moved that Bill C-444, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak today to my private member's bill, Bill C-444, which seeks to amend section 130 of the Criminal Code by adding a sentencing provision for the offence of personating peace officers or public officers. The amendment would make personating an officer for the purpose of committing another offence an aggravating circumstance.
I would like the thank the hon. member for Oxford for seconding my bill. He served 30 years with the Woodstock police service in his past life and 10 of those were as chief of police. He is a great Canadian who continues to proudly serve our country.
I was moved to research and table the bill following a horrible crime that took place in my riding. Flashing lights and a police uniform were used as weapons to abduct a 16-year-old girl. She had just earned her driver's licence and was driving alone, as many of us do. She was held captive for 46 hours and brutally assaulted before she managed to escape from her attacker. She was brave. She survived.
The offender was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced with six offences, one of which was section 130 of the Criminal Code, which deals with personation of a peace officer or public officer.
The cold fact of the matter was that she was abducted only because she thought she was doing the right thing. When confronted by someone she thought was a police officer, she did what she had been taught to do. She stopped and she followed instructions. In this case, she ultimately lost any opportunity she might have had to protect herself.
This is one case that happened in my riding, but unfortunately this is a crime that is occurring in all regions of Canada and most often it is for the purpose of tricking a victim into thinking that they are under the control of a real officer so that another crime can also be committed.
When I began researching this issue, I found that what had happened in Penhold and Red Deer was happening in small towns and large cities all over Canada. Criminals are using authentic police lights and dressing in police uniforms to commit crimes such as auto theft and fraud in Kelowna; highway robbery in Oakville, Barrie and Brampton; assault and robbery in Ottawa; abductions in Scarborough and Calgary; break and enter and subsequent assaults in Sydney Mines and Oshawa; intimidation in Mississauga; unlawful confinement in Lethbridge; and fraud in Kings Country, Brantford and Toronto.
For the young woman in my riding, and all of these victims, the police uniform no longer represents safety and security. With time, they will cope with this fear and will hopefully regain their trust in authority. However, every time we hear of these types of incidents, one more person has this trust shattered. This is a concern for all of us, but it is a great concern for police who are out there trying to do their jobs.
The police who I have spoken to in my riding, RCMP veterans and serving members, have encouraged me in my mission to add this sentencing provision to section 130. It would not affect their enforcement of the offence, but they recognize that this amendment would help ensure that sentencing for this crime would reflect the significant impact that it has on our country.
There was a case in Calgary where a man personated a police officer and used flashing lights to attempt to pull over and abduct young females. CBC News quoted a sergeant with the Calgary Police Force who stated that the false representation of a police officer was “a very serious offence”. He went on to say, “We cannot have our confidence in the public eroded. It is very important that we are able to conduct our jobs, and if people do not trust the police or they are worried, it can make our jobs very difficult”.
I previously introduced the bill during the last Parliament. It had been reported back to the House by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The unanimous support that I received from the House was extremely encouraging, and I look forward to that same level of support from this Parliament.
As I describe the specific points of the bill, let me start by explaining the definition of peace officers and public officers in the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code defines police officers as Canadian officers of customs and excise, immigration, corrections, fisheries and the Canadian Forces. It includes pilots in command of an aircraft, mayors, wardens, reeves, sheriffs, justices of the peace and, of course, police officers.
A public officer is defined as an officer of customs or excise, an officer of the Canadian Forces, an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and any officer while the officer is engaged in enforcing the laws of Canada relating to revenue, customs, excise, trade or navigation.
The bottom line is that these are all occupations that demand a significant amount of trust from the Canadian public. Anyone who falsely represents members of these occupations in order to commit a crime against a person is committing a serious breach of that person's trust, and that of all of us.
However, this bill is about sentencing. It speaks to the need for tougher penalties for this particular crime, in line with the fundamental sentencing principle of proportionality, which is stated in section 718 of the Criminal Code. The bill has a basic objective. It would make impersonating a peace officer in the commission of another offence an aggravating circumstance to be considered for sentencing purposes. It would add one clause to the Criminal Code following section 130.
Because it is short, I would like to read my bill into the record. It states that the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after section 130:
130.1 If a person is convicted of an offence under section 130, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the accused personated a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be, for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence.
