House of Commons Hansard #235 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.


And the bells having rung:

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6:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The question is on Motion No. 2.

(The House divided on Motion No. 2, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #397

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6:25 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare Motion No. 2 defeated.

The next question is on Motion No. 3.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #398

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6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare Motion No. 3 defeated.

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6:35 p.m.

Vancouver Granville B.C.


Jody Wilson-Raybould LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

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6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members



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6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


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6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

All those opposed will please say nay.

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6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


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6:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #399

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6:40 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:42 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved that Bill C-365, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firefighting equipment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-365, an act that seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada in relation to mischief or theft of firefighting equipment.

Firefighters count on their equipment to be in place and ready to go at a moment's notice, 365 days a year. However, if that equipment is not ready to be used as a result of theft or mischief, the safety of firefighters and the public they protect can be quickly undermined.

Before I go any further, I must express my appreciation for the support I have received for this bill from the firefighting community across Canada. I would like to thank the International Association of Fire Fighters Canada and the 23,000 firefighters it represents for their support. I would also like to thank the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association for its support. Members of the Fire Prevention Officers Association of BC have also issued their support, and I thank them. I also thank the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the 3,500 fire halls it represents across Canada for their support and getting the word out to support this bill.

This past summer during the worst fire season in British Columbia's history, I was disturbed by reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized when firefighting crews needed their equipment the most. As it turns out, mischief and theft of firefighting equipment is not isolated to wildfire lands in B.C. Unfortunately, there are instances of mischief and theft of firefighting equipment right across Canada.

Such actions can appear to be a minor in threat to public safety, but this appearance is deceiving. Take, for instance, a case in Hamilton, Ontario earlier this year when an individual was arrested and charged for stealing fire nozzles from inside two apartment buildings. The reality is that whether mischief or theft of firefighting occurs in a fire hall, a fire camp, or an apartment building, it can quickly increase the danger to our firefighters and the Canadians they help to protect.

Fire is a hazardous threat that each of us must contend with whether we are at work or at home. Indeed, this Parliament building that we convene in today was rebuilt 100 years ago, one year after being burnt to the ground by fire in 1916.

When Canadians face the destructive force of fire, Canada's firefighters and their equipment serve as the first line of defence. From coast to coast to coast, Canadians depend on their local firefighters to answer the call of duty when fire threatens their homes, lives, and their loved ones. Canada's firefighters answer this call of duty, and I know all members share my appreciation for their selfless dedication.

I am glad to see colleagues from all sides at this debate today, because it is not just an important debate, but also an important opportunity to support Canada's firefighters and fire halls from coast to coast to coast. It is an opportunity for the House to establish clear denunciation and deterrence for mischief and theft related to firefighting equipment in the Criminal Code.

The bill proposes a new and specific offence for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The proposed offence is necessitated by inconsistency in the code's provisions applicable to cases of mischief or theft of firefighting equipment, especially in cases where such mischief or theft causes actual danger to life.

Currently under the code, vandalism or tampering is treated as mischief. Mischief that causes actual danger to life can be prosecuted as an indictable offence and is punishable with a sentence of up to life imprisonment. However, the code contains no provision for theft of property that causes actual danger to life. In the absence of such a provision, theft offences, including theft causing actual danger to life, are limited to maximum penalties of two years' imprisonment for theft under $5,000 or 10 years' imprisonment for theft over $5,000.

It is not hard to see how theft of firefighting equipment could quickly cause danger to life regardless of the monetary value of the equipment. Take for instance the fire nozzles in apartment buildings or the fire extinguishers at a service station. Although these pieces of equipment may not be of high monetary value, they are often the first line of defence in an emergency situation.

By establishing this proposed offence for theft and the corresponding maximum penalty, the bill would establish consistency in the Criminal Code's provisions applicable to mischief and theft of firefighting equipment when such offences cause actual danger to life. To be clear, the proposed maximum penalty of life imprisonment for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life would not be an automatic or mandatory sentence. One reason for this is that prosecutors considering charges for a specific case would first need to elect this offence and win the conviction on the charge for the maximum sentence to be considered.

A conviction under this proposed offence would require a prosecutor to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt: (a) that there was a theft, (b) that the theft included firefighting equipment, and (c) that the theft caused actual danger to life.

Because this proposed penalty does not stipulate a minimum sentence, the application of the sentence would need to be elected by the sentencing judge at his or her discretion. I hope it is clear that we are not considering throwing someone in jail for a long time for stealing a fire extinguisher without actual danger to life having been caused. This new proposed offence will confront acts of theft that cause danger to life when firefighting equipment is stolen.

