Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-444, presented by the Conservative member for Red Deer. According to the bill, its enactment amends the Criminal Code to establish that impersonating a police officer or a public officer for the purpose of committing another offence must be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
From the outset, I want to reiterate the position put forth by the Liberal Party critic, the hon. member for Mount Royal, that this bill be sent to the justice committee for review. I would also suggest, as did my hon. colleague for Mount Royal, that the bill seems more declaratory than prescriptive. I say this not to in any way impugn the motives of the member, who raises an important issue, but rather to suggest that the effect of the bill, if passed, would be of little consequence. It is already an offence under the Criminal Code to impersonate a police or peace officer. However, I am pleased that the member resisted the temptation to constrain judicial discretion in the bill and that he further resisted the temptation to impose a mandatory minimum sentence. I want to say that the hon. member is providing an opportunity to draw the much needed attention of Parliament and the public to the fact that there are people out there who will impersonate a police officer.
The case that motivated the hon. member for Red Deer to introduce the bill relates to a very tragic and disturbing situation whereby an individual posing as a police officer pulled over a young women. He did so using police-style flashing lights and wearing what appeared to be a police uniform. I would note that this young woman of 16 reacted the way most of us would. Most of us would pull over if we saw flashing lights. The young woman regrettably placed her trust in the hands of someone who caused her great harm, both physically and emotionally. This type of event would naturally cause most of us to stop and wonder how this could happen and what we might do to remedy it in future. Therefore, I understand the motivation behind the bill and applaud the member for his effort.
As mentioned earlier, we should review this bill at committee. We should ensure that the justice committee hears from victims, law enforcement and the legal community. We need to do this to ensure that the bill meets the intended objective of the member and the House. The committee process would also provide an opportunity to highlight the issue of individuals impersonating police officers.
I took the opportunity to read previous interventions on this bill, including the speech given by the member for Mount Royal. In his speech, he correctly indicates the difficulty of deterring an individual intent on impersonating a police officer. For whatever reason, there are obviously troubled individuals who seek to become people they are not. As suggested, an individual impersonating a police officer is not likely to parse through the relevant sections of the Criminal Code to identify the sentencing regimes involved for such and such a crime. Therefore, a higher sentence in a circumstance such as this is unlikely to be a deterrent. What would be of some value is to explore the possibility of limiting or cutting off the ability of individuals to buy and sell paraphernalia that allows criminals to impersonate police officers. In particular, I speak of limiting the ability of individuals to obtain flashing lights and police-like uniforms.
I want to return to the point about public awareness, which to me is the value of the bill. It is important that governments and police at all levels work together and encourage public awareness. We need to tell Canadians that it is okay to ask questions when pulled over or when otherwise engaged by people presenting themselves as police officers. Canadians should know that it is okay to be cautious. It is okay to request a badge number or to call 911 if something seems to be seriously amiss.
I commend the initiative put forth by the hon. member for Red Deer. I would also suggest that in some respects, he is setting himself apart from his Conservative colleagues.
Time and time again, we have seen a right wing ideology emerge in the private members' bills of the Conservative back bench. These so-called tough on crime pet projects are approved by the Prime Minister's Office and the Minister of Justice. Most of them, except the measure before the House today, are rooted in ideology not in reality.
Conservatives have a very loose relationship with facts. They have an even more distant relationship with reality when it comes to crime. Far too often, Conservatives use the Criminal Code as a fundraising tool. Most of us would agree that we must deal with crime in our communities. We must continue to send the message to criminals that there are consequences to committing crime. However, Canadians want a justice system that is evidence-based, cost effective and focused on crime prevention. Therefore, while most members of the Conservative caucus have an approach to crime that lacks evidence and facts, Canadians want and deserve evidence-based policy.
Recent data provided by Statistics Canada tell us that crime rates are going down in Canada. Serious crime, in particular, is down across the board.
Justice must be firm, fair and proportionate. It cannot, however, be arbitrary and punitive. Nonetheless, the government continues to introduce bills that run contrary to evidence and facts. One of the more egregious aspects of their so-called crime agenda is their wilful failure to make a proper connection between addiction, mental health problems, generational poverty and resulting criminal activity. We can never excuse crime but we cannot ignore the role, for example, that poverty and addictions play as key factors in the commission of crime.
The real danger, it seems to me, with these one-off crime bills is the damage they cause to the coherence of the Criminal Code. It is simply not good public policy to cherry-pick the Criminal Code. Changes to the Criminal Code should never be made to satisfy the political interests of the Conservative caucus. Furthermore, the Criminal Code should never be used as a fundraising tool by Conservative operatives. Unfortunately, however, this is what is happening in Canada under the Conservative government.
I will close by saying to the hon. member for Red Deer that this bill is an exception in this regard. I believe that the issue he is raising in this legislation is worthy of review and study, and I salute him for his effort.