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.