For this new offence, Bill C-365 proposes the same condition of causing actual danger to life and penalty parameters that currently exist in the code for mischief causing actual danger to life. Considering that theft of firefighting equipment can cause the same danger to life that mischief of firefighting equipment can cause, it is appropriate that the same penalty options be available to prosecutors and judges to work in cases where actual danger to life has been caused.

The second part of Bill C-365 proposes to establish mischief related to firefighting equipment as an aggravating circumstance. This aggravating circumstance would add gravity to the offence of mischief related to firefighting equipment in the course of a judge's determination of a sentence. It is at this stage of the process that a judge considers both aggravating and mitigating circumstances to ascertain the appropriate sentence. The aggravating circumstance would establish in the Criminal Code the principle that mischief related to firefighting equipment is more serious than simple mischief.

The third component of Bill C-365 seeks to establish clarity on what the objective of the sentence should be when a judge is determining a sentence for any theft of firefighting equipment, regardless of whether or not danger to life has been caused.

As I discussed moments ago, the proposed new offence focuses on theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. The theft of firefighting equipment that does not cause actual danger to life would continue to be prosecuted in the Criminal Code's existing provisions, namely, theft offences under section 322 and penalties under section 334.

The key to this part of the bill is that for the sake of sentencing, it identifies the theft of firefighting equipment as a more serious offence than simple theft of other property. As a result, the sentence should focus on the objective of denunciation of the crime and establishing deterrence. Again, the sentencing objective would be waived by the sentencing judge with all the facts of the case and all of the relevant circumstances to determine the appropriate sentence. This special consideration is necessitated when theft involves firefighting equipment that is in place to protect people's lives.

For the sake of comparison, section 718.03 of the Criminal Code has a similar sentencing objective for anyone who kills, maims, wounds, poisons, or injures a law enforcement or military animal. The sentencing objective sets these animals apart from animals the same way the proposed sentencing objective of Bill C-365 would differentiate between property and firefighting equipment when it comes to mischief and theft.

In closing, Bill C-365 has been conceived and developed through research of real-life situations faced by firefighters and the Canadians they help protect. We know that mischief and theft related to firefighting equipment happens. We know that it is more serious than simple mischief or theft. When these offences involve firefighting equipment, there is an inherent risk to public safety, and danger to life can be caused. We know that the Criminal Code, as it stands today, does not offer prosecutors and judges the same range of offences and penalties for theft of firefighting equipment as it does for mischief related to firefighting equipment.

The proposals in this bill are balanced and appropriate, because they do not seek to impede or limit prosecutorial or judicial discretion. In actuality, the proposals in this bill seek to provide prosecutors and judges with more flexibility to deliver stiffer sentences when such sentences are required, especially when danger to life is involved.

The Criminal Code's fundamental principle for sentencing states, “A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” The proposals in this bill would allow prosecutors and judges to better uphold this principle when dealing with cases where mischief or theft of firefighting equipment has occurred, especially when danger to life has been caused. When mischief or theft undermines the capacity of our firefighters to protect our community, the mischief or theft deserves to be denounced by this House.

Canadians across our nation depend on the ability of our firefighters to do their jobs. Firefighters need to be able to do their jobs with the equipment put there to protect us all. Canadians depend on us, as members of Parliament, to be responsible and responsive to the realities across our nation when we have the opportunity to denounce and deter.

I certainly hope all members will support Bill C-365 and support what it proposes for the firefighters and the equipment that support our communities and helps keep them safe 365 days a year.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, as many know, I have stood in the House a number of times and talked about the unprecedented fire season we had in British Columbia and in my riding of Cariboo—Prince George. Not only did our firefighters and those tasked to protect homes and lives in my community have to worry about the fire and the unpredictability of the fire, but they were going out time and again, after laying the lines, to find, unbelievably, that the water bladders, lines, and pumps put in place to fight the fires were stolen, damaged, slashed, or vandalized.

This is a very important bill, and I hope the government will approve it. I know that our hon. colleague has done considerable work on this and that a lot of thought has gone into it.

