Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by once again thanking the member for Red Deer for the work he has done to bring the issue of the personation of peace officers to the attention of the House. As he and others have correctly pointed out, there have been a number of offences committed in recent years in which the offender personated an officer in order to facilitate illegal activity, and these instances have the profoundly troubling consequence of undermining public trust in the police and other officials.
I would also like to acknowledge the courageous appearance before the justice committee of Laurie Long and her daughter Jordan, whose 46-hour ordeal at the hands of a man who pretended to be a police officer evokes in all of us the utmost compassion and outrage. Jordan's determination to not only overcome this trauma but to speak openly about it in an effort both to encourage other victims to come forward and to prevent others from being victimized truly merits the term “heroic”.
Accordingly, I will be supporting Bill C-444 as a statement of the seriousness with which Parliament regards the crime of personation. I can support it because the member for Red Deer has wisely not included a mandatory minimum sentencing provision and, as such, this legislation would be unlikely to have the unintended negative consequences of other Conservative justice bills that have come before us.
However, at the same time the bill is unlikely to have the meaningful positive impact that we all desire, indeed, that which the member for Red Deer desires, mainly fewer instances of personation. The bill would establish that for offenders who personate a peace officer in order to facilitate another offence, this intention would be considered an aggravating factor with respect to the sentence for personation. Yet, as I outlined at second reading, Canada already allows for longer sentences for personation than many comparable jurisdictions, and there has been no suggestion that Canadian judges have been ignoring material aggravating factors when meting them out.
Furthermore, even if some judges were moved by this legislation to issue longer sentences than they otherwise would have, the offenders would still be unlikely to spend more time in prison because the sentence for personation would generally be served concurrently with a longer sentence for the crime it was intended to facilitate. Indeed, while the member for Red Deer outlined at committee certain exceptional hypothetical scenarios in which his bill could conceivably impact the length of a prison term, these scenarios constitute exceptions that prove the rule, which is that the bill will have less of the impact than the member for Red Deer would himself wish on sentencing and prison terms.
Finally, even if this bill were in rare cases to cause certain offenders to spend more time in prison, it has been well established that longer prison terms do not result in less crime. As such, the goal of reducing the occurrence of personation would not be furthered in any event. As I suggested at second reading, preventive measures, such as restricting the availability of authentic looking police attire and equipment, would do more to protect Canadians than this somewhat less than consequential amendment on the matter of sentencing guidelines might do.
I know that the member for Red Deer explained at committee, and today, that his primary purpose in bringing this bill forward was not to increase the length of prison terms, or even to have a direct impact on the incidence of this offence, but rather to raise awareness about the crime of personation. This is a laudable objective, and in fact I have spent much of my own work seeking to raise awareness on various issues, including crimes committed both in Canada and abroad.
While I am on the topic, I will take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to those members from all parties who have participated in the context of Iran accountability week in efforts to raise awareness about the threat posed by the Iranian regime, both to other countries and particularly to its own people. Raising awareness can undoubtedly be an important first step on the road to tangible change.
However, the Criminal Code is an inappropriate tool with which to engage in an awareness campaign. For one thing, I am somewhat uneasy about the precedent of making additions to it that are primarily of a symbolic nature. The Criminal Code functions best when it is simple, efficient, clear and accessible to ordinary Canadians. Amendments to the Code are appropriate when it is determined that there is a fault or a gap in the law, but if we make a habit or a practice of amending it simply for the purpose of signalling concern, however valid a given concern might be— and, again, I applaud the member for Red Deer in his expression of concern—we risk unnecessarily complicating a document that is already dense and complex, not to mention risking unforeseen and undesired consequences in unforeseeable cases.
More importantly, perhaps, the Criminal Code is simply not an effective means of raising awareness. I appreciate that this bill has brought the matter of personation of peace officers to the attention of Parliament, although that goal could have been achieved just as well by way of a motion. However, surely we must seek not only to alert parliamentarians to this problem, but the Canadian public as well. To that end, adding an aggravating sentencing factor to the Criminal Code, especially one that is unlikely to have any real consequential effect, may achieve little, as very few Canadians are conversant in the sentencing guidelines of section 130.
Indeed, the government itself has acknowledged on several occasions that amending the Codes does not, on its own, raise awareness.
Last fall, for example, Parliament unanimously passed Bill C-36 which, similarly to the bill before us, added an aggravating sentencing factor, this one designed to increase penalties for those who target seniors.
At that time, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice stood in this House and said:
This government recognizes the concern expressed by witnesses...who noted that Bill C-36 could not serve as the only response to the problem of elder abuse.
He went on to explain that the bill was intended to complement an awareness and advertising campaign already in place.
Another example is Bill C-26, the citizen's arrest and self-defence act, which received royal assent on June 28 of last year. At committee, Catherine Kane, who was then director general and senior general counsel of the criminal law policy and amendments section in the Department of Justice, and I congratulate her on her appointment since to the Federal Court, referred to the government's plan for educating the public regarding the bill's provisions saying, “we will also be embarking on some public education materials so we can explain to various audiences what these changes mean”.
I regret that I have yet to see any such educational materials in the 11 months since the bill received royal assent. I might add, parenthetically, that while a backgrounder published by the Department of Justice in conjunction with the coming into force of the legislation on March 11 of this year speaks of two guides on the department's website, “What you need to know about making a citizen's arrest” and “Technical guide to self defence and defence of property reforms”, the links to both are broken.
Nevertheless, my point is that even the government has in word, if not always in deed, recognized that education and raising awareness should be conducted outside the Criminal Code. Regrettably, the bill before us does not do likewise. There has been no mention, for instance, of education programs to inform individuals about their right to ask a police officer for identification. Indeed, there has not even been any suggestion that the very change wrought by the bill will be publicized in any way.
Simply having this provision rest as one of many in the Criminal Code that most Canadians only encounter when they are either charged with a crime or fall victim to one does not constitute effective education or awareness-raising, and neither is it a strategy that will prevent, deter or dissuade anyone from engaging in what we all agree is reprehensible behaviour.
Fundamentally, the 2,074 pages of legal language in the Criminal Code are neither a billboard nor a public service announcement. Any attempt to use them as such, however well intentioned, cannot be expected to succeed.
As I said at the outset, I will support this bill so as to join with the member for Red Deer in seeking to make this statement on an important issue. Again, I commend the member for this initiative. However, if we are to protect Canadians from those who would abuse their trust by disguising themselves as peace officers in order to do harm, we must devise concrete measures that can be more effective at both raising awareness and preventing this intolerable crime.