That is all. It does not seek to effect any interpretation of the crime. My bill would simply direct a sentencing court to consider this as one factor when dealing with someone convicted of impersonating a peace officer or a public officer.
We know that a number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim. Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider that do not guarantee, but tend to increase, the severity of a sentence.
There are aggravating circumstances defined in section 718 that apply to all criminal offences. There are also aggravating circumstances attached to specific offences within the code. To be clear, the bill seeks to add the special aggravating circumstance to a sentencing court to consider the crime of impersonating a peace officer or public officer.
When we look at aggravating circumstances that apply to all offences, one of them is evidence that the offender, in committing an offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. This would apply in situations where an offender has an existing relationship with a victim, such as a teacher, a coach or a bona fide police officer. However, those who impersonate officers do not fall into this category. Offenders who impersonate peace or public officers have not abused a position of authority, for he or she does not have that position to begin with. This circumstance in section 718 cannot then be used, since this would apply to real police officers who have abused their position of trust. It does not apply to those who are posing as police officers.
An offender's false representation of him or herself as an officer is intended to deceive and breach trust and authority. However, this deceit is not captured by the existing circumstances that speak to these abuses. I hope that my colleagues in the House will recognize this gap in the law and work with me to fill it, as my bill seeks to do. We know that adding a new aggravating circumstance to the Criminal Code is an effective way to ensure that the fundamental sentencing principles are achieved.
As to the relevance of aggravating circumstances, Parliament recently passed an important bill on elder abuse, Bill C-36. With its passage into law we saw a very important amendment to the Criminal Code, adding a new aggravating circumstance to section 718.2 to apply to any offence against elderly Canadians. With this bill we are now seeking to apply this rationale when it comes to sentencing for crimes against Canadians who have been misled into thinking they are dealing with an officer but are then victimized.
The sentence for this kind of malicious deceit must reflect the significant impact that the crime has on the lives of victims. Victims, whoever they may be, must be assured that there will be serious consequences for the criminals who have hurt them.
By supporting the bill, we are also helping to preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for real, bona fide police officers. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust and respect the authority that comes with it. Our laws must reflect this reality.
I note that personation of an officer used to be punishable as a summary conviction and had a maximum penalty of only six months imprisonment. The Conservative government in the previous Parliament passed into law former Bill S-4, which increased the maximum penalty for this offence to five years imprisonment and made it a hybrid offence. I commend the Department of Justice for its work on increasing the maximum sentence for this crime, which came into force two years ago. Now we must give the courts this sentencing tool to exercise the new maximum in the most serious cases.
For 34 years I worked as a teacher of children and young adults. As a teacher, I shared their joys of accomplishment as well as their concerns about the future. I was always there to help them through difficult times when they had to deal with terrible ordeals. Being a receptive ear to their voices gave me an understanding of how difficult and fragile life can be.
As a member of Parliament I have once again heard such a voice. I shared the same concerns as others in our community when I heard of the disappearance of a young girl from Penhold. Prayers were all that I could offer. No one knew why her car was left where it was. There was nothing to indicate that she would have strayed from the errand that she was on. Her parents were frantic and our community of central Alberta empathized while we all waited. Finally the news broke that she had been found.
Only then did the pieces of this horrible ordeal start to make sense. The weapons used by her attacker were flashing lights and an RCMP uniform. That is why the car was left there. Her trust of the uniform and the false sense of safety and authority that it presented to her resulted in the most horrendous 46 hours that anyone could imagine.
The subsequent trial of her abductor forced the girl and her family to relive this ordeal. Finally a verdict and a sentence was rendered, but two things haunted them. First was the knowledge that the crime of personating a peace officer amounted to, in those days, only six months imprisonment, which was the maximum sentence allowed before the passage of Bill S-4. Second was that in the commission of this crime, the weapons used to lure her into a trap would not be recognized for what they really were. She had been deceived by the trust she had in the police and the weapon of deceit was considered more of a side issue than the catalyst for the crime.
The day that this brave young lady and her mother came to me for help was the day I knew they needed the receptive ear that I had while I was a teacher, and it would also be part of my job as a member of Parliament. It is my hope that all of my colleagues can recognize the importance of the bill and will see that it is worth supporting.