We are also hearing in British Columbia about thefts of naloxone and paramedic kits from the backs of paramedic ambulances and other firefighting equipment. Does our hon. colleague's bill also deal with theft from that firefighting equipment? It is firefighting equipment, as it is life and limb we are dealing with. Is he hearing about other fire equipment that has been stolen, and would it be covered by this bill?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, this question came up during the research on this bill. We were asked this by firefighters a couple of different times. What we have determined is that the definition of firefighting equipment would rely on the principles of statutory interpretation within Canadian law and that each case would likely have to be determined in the courts as to what constitutes firefighting equipment. The directive we received from legal counsel was that it would not be correct to try to identify every piece of firefighting equipment, simply because something could be identified or invented next week that may not be on the list and so would be excluded. It would be up to the courts to decide what constituted the definition of firefighting equipment.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent description. Perhaps for those on the other side, our hon. colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap is from British Columbia, as I am. With reference to our national firefighting, it is a little different in British Columbia, and I would think throughout other provinces. Our paramedics and EMTs are not only part of the British Columbia Ambulance Service, they are also firefighters. They are often the first on the scene in cases of overdoses and deaths.

Perhaps my hon. colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap could provide other examples of theft of firefighting equipment. He obviously has done a lot of research on this, and it is well thought out.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I did do a lot of research on the bill. There are many cases across Canada of theft of firefighting equipment or damage to it. In fact, less than two weeks ago I had fire chiefs from New Brunswick in my office. They were here on their lobby day on the Hill. We discussed their concerns about legislation and so on. When they had finished their portion, they added that my bill was perfect timing. They had a fire truck stolen in New Brunswick last week. They did manage to recover the truck, but the jaws of life were missing. These instances are happening all over the place.

When I was home in my riding last week, I met with firefighters on their Tuesday night practice night, which is common right across Canada. Tuesday night is volunteer firefighter practice night. When I was speaking with them, many of the members from my riding had actually been up to the Cariboo—Prince George riding on structural protection units. They were speaking of cases where the fire chief actually had to take the fire truck from the hall to his house at night to ensure it was not damaged or equipment was stolen. He could not even leave it locked in the fire hall because of the risk of theft.

This happens right across the country. It is not just an isolated incident. It is a greater threat than what we saw in B.C. this summer.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to rise and indicate from the outset that I oppose this bill for three main reasons that I would like to articulate.

First, the sentencing called for is excessive. Although the crime and its consequences are indeed serious, we reserve 25-year prison sentences for those convicted of first degree murder, not for theft of the kind referred to in this bill.

Second, the Criminal Code already addresses mischief that causes actual danger to life, where if this kind of claim is proven the result is already a life prison sentence.

Third, harsher penalties simply do not serve as a deterrent for those who may commit this type of crime. Instead of handing down harsher sentences, which ultimately will not reduce the instances of theft or vandalism, the NDP believes that resources should be focused on crime prevention to pre-emptively deal with the serious issue that this bill would purport to address.

I want to say at the outset that I agree entirely with the sponsor of this bill, the hon. member for North Okanagan—Shuswap, that tampering with life-saving equipment is a very serious offence. Stealing or vandalizing that equipment can have far more severe consequences than simply stealing merchandise from a store would suggest. I understand my hon. colleague's point in highlighting the issue specific to this kind of theft or vandalism.

We are mindful of the examples in British Columbia this past season, where a water pump and hoses were stolen from the Harrop Creek wildfire, northeast of Nelson. It caused a serious impact on the effectiveness of firefighting activities, posing a safety risk not just to the first responders but to the general public at large.

There was another example of vandalism destroying communications equipment near Creston, B.C. There it was radio equipment that was destroyed in a radio communications tower. Once again, that crime put the safety of firefighting personnel at risk.

However, other measures can be taken to address the theft and vandalism of firefighting equipment. We support preventative measures that can be used to curtail this very disruptive, dangerous behaviour. Focusing on prevention allows us to minimize harm and reduce the burden on our crowded court system.

Instead of relying on punitive action to address crimes that have already been committed, the more effective remedy is to reduce those incidents in the first place. We believe in working with first responders to fix the problem with increased surveillance of vulnerable areas and educating the public, particularly young people, about the harmful repercussions of tampering with equipment.

Reducing the instances of criminal behaviour is a far more worthwhile endeavour than throwing the book at someone once a tragedy has already occurred. If I may be a little colloquial, focusing solely on punishment is a little like locking the barn door after the horse has already escaped.

Before I return to the matter of discussing our reasons for opposition, I would like to take a moment to make a very important clarification. Impeding first responders from doing their job is incredibly serious. It has costly consequences. I would not want to the hon. member to confuse our opposition to the bill with a lack of support for first responders and the incredibly difficult work they do. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Before I hear any rhetoric about being “tough on crime” or accusations of who is not “tough on crime”, we are committed to policies and practices that work, not to sound bites.

