Mr. Speaker, when I was speaking to this before, I commented on the problems that could arise with police personation because it offends a natural trust, which we would like to think is ordinarily well-founded, that could be exploited and abused by criminals for their own purposes. Every time someone pretends to be a peace officer or a public officer with the intent of deceiving the public or a particular person, damage is indeed done to society's overall ability to trust in the uniform and the other identifiable tools and equipment that such officers would normally carry.
This leads to the second conclusion about this offence. No matter what the purpose of the personation is, or even if there is no purpose at all, it is dangerous and criminal conduct. Public trust in the police and other public institutions is critical to public order and stability.
Returning to Bill C-444, the legislation addresses the most serious forms of the offence of personating a peace officer or a public officer. I would pause to note that the offence under section 130 applies to personation of both peace officers and public officers, both of which are defined in the Criminal Code.
Bill C-444 proposes an aggravating factor that also addresses the personation of a peace officer and a public officer. This is a reasonable approach when one takes into account the definitions of those terms. “Peace officer” is defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code and includes holders of particular offices, most important, police officers and corrections officers. The term “public officer” is also defined in section 2 of our Criminal Code and includes, for instance, customs officers and officers in the Canadian Forces. There is some overlap between the terms and therefore it is sensible to include both.
The personation of a peace officer or a public officer, and most especially the police, is the most troubling circumstance. Pretending to be a peace officer or a public officer is serious, regardless of the purpose for which it is done, as I said, or even if there is no purpose at all. However, when a person's trust in the police is exploited in order to make it easier to commit another crime, and in particular, a crime against the person who was made to believe they were dealing with a police officer in the first place, that is extremely blameworthy conduct. Bill C-444 aims to ensure that individuals who would do exactly this are punished accordingly.
We are fortunate in Canada to have a society in which citizens, on the whole, trust their law enforcement. This trust leads citizens to want to accept the authority of anyone who appears to be a police officer. A police personator can exploit this trust and use it to more easily approach, interact with and assert physical authority over others.
Peace officer or public officer personation is, in general, quite rare, and thankfully, this more blameworthy form of it is even rarer. Unfortunately, however, it does still take place. Bill C-444 aims to identify this situation as one that aggravates the crime and should lead to a harsher sentence than that which would otherwise be imposed on the offender.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Red Deer for introducing Bill C-444, and allowing us, as parliamentarians, to discuss this serious problem, and in doing so, educate Canadians on these very real risks.