. Chen did. However, what was different in this case is that the individual had left the store and then came back. When he came back he was not in the act of committing an offence at that time. As a result, Mr. Chen, the owner of the store, was not inside the current provisions of section 494 of the Criminal Code that says a citizen may arrest someone who is found committing an indictable offence or personally believes on reasonable grounds that a criminal offence had been committed, the perpetrator is escaping from it and is freshly pursued.

Section 494 states specifically that, “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.”

There is also a provision that says, “Any one other than a peace officer who arrests a person without warrant shall forthwith deliver the person to a peace officer.”

The normal process for shoplifting is that the store detective, store owner or the private security officer can apprehend individuals, phone the police, turn them over and let the police handle it from there. In this case, because the arrest took place over an hour later on a return visit, the owner did not have any basis under section 494 to arrest the individual, which is, of course, why we are standing here today debating this bill.

The bill originally came forward as a private member's bill introduced by our colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina. I think she may have even called it the “Lucky Moose Bill” in honour of Mr. Chen. It has received widespread support from all sides of the House with perhaps one notable exception. Many people who are in the position of lawmaker are very concerned about passing laws that would encourage a vigilante type of justice. This is why it is such a touchy area.

As has been pointed out by many of my colleagues, we have highly trained police forces operating across the country. We have a national police force, provincial police forces in Ontario and Quebec, as well as local police forces and community policing. We are incredibly proud of these men and women who serve Canadians on a daily basis. As well, in the area where Mr. Chen's supermarket is located in Chinatown, police patrol on foot. These are the people we need to rely on. On the other hand, not every store owner has access to security guards or store detectives, and certainly the police are unable to be everywhere at once.

The concern here is for people trying to run a business. In this case, Mr. Chen was trying to run a business and protect his property. Most people would think that he acted reasonably and detained the individual without using excessive force. However, it was still under the current provisions for forcible confinement that Mr. Chen was charged. If one uses force to confine someone and prevent that person from leaving, that is an offence.

However, the citizen's arrest provision provides a defence for forcible confinement by changing it to an arrest, provided the arrest is made within a reasonable period of time.

If the individual who is committing the offence is known, one would be able to simply phone the police to tell them what the individual has done and that they have done this before, in this case, taking something and leaving. In this instance, Mr. Chen did not know the name and address where this individual could be found and unfortunately felt the necessity to take action. An individual should not be chased because of the danger involved, and the police should be called. However, as I have stated, in a case where an individual is not known, the only way to apprehend an offending stranger is to take advantage of the opportunity.

We support this aspect of the bill wholeheartedly. It takes a minimalist approach by making changes to section 494. What I mean by “minimalist” is that it changes only what is required according to the circumstances in which Mr. Chen found himself.

There have to be two conditions: one must witness the offence, and the arrest must be made at the time of the offence or within a reasonable time after the offence is committed; and, one must believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible under the circumstances for a peace officer to make an arrest.

We could say that when the individual came back into the store, instead of arresting him perhaps the police should have been called right away. However, in Mr. Chen's experience the police often did not come fast enough in these kinds of situations and he thought that this individual would be gone again.

If these changes had already been in place, Mr. Chen would have had his defence, as it would have fit these circumstances. As legislators, we should not make laws every time something unusual happens and we must be very careful in making changes to the Criminal Code. However, when a flaw is pointed out in the law due to an unusual event and injustice can be seen, then a reasonable legislature should take action. We support that wholeheartedly.

I have had several instances in my personal life where I have come close to this kind of situation while travelling on public transit in Toronto. I have taken the TTC on a daily basis for many years and have encountered all kinds of unusual situations. I witnessed an assault on a 13-year old in the subway by 17-year old students, and I witnessed a TTC patron spitting on a TTC operator. In each of these situations, the assailants fled. Being a little out of my mind with anger, I did pursue them. However, during that pursuit, I was lucky enough to locate peace officers who were then able to make the arrests so that I did not run afoul of the law in some way and end up in trouble myself.

This bill is important because it ensures that individuals like Mr. Chen, who are protecting their person and property, are able to do so within the law. To be able to defend oneself within the law is incredibly important. That is why over many years there have been all kinds of changes made to the Criminal Code, and we certainly have to do so diligently.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear the test of reasonableness in my colleague's speech today, which is suggested by the legislation itself, the reasonableness of a judge who has had legal experience and legal education, and has seen these cases many times before.

Does he have a problem with the government suggesting that judges should use their discretion to determine what is reasonable in the circumstances? If so, why does he have a problem with judges deciding that? If he opposes the legislation, the very crux of the issue is the reasonableness of the judges and the interpretation of the law by them, and what is reasonable in the circumstances based on that citizen.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the member was listening. Nowhere did I say I was opposed to the legislation. In fact, we are supporting it.

What is absolutely surprising to me is to hear the member from his side of the floor, the Conservatives, now saying that judges should be able to apply their judgment. Time and time again we have seen the government attempt to make changes to actually take that discretion out of judges' hands with mandatory minimum sentences. That is the kind of thing that takes the law out of the hands of the experts and the people who should be applying sentences, who should be taking into account the circumstances of offences, criminal history, behaviour of individuals and reasonableness of the judgments being made.

This is the government that is taking that discretion out of judges' hands. I think it is a little hypocritical to hear the member make that kind of statement now.

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party critic talked about how we support the bill in principle. There is fairly widespread support in the House. Most Canadians see the value of passing the bill.

In previous questions I have asked about the need for an educational component for certain sectors, in particular the retail or the commercial areas, to make sure people are aware of what citizen's arrest really entails. Would the member comment on what he feels is important in an educational component on citizen's arrest?

Citizen's Arrest and Self-defence ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dan Harris NDP Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, we as a society can do a better job of educating the public on a whole raft of different issues, not just citizen's arrest, but preventive health, tax code or a number of situations.

However, I would like to turn it back to the member and ask, if the Liberals feel that the bill is lacking in this kind of way, have they proposed, or will they be proposing, amendments to insert such language into the legislation?