Again, we are not disputing the seriousness of the crime at issue. We are simply in disagreement on the best way to deal with the problem. We know that first responders are the first line of defence against disaster. Whether they are firefighters fighting wildfires burning out of control or paramedics waging a war in the opioid crisis, we are here to assist them and bring forward policies that will help make their lives easier.

In British Columbia this past summer, as the member pointed out, we had what Premier John Horgan called the worst wildfire season since the 1950s. These are costly disasters for the natural environment, the wildlife that depends on the environment, and of course human life, safety, and property. Families lose their homes and the tragedy is obvious for all to see.

These wildfires are costing us millions of dollars and are devastating. More than 870 fires sparked across B.C. since April 1, scorching 5,090 square kilometres, and $211.7 million was spent on fire suppression efforts. We in British Columbia are looking to the federal government to do its share to help with financial reparation.

I will return to the specific provisions of Bill C-365, first with respect to excessive sentencing for theft and an unnecessary amendment. I understand the incredible emotional and financial toll these disasters have taken on Canadians. However, I have practised and taught law and when dealing with criminal matters, we always have to be measured, well-reasoned, and proportionate in our response.

Amendments to the Criminal Code must be undertaken with clear heads and a commitment to determine the best course of action to correct the specific problem sought to be addressed. Section 334 of the Criminal Code already punishes theft, including imprisonment for a term of up to 10 years in certain contexts. With regard to theft, therefore, the code is clear. I do not think it is necessary to include firefighting equipment in the list of things to be stolen.

That leads to the second point, where I consider the amendment somewhat redundant. If there is a case where one can prove irrefutably that tampering resulted in danger to the life of another individual, we already have “Mischief” under section 430. Where damages occur to property, or the like, or there is interference with people in the lawful use of their property, there can again be serious consequences, including imprisonment for life. We already have the tools to do the job.

Finally, there is no consensus that harsher penalties will serve as effective deterrents to those who may commit crimes. I will quote from an article written by Professors Doob, Webster, and Gartner in 2014. They stated, “At this point, we think it is fair to say that we know of no reputable criminologist who has looked carefully at the overall body of research literature on 'deterrence through sentencing' who believes that crime rates will be reduced, through deterrence, by raising the severity of sentences handed down in criminal courts.”

An Economist article also cited a review by Steven Durlauf of the University of Wisconsin and Daniel Nagin at Carnegie Mellon University, who found little evidence that criminals responded to harsher sentencing, and much stronger evidence that increasing the certainty of punishment deterred crime. We heard that loud and clear in the testimony at committee on Bill C-46 with respect to driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis. They said in the summary of their article that “This matters for policy, as it suggests that locking vast numbers of people in jail is not only expensive, but useless as a deterrent.” That is what the literature shows.

In conclusion, there are already measures in place in our Criminal Code to ensure that truly reckless, life-endangering mischief is handled in the appropriate way. We have to work collaboratively with first responders to ensure that the public is aware of the harmful results of tampering with firefighting equipment. Awareness campaigns have had a powerful influence on the scourge of drunk driving. They may well be relevant in this context as well.

While all forms of vandalism are certainly to be discouraged, there is a difference here that must be communicated. We have to work with our first responders. I think it would be far more productive, therefore, to discuss ways in which we could provide better support to them than simply creating another offence. Once the damage is done, it is done. There is no going back to undo the harm caused. If harsher sentences with regard to theft are there, these do not necessarily deter would-be criminals. These are not the most effective way of addressing a very significant concern raised by this bill.

Let us do the hard work of truly supporting our first responders and helping them implement measures that would reduce these incidents in the first place.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, the wildfires in interior British Columbia were some of the most devastating wildfires ever seen in literally generations. It is our hope that the people who were affected by them are recovering.

I also want to acknowledge the first responders who did a magnificent job at containing, as much as they could and as best they could, the wildfires that took place.

It is on this premise that my hon. colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap has brought this private member's bill to the House. The interesting part about this is the support he has received from the various organizations that were, first and foremost, on the ground fighting those fires. They had to deal with equipment having been tampered with or stolen. They are the ones who are solidly in support of what my hon. colleague has brought forward.

In his speech, my colleague spoke about the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Volunteer Firefighters Association of BC, the Fire Prevention Officers Association of BC, and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. These groups represent 3,500 fire stations in the country. They are solidly behind the legislation and the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code.

