Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to participate in the debate on Bill C-444, which has to do with personating a peace officer or public officer.
This bill is nearly identical to the former Bill C-576, which died on the order paper during the previous Parliament. Bill C-576 made it to second reading and was passed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The bill has to do with the existing offence of personating a peace officer or public officer. More specifically, it suggests that the fact that an individual personated a peace officer or public officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence should be considered an aggravating circumstance during sentencing. The only difference between the two bills is that the current bill also includes the term “public officer”.
Personating a peace officer or public officer is a hybrid offence punishable under indictment by a maximum of five years in prison. Before 2009, this offence was only a summary conviction offence. At the time, it was punishable by a maximum of six months in prison or a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. It was obviously not considered to be a very serious offence.
In 2009, our government changed this offence to a hybrid offence and increased the maximum prison term to five years in the former Bill S-4, the identity theft bill, which came into force on January 10, 2010.
The five-year maximum prison term takes into account the fact that the offence requires only that we establish that the accused personated a peace officer or public officer. There is no requirement that there be malicious intent to specifically do so or that something malicious be accomplished in doing so.
Some individuals may decide to personate a police officer, for example, simply to feel powerful or as a way to do something else that may or may not be serious, such as getting information or gaining access to a location. Personating a peace officer or a public officer so that others believe that one really is such an officer can, in itself, lead to a conviction. No other evidence is required.
In a few instances, personating a police officer or a public officer will be directly associated with other offences. It is a way to enable the commission of other crimes. Since most people in our society have faith in the police and in other public institutions, they may, because of that faith, submit to the authority of an individual they believe to be a peace officer or a public officer.
Cases where people's trust in police and public officers is abused are very troubling. They must be condemned by sentencing courts and by Parliament. Bill C-444 addresses these cases. The bill would require that personating a peace officer or a public officer for the purpose of committing another offence be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
We could think of many situations where someone would voluntarily get into a police officer's vehicle, or let an officer into their home, before realizing that this person actually means them harm. Such cases are rare, fortunately. However, they are extremely serious, which justifies including them specifically in the Criminal Code.
It is also important to recall that in determining a fit sentence, the court must in all cases take into account all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors. Paragraph 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code describes a number of aggravating factors that apply to all offences. These include, for instance, evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. But in addition to these factors which are specifically listed, the sentencing court always retains discretion to determine if additional circumstances revealed by the evidence are aggravating or mitigating factors that should affect the sentence.
It is already the case that a sentencing judge can take into account the aggravated nature of this form of police or public officer personation. What Bill C-444 does is essentially codify this practice in the text of the law.
Bill C-444 deserves serious consideration in this House because it addresses a truly horrific form of criminality which has so many negative consequences on the public at large, on the ability of police to carry out their functions, and especially on any individuals whose trust in public institutions and authorities was used against them to facilitate their victimization.
While this form of conduct continues to be rare in this country, there have been a number of incidents reported in the media in the last few years. One case involved drivers being stopped by a police impersonator and requested to pay immediately for an alleged speeding offence. Another case involved motorists who were followed after leaving a casino, and then pulled over and robbed of their winnings. There have also been profoundly disturbing cases involving police personation so as to get someone into a car to facilitate their kidnapping.
There was the tragic and devastating incident involving the kidnapping and sexual assault of a teenager in the riding of Red Deer, the riding of the member who is sponsoring this bill. No doubt, this incident is what prompted him to introduce this bill.
All Canadians should be aware that such things can happen and should be encouraged to be vigilant. Citizens should trust the police, but they should also recognize that criminals are not above exploiting that trust. It is a difficult balance to achieve. The exercise of a little bit of caution is a good thing. It is reasonable to ask to see the badge of someone who appears to be a police officer, especially if you are being asked to go with them or to allow them to enter your premises. This kind of verification process must be done respectfully and cautiously.
As Parliamentarians, we can help educate and inform Canadians about these risks. That is exactly what the debate on Bill C-444 is allowing us to do.