Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for all of his work on this private member's bill. The purpose of the bill is an important one: protecting our firefighters. They are truly our country's heroes.
At the same time, the government has a number of concerns, and I will outline those.
It is my pleasure to speak today to Bill C-365, an act to amend the Criminal Code for firefighting equipment. The bill proposes to make changes to the Criminal Code to denounce and deter the theft of or mischief against firefighting equipment. The bill appears to be in response to various reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized during, most recently, the wildfires in British Columbia in 2017, although I note that my colleague referred to other instances that had come to his attention.
Before I discuss some of the specific proposals of Bill C-365, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge all British Columbians affected by the natural disaster of these fires. I can only imagine how difficult it has been for those people who were asked to evacuate their homes at a moment's notice, without knowing whether they would have anything left upon their return.
I would also like to acknowledge the brave efforts of firefighting crews that worked in extremely difficult conditions to try to bring those fires under control. Their work limited the destruction and devastation caused by this natural disaster.
All Canadians owe these brave women and men a debt of gratitude.
The 2017 wildfire season has been the most destructive on record. Last August, the B.C. Wildfire Service information officer reported an estimated 894,941 hectares had burned, surpassing a mark set in 1958, when 855,000 hectares of land had been destroyed.
It is equally important to acknowledge the devastating impacts that this natural disaster has had, especially on B.C. first nations communities. I am aware that our government is committed to continuing its support of British Columbia and B.C. first nations communities facing the immediate and long-term impacts on wildfires. I was pleased to hear about the creation of the ad hoc cabinet committee on federal recovery efforts for the 2017 BC wildfires by the Government of Canada. The committee was created to advise our government on its role in mitigation, recovery, and rebuilding efforts in response to the wildfires.
On September 5, 2017, the committee met with members of the B.C. government, first nations community leaders, and representatives from the Canadian Red Cross to discuss progress and ensure a coordinated response to the wildfires. I understand the work of this committee to be focused on helping the people of British Columbia with the immediate and long-term effects of these destructive wildfires.
Likewise, I was happy to learn, and all those affected by this natural disaster can be reassured, that our government will contribute up to $38.6 million to the Canadian Red Cross, which is equivalent to the amount that the Canadian Red Cross is providing in support to British Columbia wildfire victims. These funds will be directed towards wildfire evacuees as they recover and re-establish their livelihoods.
I am proud that our government will continue to work in collaboration with Emergency Management British Columbia and on-reserve first nations communities to establish and develop recovery plans and reimburse eligible response and recovery costs.
Prevention is also an important part of the equation. That is why our government has also committed to conducting a review of the response to these fires, in full partnership with the government of British Columbia and B.C first nations communities, to not only improve emergency management, but establish preventative measures that can be undertaken to better respond to future fires.
All of this context is important, as I understand that it is animated and informed, much of the reason for this private member's bill. Thus, let me return to the substance of Bill C-365 which, as my colleague pointed out, proposes three changes to the Criminal Code.
First, it would create a new indictable offence of theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The offence would be punishable by a proposed maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Second, the bill would require courts that sentence an offender for mischief to consider, as an “aggravating circumstance” at sentencing, that the property in relation to which the mischief occurred was firefighting equipment.
Last, the bill would require courts to give primary consideration to the sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence in all situations involving theft of firefighting equipment, that is, even in those thefts that do not require actual danger to Iife.
Under the law as it stands today, this conduct is already captured under offences of general application such as theft, mischief, mischief endangering life, and criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death. Similarly, the Criminal Code already provides general authority for sentencing courts to consider all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the gravity of the offence or the degree of responsibility of the offender.
Let me say that in my experience in criminal courts, the judiciary are very adept at listening to these aggravating factors as they are presented on a case-by-case basis. In those circumstances where the property involves theft of equipment that is used for the purposes of emergency response, that would almost certainly be considered as an aggravating factor that would have a negative impact on the length of the sentence.
The Minister of Justice's mandate letter requires her to conduct a review of our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade. I, and many of my colleagues on this side, have spoken about the importance of the comprehensive criminal justice review that this government has committed to undertaking.
I know that this review is seeking to ensure that our laws increase community safety, address gaps in the law, and ensure that current provisions are aligned with the objectives of the criminal justice system. The mandate letter to the Minister of Justice requires that all legislative initiatives be informed by performance measurement evidence and feedback from Canadians and it directs the minister to ensure that resources are directed towards those initiatives that have the greatest positive impact on the lives of Canadians.
It is worth noting that often there is an inclination on the part of many, in response to a crisis or some immediate tragedy, to seek an immediate amendment to the Criminal Code in the belief, often sincerely held, that the criminalization of that conduct will prevent its recurrence. Sadly, a legislative solution may not always be the most effective means of ensuring that this conduct will not occur again.
Often the most effective solution to a problem is one that considers a more comprehensive response. I would invite all members of this House to consider the most effective way to redress this specific situation. I look forward to a thorough discussion and debate on the merits of this bill, including a discussion on performance measurement and the evidence available to support this legislative initiative.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap for providing us the opportunity to consider this issue. The bill is a well-intentioned proposal targeting serious conduct that can endanger the lives of our communities and fire response personnel. However, I wonder whether the solution to the problem lies uniquely in legislative amendments or whether such conduct can be effectively addressed through other potential avenues.
I will be closely following this debate, and I look forward to hearing from other members on the potential impacts of this bill.