Madam Speaker, the goal of parliamentarians is to bring forward legislation that is in the interest of society at large and the general protection of everyone in Canada. The ideal would be a situation in which the laws governing us are appreciated by and adhered to by all people equally. However, some in society arrive at the unfortunate conclusion that the law only applies to others. It is in that context that I speak to the specific need for the passage of Bill C-365, a private member's bill introduced by my colleague from North Okanagan—Shuswap.
This important bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code in relation to the protection of firefighters' equipment. These amendments are intended to address a need for better deterrence of some criminal activities we are seeing committed more frequently and which have the potential to place the safety, and even the lives, of Canadians at risk.
Increasingly, firefighters across the country are reporting a rise in thefts and incidents of mischief that target the equipment of these men and women employed to protect us when fire occurs. Alarmingly, firefighters are finding cases in which their equipment and gear has been stolen and vandalized, from the fittings on their vehicles being taken to fire suppression equipment in apartment complexes being ripped out. This trend came to light last year after my home province of Alberta and our neighbours to the west in British Columbia endured catastrophic wildfires.
In B.C. alone last year, wildfires burned well over a million hectares of land. Firefighters mobilizing to battle such blazes found their equipment vandalized or outright stolen. I recall a specific example from last year. In August, crews battling the wildfires that scorched B.C. discovered the theft of their firefighting equipment when returning to the site. The BC Wildfire Service reported a water pump and many fire hoses stolen from the Harrop Creek wildfire site. The agency said the theft of the pump and 10 hoses not only hampered the effectiveness of its firefighting activities but also posed a clear safety risk to the public, especially to the crews working to contain the fires. At a time when more than 100 wildfires were burning across B.C., someone thought this an appropriate occasion to rip off equipment our first responders needed to fight the blazes.
Ken McMullen of the Calgary Fire Department told me recently how the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has identified theft and vandalism of equipment as one of the association's official concerns. This is not a theoretical problem. These crimes are happening. They are concerning for our firefighters and jeopardizing Canadians' safety, our properties, our landscapes, and our environment. At critical times when it is needed most, the equipment our firefighters depend on for their dangerous jobs is going missing or being compromised.
It seems a counterintuitive crime in which to engage, since the same people who are stealing this equipment or causing damage to it are often likely members of the same community that will depend on firefighters to protect them in the event of a crisis. However, since common sense or even self-preservation cannot be relied upon to deter such dangerous and foolish crimes, it becomes apparent that more is needed to do in law.
It concerns me that some of my colleagues across the way do not share this view. They are always careful to acknowledge the difficult work firefighters do, but still signal they will not support this bill, which, by the way, has the backing of every major organization representing the firefighting community in Canada. The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, prevention officers, and professional and volunteer firefighters have all endorsed this bill.
I know one might say that there are already clauses in the Criminal Code to deal with such crimes as theft and mischief. Indeed, that was the stance the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice took during earlier debate on this bill when he said other avenues are available to address the problem. Yes, theft in general is, of course, already illegal and theft over $5,000 is already punishable with possible jail time, but none of the code's theft offences specifically recognize how theft of property as vital as firefighting equipment can cause actual danger to life.
The potential hazards associated with stealing firefighting equipment go far beyond those of theft in general. Respectfully, I suggest that the parliamentary secretary is missing the point of the bill. The existing avenues he mentions have penalties once injury or death has been caused, but Bill C-365 seeks to prevent such needless injuries and deaths in the first place by subjecting the threat of injury or loss of life to a more stringent penalty. This would provide the deterrence needed to restrict the senseless theft and vandalism of such equipment that will inevitably lead to such injuries and fatalities.
In defending the status quo, the parliamentary secretary is not listening to the tens of thousands of Canadian firefighters who have already indicated their support for the provisions of this bill. He will acknowledge the difficulty of the firefighters' work, and rightly so, but he still stops short of giving them the support they are asking for to do their work.
Stealing firefighters' equipment should be dealt with in a much more serious manner. Stealing a piece of equipment one knows will be used to protect lives, and possibly endangering a person's life by doing so, is not the realistic, moral, or ethical equivalent of stealing something that has material value only, even if the monetary value of the items are equal.
Kevin Skrepnek, a chief fire information officer with the B.C. Wildfire Service, was quoted as saying, “Obviously in any situation the theft of equipment is reprehensible, but especially with what we're dealing with right now.” I absolutely agree with the officer.
Such thefts are indeed especially reprehensible in light of the consequences they can have for innocent people, and acts of mischief related to fire equipment, including increasingly common incidents targeting local fire stations and vehicles, are just as hazardous. Current penalties for such crimes do not adequately reflect the serious consequences these offences could have for the safety of the people we send into action when fire threatens. Since these offences can ultimately cause danger to life, they must be treated in a much more serious manner. A more serious consequence for such crimes would go a long way toward preventing more people from committing such crimes in the first place and would therefore increase the chances that firefighters responding to a blaze would have all they needed at hand to leap into action.
The NDP member for Victoria made the curious assertion during debate in November that penalties do not serve to deter crime. I disagree with this assertion. An individual's second thoughts about just how long he may have to cool his heels in jail go much further to prevent the commission of a crime than more government money to finance public education campaigns that the NDP always proposes in place of penalties. However, even if the member were correct and deterrence did not work in this instance, that does not mean that someone should not actually be punished for crimes he commits.
The summary of Bill C-365 spells out how the bill would offer deterrence value through penalties for the serious crimes of stealing or vandalizing firefighters' equipment. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to establish a new offence for theft of firefighting equipment that causes actual danger to life. It would also create an aggravating circumstance for sentencing if mischief involved firefighting equipment and would establish sentencing objectives in relation to the theft of such equipment.
As the sponsoring member has said, there is a gap in the code “when it comes the denunciation and deterrence of theft or damage to firefighting equipment.”
To close, we must take action to stop these senseless acts of theft and vandalism, which are not petty crimes, based on their potentially deadly impact. These crimes pose threats to the ability of our firefighters to do their jobs and therefore present a real threat to persons and property.