Madam Speaker, I too am rising to speak to Bill C-26. The origin of the bill is the Lucky Moose case. A shopkeeper, believing that the same accused was continuing to shoplift in his shop and frustrated that he was not getting action in apprehending this person, chose to detain and essentially arrest and confine this person. The shop owner was arrested, charged and convicted. However, there was a lot of controversy around this case. It was appealed and the conviction was overturned. The court at the appeal level raised concerns with the current provisions in law specific to property protection. The court found the provisions inconsistent and meriting clarity.
I would like to congratulate the government and commend it for responding to the courts. It is a refreshing change. There have been a number of rulings by the courts where the government has snubbed the judiciary. One example is the case of the Wheat Board. In another example, in a series of cases, the Minister of the Environment has refused to exercise his authority properly to consider impacts to aboriginal peoples' lands and waters. I commend the government. It has listened to the courts and it is trying to move in the direction of improving the law.
This bill was triggered by the actions of my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina. Everyone in the House congratulates her in her initiative to bring forward a private member's bill in the last Parliament. The government is to be commended for responding to a private member's bill. One of the powers of all the members in this House is to bring forward activities in a private member's bill. Members may or may not have their bill go through the entire parliamentary process and have it accepted and adopted. However, by simply tabling a bill, members can signal to the government that this may be an action they want to pursue.
It is, however, important when we are making amendments to the Criminal Code that we avoid one-offs. There has been a propensity for one-offs by the current government, particularly in the area of public safety. Some members in the House have raised concerns as to whether the bill goes too far or not far enough and why the House has not accepted amendments brought forward by groups such as the Canadian Bar Association, representing our defence counsel, or the Elizabeth Fry Society. In some cases, the members of the committee and the House have considered these proposals for change. Some have been made and others not. We would hope that, if this law should pass and then go on to the Senate and pass and be law, the authorities that oversee this amendment to the Criminal Code, including the courts, the Canadian bar, defence counsel and prosecutors, parliamentarians and the committee, consider reviewing how this law is being applied in the field, whether it was a good idea to amend and whether it has gone far enough or should be reined in.
We sought amendments to improve the bill. We always try to take a proactive, constructive approach. Some of the amendments were accepted and some were not. I am advised we recommended a change to section 34 to additional criteria for consideration, whether the use of force was reasonable, to consider the state of mind or the circumstances perceived by the person, an example being the battered spouse syndrome. For example, if people have been continually battered they may perceive that they are going to be harmed seriously and react in a very serious way. That should be considered. Unfortunately, that amendment was not accepted.
I suggest that, while efforts have been made to clarify this law at the request of the courts and the public, it still remains highly subjective. As a lawyer, I always look to the law to see if we are providing clarity so people know what the law says and what their rights and obligations are, and so that the courts can make a fair ruling. One of the examples I would give is the proposal for amendment to subsection 494(3) regarding the use of force or detaining a person in the case of property being impacted, that the owners may arrest if they find the person is committing a criminal offence.
I would suggest that is a highly subjective matter. It may be very difficult for a shop owner or property owner to determine whether it is a simple trespass or whether it amounts to a criminal offence. These are the kinds of provisions that I think merit a closer look, and we will await what the determinations of the courts are.
The intent of the government is very sound. It wants to provide clarity around the reasonable actions that people can take to protect their persons or property, but, as we are hearing from members in the House, only so long as the intent is not to go in the direction that some laws have taken in the United States, those being the “stand your ground” and the “shoot first” laws. We have heard some concern in debate, particularly with respect to the use of force against others or as to what kind of action is reasonable when protecting one's property. Hopefully we are not going in the direction of “shoot first”.
It is very important that we put boundaries around citizen enforcement. Some entities, such as the police associations and in some cases the Canadian Bar Association, are raising concerns about greater citizen vigilantism and the potential for people to take the law into their own hands. I would suggest there is a need for training and guidance. Perhaps it could be provided through business associations, or perhaps police officers or members of the bench could come in and explain the boundaries of these provisions in cases where there have been repeat incidents of shopkeepers being robbed or attacked at gunpoint. A good example would be bank branches, where on some occasions, and certainly in my city, there have been repeat robberies at particular branches. That may be important.
When the government brings forward new laws, as a former environmental enforcer I like to encourage it to also table or bring forward new enforcement and compliance policies and strategies at the same time. If the public presumes that the law gives them greater powers to arrest and detain or perhaps use greater force when they feel they are being assaulted or their property is being impacted, we need to provide some guidance. Perhaps the committee could review this and make some recommendations to police forces and community associations.
I would like to commend my own city, Edmonton, for implementing a new program called REACH Edmonton. It recognizes that the police cannot be everywhere. There have been pleas from every municipality and from smaller centres across the country for more money from the federal government for policing. In the interim, because of this change in the law there may be more interventions involving people taking matters into their own hands.
It is very important that we stand back and assess who are committing these kinds of offences. If there are property offences or shoplifting, why these offenses occurring?
In my own riding, we have a number of centres struggling to get the funding to get kids who have been abandoned by their families off the street and give them a safe place to stay and a hot meal so that they do not shoplift, break and enter, and so forth. It is very important that our government give equal consideration to a strategy for public safety to prevent these kinds of circumstances, not just to after-the-fact actions. Therefore, I would encourage the Government of Canada to observe the new programs of the City of Edmonton and give due consideration to also providing assistance for the implementation of community crime prevention programs.