I bring a different perspective to this. As some members are aware, I spent over 30 years as a firefighter. I understand the life safety issues. I understand as well the importance of having proper functioning equipment available as a matter of safety. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to stand in the House today and support what my hon. colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap has proposed.

Just for review and as a matter of background, my colleague has proposed amendments to the Criminal Code to establish specific penalties relating to the theft of firefighting equipment. The bill would also create an aggravating circumstance for sentencing for mischief involving firefighting equipment. Finally, the bill would establish sentencing objectives in relation to the theft of firefighting equipment.

While the Criminal Code currently contains a maximum penalty of a life sentence for mischief causing actual danger to life, which could be applied to tampering or vandalizing firefighting equipment, it does not contain an offence for theft creating actual danger to life. The bill seeks to establish such an offence for theft of firefighting equipment that creates this danger of life. The bill also seeks to provide judges with greater flexibility and crown counsels with more tools when dealing with mischief or theft related to firefighting equipment causing actual danger to life.

I can speak to that issue specifically. In my time as a firefighter, I know all about the preparation it takes and the level of training involved in using the equipment that is available. If that equipment is not available to firefighters, if it has been tampered with or if it has been stolen, then what good is it to firefighting crews?

As the hon. member said, it was not just the interior wildfires of BC where firefighting equipment was stolen or tampered with. It happens right across the country in larger cities such as Toronto, Halifax, and Vancouver, where on a day in and day out basis firefighting crews deal with the theft of equipment. In some circumstances and based on what is happening at the scene and inattention of the crews, they may not necessarily know that equipment has been stolen until they get to the scene of a fire or until they get to the scene of a medical emergency, such as a car accident or a pedestrian having been struck. Then they are not able to deal with the situation because some of the equipment has been either tampered with or stolen.

If there is anything this piece of legislation does, it is that it would provide a deterrent to those who are thinking about tampering with or stealing firefighting equipment from those who protect us and those who need that equipment the most.

As I said earlier, the summer of 2017 was the worst wildfire season in British Columbia's recorded history. Many circumstances arose, and the hon. member from the NDP talked about some of those situations, where firefighting equipment was tampered with and stolen. That is when firefighters need the equipment the most. The bill's proposed three additions to the Criminal Code are related to this. The key aspect of the bill is that it deals with causing danger to life. Causing danger to life is not a new term within the Criminal Code, but this bill speaks specifically to the issues of tampering with or theft of firefighting equipment. As members have heard, subsection 430(2) of the Criminal Code prohibits mischief causing danger to life and prescribes a maximum life sentence for this new offence. Therefore, the new offence of theft of firefighting equipment causing actual danger to life would be consistent with the offence of mischief causing danger to life.

We have heard some of the arguments and counter-arguments that have been made about this and I find it surprising that there would not be broad-based support. We talked about not using the rhetoric of “tough on crime” and using it as a deterrent. If we cannot use this as a deterrent either for those B.C. wildfires or for municipal firefighters to protect our firefighters and therefore protect the people they would deal with in any lifesaving emergency, then I cannot understand whom we are trying to protect in that situation.

I know the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada spoke about the fact that the justice minister, per her mandate letter, is reviewing all aspects of the Criminal Code. What the hon. member for North Okanagan—Shuswap is asking for is a specific amendment to the Criminal Code based on what he has heard from those who are first and foremost affected by this situation. That is not only the firefighters who dealt with the situations in British Columbia, but also firefighters right across the country. Therefore, it is important to understand that we need to support those who support us with respect to emergency responders, and that is why I am asking for the support of my colleagues here in the House.

I also want to bring up an interesting discussion that I had recently. As most members of the House will know, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs had a lobby day on Parliament Hill. Members of the association spoke about a situation that the government should be looking at with respect to heavy urban search and rescue teams. Like our American friends and firefighters from other countries, Canadian firefighters often go to the U.S. to assist with fire disasters and large and extreme forest fires. It is interesting that in spite of the fact that HUSAR teams are funded by the government, Canadian HUSAR teams are not qualified for the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, which means that international deployment is good for international relations and international reciprocity. Canadian heavy urban search and rescue teams are looking for the same treatment as forest fire suppression teams and to be able to move across borders to assist and train. I know that people were on the Hill asking for the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to build up HUSAR task forces qualified to deploy across not just provincial boundaries but also international boundaries.

As I said at the onset, the interesting part of this is that the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap says that there is broad-based support among the firefighting community for this type of amendment to the Criminal Code, not just to protect the fire chiefs' firefighters, the International Association of Fire Fighters, but also to make sure they are capable and have the ability to protect communities across this country.

