Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to rise today and to participate in the debate on Bill C-365, an act to amend the Criminal Code, firefighting equipment.
The bill seeks three Criminal Code amendments, including: the creation of a new offence of theft of firefighting equipment that actually endangers life; the requirement that courts that sentence an offender for mischief to consider, as an aggravating factor, that the property in relation to which the mischief occurred was firefighting equipment; and, finally, the requirement that courts give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence in cases of theft of firefighting equipment.
At the outset, it is very important to acknowledge, and I would like to acknowledge, the laudable objective of the bill and sincerely thank the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap for giving the members of the House an opportunity to debate this issue. That being said, our government is unable to support this legislative initiative, for reasons which I will explain.
I would note the observations made by many of my colleagues during this and previous debates that there is no gap in the criminal law's ability to respond to, and effectively address, the theft of and mischief to firefighting equipment. As has been highlighted already, there is a robust set of offences in the Criminal Code that can address this conduct.
I would like therefore to spend my time today speaking about other equally important and related reasons why I cannot support these proposed legislative amendments.
As I understand, the Minister of Justice mandate letter has called upon her to concentrate her efforts on initiatives that get the most value for hard-earned taxpayer dollars. We must ensure that the criminal law reform initiatives that we bring forward are based on evidence and approaches that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system's response to crime. On this front, Bill C-365, though well intentioned, is not an initiative that would get Canadians value for their hard-earned tax dollars.
First, there is very little information available about the extent of the problem. While several media outlets reported in the summer of 2017 that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated a number of thefts and acts of mischief related to firefighting equipment in British Columbia, none of these reports confirmed that any charges were in fact laid.
Second, upon closer examination of the issue, I could find no statistics related to the offences of theft or mischief of firefighting equipment.
Third, upon a cursory review of legal databases, we could find no reported cases where an offender was charged or convicted of theft or mischief to firefighting equipment. To be clear, this does not mean that no cases can exist. Certainly I am aware of media reports in other parts of the country also involving the theft of metal fittings.
However, without clear examples of how such matters have been dealt with under the existing law, much of the problems identified by the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap are speculative. In my opinion, more concrete evidence would be needed about the scope and nature of the issue before exploring whether legislative amendments would be necessary. I firmly believe it would be prudent to fully examine the prevalence of thefts and mischief to firefighting equipment before proposing Criminal Code amendments.
Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest any of the proposed legislative amendments in Bill C-365 would be more likely than the current criminal law to deter future thefts or mischief to firefighting equipment. To the contrary, there is an abundance of evidence, which suggests the exact opposite, namely, that harsh penalties do not act as a deterrent for those who commit crimes.
Studies demonstrate it is the certainty of being caught that is the best at deterring individuals from committing crime, not the fear of being punished or the severity of the punishment. This does not mean, however, that tough penalties are not warranted for persons who engage in criminal conduct that endangers the lives of others. For example, the offences of mischief to property endangering life under subsection 430(2) and criminal negligence causing death under section 220 are two current offences in the Criminal Code that could be applied to the most serious cases of theft and/or mischief to firefighting equipment, and both of these offences carry the highest maximum penalty provided under the criminal law, which is life imprisonment.
What is more, isolated legislative amendments that seek nothing other than to increase penalties and reduce judicial discretion to craft individualized sentences have a proven track record in Canada and abroad for not only failing to reduce the incidence of crime, but also creating a whole host of negative consequences, including but not limited to increasing cost, and contributing to delays and inefficiencies in the administration of justice. As I understand it, it is precisely these criminal justice policies of the past that have contributed to a lack of internal consistency in the Criminal Code.
If I may offer by way of example, the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the new proposed offence is inappropriate considering that it would be significantly greater than the 14 year maximum penalty for the offence of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, which entails more of a direct risk of danger to life but also actually where bodily harm has occurred.
Similarly, the maximum penalty provided in this offence would be higher than what is currently provided in the Criminal Code for terrorist financing, facilitating terrorist activities, and leaving Canada to facilitate terrorist activity. Moreover, from a practical point of view, the new offence would create evidentiary problems that would complicate the prosecution of such conduct. In order to obtain a conviction under the new offence, the crown would be required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the theft of the firefighting equipment directly caused actual danger to life. However, it may be difficult and in some cases virtually impossible to prove that someone's life was endangered by the theft of firefighting equipment.
Moreover, the efficacy of this new proposed tool is further reduced by the absence in Bill C-365 of necessary amendments that would allow the police to investigate this offence. For instance, the bill does not propose the inclusion of the new offence in the part of the Criminal Code that governs the interception of communications, and fails to provide the police with the ability to seek a DNA warrant to investigate the offence. The inability of police to rely on these important investigatory tools would make it far less likely that the offence would be relied upon and charged.
As I understand it, addressing these much needed consequential amendments would likely be outside the scope of Bill C-365.
Another important consideration is that the creation of a specific offence that overlaps with offences of general application in the Criminal Code can lead to greater inconsistency in charging practices across Canada. Where a specific offence carries a significantly higher maximum penalty, prosecutors have proven more likely to accept pleas to the lesser and included offence. This can undermine the very rationale behind creating a specific offence. That is, while the offence is enacted to respond to a particular type of offending, in practice, the offence is rarely prosecuted and convictions are rarely obtained. In the end, such specific offences remain in the Criminal Code and rapidly become obsolete.
I have every confidence that our police, our prosecutors, and the judiciary have all the tools that are necessary to deal with this conduct. Moreover, absent any evidence to the contrary, it is entirely reasonable to assume that courts are likely to take conduct that is in the scope of the bill as being very serious.
In my opinion, Bill C-365 would not have an impact on improving public safety, the administration of justice, or the prevention of thefts and mischief to firefighting equipment. It is for these reasons that I cannot support Bill C-365. I therefore urge all members of the House to oppose this bill.