Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-26.
This particular piece of legislation would amend the Criminal Code to allow an individual 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.
As well, the bill attempts to clarify in law the self-defence provisions. I have some concerns with respect to these and will elaborate on them momentarily. However, I do want to say from the outset that the Liberal Party will support this bill, although we do have concerns about certain aspects of it.
Currently the Criminal Code allows Canadians the right to claim self-defence in the event they are assaulted without provocation. The Criminal Code also allows for Canadians to rely on the defence to property provisions in certain circumstances, so there is a Criminal Code defence of self-defence and defence of property. There is also a common law defence for each of them as well.
The point I wish to make is that we are not dealing with a legislative vacuum. There are laws with respect to self-defence and defence of property, both codified and under the common law. It is true that some aspects of the Criminal Code in this regard are outdated and in need of modernization. Indeed, the provisions of the Criminal Code with respect to defence of property span five sections and with respect to self-defence span four sections, sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code.
While Liberals support the bill, I do wish to raise again what has already been articulated by the hon. member for Mount Royal, a couple of areas of the bill, and there are more.
Two areas will be the focus of my remarks. The first concern relates to the property defence provisions of the bill. I have some concerns with respect to the consequences of their new breadth. They have been expanded and there are, understandably, consequences associated with that expansion.
In particular, it is clause 3 of the bill that is the operative clause here. I would like for those Canadians watching and those who are unaware of the contents of clause 3 to quickly read into the record exactly what it says. Clause 3 of this bill amends subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code with the following:
(2) The owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or a person authorized by the owner...
—“authorized by the owner” is important wording, for reasons that I will come back to—
...or a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence or in relation to that property and
(a) they make the arrest at that time; or
(b) they make that arrest...
—and these are the key words in this section—
within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.
One of my concerns with respect to this section relates to private security agents. As I indicated, this section allows for persons “authorized by the owner” to make an arrest “within a reasonable time after” the commission of an offence.
We are all aware of private security firms and private security officers. We see them at hockey games. They are often out in full force on the weekends, watching over a particular business or providing security in a mall.
The amendments contemplated in this bill prescribe new powers to private security agents and in some cases provide them with powers incongruent with their training and experience as private security agents. It needs to be borne in mind that private security officers are accountable to the property owners, accountable to their employers, as opposed to the accountability that peace officers have to their code of conduct.
We know that peace officers, or police officers, are duly authorized individuals who we entrust to enforce the Criminal Code and other statutes in this country. They exercise considerable power only after a process of extensive training. Peace officers in this country are well trained in police tactics, arrest procedures and the Criminal Code. More importantly among the list of requirements, these individuals are properly vetted for temperament and balance. After that training, we entrust these individuals with a gun.
All that is well and good in this country. We need our police to protect us. I am concerned that this particular clause of the bill may lead to serious difficulties, including vigilantism. Allow me to provide what is now a very well known example.
We are all very well aware of the situation in Florida recently where an individual acting as a neighbourhood watch person now stands accused of committing second degree murder. He is up on charges because, as we understand it, he is being accused of using excessive force. The facts in this matter are now very well publicized. A young man is now dead as a result of another individual who, while functioning as a neighbourhood watch person and in possession of a weapon, acted in what he claims was a lawful manner because he was defending property.
I share this example only to point out that when laws are enacted in which we provide individuals the right under the Criminal Code to act in the protection of their property or of their person, or act in the stead or at the behest of another in an employee-employer relationship, we must be very careful. I have no doubt there will be a time when we will face a situation perhaps not unlike what we have seen in Florida.
Therefore I am concerned about this particular provision in the bill, and I hope the government might take another look at it as it proceeds to the Senate for legislative scrutiny. Certainly allowing for a piece of prime legislation to be amended at the Senate is not without precedent, even in this particular session of the House.
Another source of concern for me can be found in proposed section 34. This section does not deal with defence of property, but with self-defence. Again, for the record and for those who are not in possession of the bill, proposed subsection 34(1) states that a person is not guilty of an offence if :
(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
That is the new law that has been proposed. The current Criminal Code with respect to self-defence reads, and I quote:
Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force
I have two concerns with respect to this section. The first is the removal of provocation as a relevant consideration for self-defence. The second is the removal of the necessity of an unlawful assault, preferring instead the word “force”. The question becomes how broad the word “force” is. The law used to say that one could rely on self-defence if one were being assaulted, which implies a violation of the person. However, the word “force” is broader than that and arguably could have an economic force element. Therefore, it broadens the situations in which a claim of self-defence may be made. I will state again that I hope the government might take another look at this matter and perhaps be open to further discussion.
I will conclude by suggesting that we are in general agreement with the thrust of this bill. As suggested by the member for Mount Royal, the bill does provide elements of clarity for prosecutors, judges and juries as well as those who may find themselves in a circumstance where they need to defend themselves or their property. Time and jurisprudence arising out of the application of these provisions in our courts will inform us if the amendments have gone too far.