It is for that reason that I am proud to stand today and support my hon. colleague for what I think is a bill that is needed and wanted by our firefighting community.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise and address the House on a number of different types of issues that are brought forward. I understand and appreciate why the member has brought forward this legislation. During the press statement, the member said his objective was to try to fill a gap that he believes exists within the legislation. It is very admirable that the member looked at ways in which he might be able to assist.

I have had opportunities over the years to work very closely with first responders, and in particular, firefighters, not only here in Ottawa but also in my home province of Manitoba. Whether it is provincial legislation or federal initiatives that have been taken, there is no doubt there are things government can do to try to make a difference.

I think of individuals like Alex Forrest, who has done a fantastic job of expressing the needs of firefighters. Often when we think of firefighters, we think of those who are being paid, but there is a significant contribution that individuals make as volunteer firefighters. I would like to start by acknowledging the efforts of firefighters for the fine work that they do, day in and day out, never knowing when they are going to be called out, but always being prepared to meet the call, whatever it might be.

We hear a lot about the significant forest fires in the province of British Columbia this past year. When we had our national caucus in Kelowna, a number of my colleagues talked a great deal about the forest fires in B.C. in terms of the impact not only in the local communities but far beyond. I think of northern Alberta where the entire community of Fort McMurray was literally destroyed and how the firefighters came to the plate not only at the time but also afterward. Throughout communities in British Columbia and Alberta, individuals come out in a very tangible way to repair the damage that has been caused by fire.

As a whole, people are very much aware. I have had the opportunity to see a prairie fire and how quickly it spreads with a marginal wind. It can be a very scary situation in rural communities where we try to do what we can with water bombers or individuals on the ground being cognizant of their environment and how quickly a gentle shift in wind can change the dynamic quite significantly. It is very dangerous, and we want to ensure that we have the best equipment for Canadians to fight fires, particularly in remote or rural communities or municipalities, no matter what size they might be.

When I look at the legislation, I can appreciate the message the member is trying to get across. The parliamentary secretary responded to the member's legislation after he introduced it, and in essence said this and I want to repeat it. When the member talked at the press conference, from what I understand, he talked about filling a gap.

It is important that we recognize that offences in general application, including theft, mischief, mischief endangering life, and criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, could be used in the circumstances where firefighting equipment is stolen or vandalized. I do not think I am alone in making this suggestion. I do not think that there really is a gap, and do not necessarily concur with the member's comments that the proposed legislation is warranted, or at least in his explanation he was not able to convince me that it is warranted. However, I understand and appreciate just how important it is that firefighters have the necessary equipment to combat fires.

I will make a different suggestion to my colleagues across the way on this issue. I believe we can do more through education than we can through this type of legislation. This is an area I would love to see more discussion and debate on inside the chamber. The educational component is very important.

I made reference to the spreading of a prairie fire. I think most Canadians would be quite surprised to learn how quickly a large area can be consumed by fire. We are not talking about hours, but in minutes acres of land with trees or prairie grass can be consumed. Also, many of these fires are not caused by natural disasters. They can occur from open-pit fires, for example. I do not believe that we do enough in terms of promoting and encouraging education on these types of things.

As much as I appreciate what the member across the way is advocating, I am not sure if in fact this is an area that really needs to see new legislation. At times the Conservative Party tends to want to sound tough on criminal activities, but if we take a look at the current criminal laws in place, I believe they suffice and do meet these needs.

The Prime Minister always talks about room to improve and that we can always do better. One area I would suggest that we could improve and do better on is providing more leadership on the issue of general awareness and public education, and getting the different stakeholders together in terms of what it is that we could be doing from a national perspective. I do not want to be critical of municipalities or other organizations that are out there, but I think that we need to see more of a coordinated approach in dealing with issues such as this through education, whether it is in our schools, public advertising through different budgetary allotments, municipal, provincial, or even national. This would go a lot further in protecting our firefighters and so forth.

One of the biggest initiatives that I want to make reference to is the creation of the fund for families of firefighters who fall in the line of duty, which the government recently initiated. It shows that the government is open and listening to what our firefighters have to say. Also, when I was in the Manitoba legislature, we looked at ways in which we could make changes to workers compensation to assist our firefighters.

I am very much open to ideas about how we can improve the environment in which our firefighters are called upon to serve. I respect the fine work they do day in and day out. I commend all of the firefighters who have been combatting fires in Alberta, or anywhere in Canada, and particularly in the province of British Columbia because of its difficulties this past year.