Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-343. Let me begin by acknowledging what I understand to be the objectives of the member in putting this bill forward.
The objective is to make it easier for a peace officer to arrest someone who is breaking the terms of a probation order. The target group for this measure is anyone who is under a probation order. Such an order could include many types of conditions, for example, that the probationer refrain from alcohol, stay within the jurisdiction, avoid use of firearms, or attend counselling.
We may be talking about family situations where someone is convicted of an offence and is ordered to keep away from other
family members. It might be a situation where an offender is ordered to keep away from public parks or school yards.
Failure to comply with a probation order is an offence under the Criminal Code. I suggest that this is good criminal justice policy. Under the current provisions, an offender's probation can be revoked because of a serious breach of a probation condition. He can be arrested and charged for the distinct offence of breaching a condition.
Let us examine some situations and where it leaves a police officer who encounters someone who appears to be breaching one of the conditions of his probation. The police officer's authority is defined in section 495 of the Criminal Code which authorizes the peace officer to arrest without warrant a person found in the course of committing a summary conviction offence.
Say for example the peace officer finds someone loitering around a public park where children are playing. If the peace officer is suspicious of the person he sees loitering at the park, he can investigate in the usual way. If he finds that the person is bound by a probation order which forbids the person going near public parks, he may actually be in a position to arrest him on the spot. Just being present in the park may constitute an active criminal offence.
At the moment, breach of probation is a summary conviction offence and the peace officer's authority to arrest without warrant is limited. To arrest without a warrant the peace officer currently must satisfy the conditions set out in section 495 of the Criminal Code which states that a peace officer shall not arrest a person without a warrant where on reasonable grounds the public interest may be satisfied without so arresting the person at the time.
In making this judgment the peace officer must have regard to all the circumstances, including the need to establish the identity of the person to secure or preserve evidence concerning the offence, or to prevent a continuation or repetition of that offence or another offence. In effect the peace officer has some discretion to arrest on the spot but he must exercise that discretion according to several criteria laid out in the Criminal Code.
Bill C-343 would make the policeman's job easier by freeing him from having to satisfy these conditions. If breach of a probation order were an indictable offence, fewer conditions would need to be satisfied. In that case the police officer could arrest the person if he believed on reasonable grounds that the person had committed the offence or was about to commit it.
This is precisely what Bill C-41 does. Bill C-41 deals with Criminal Code amendments to improve and modernize our system of sentencing. It makes failure to comply with a probation order under section 740 a hybrid offence, that is, one that can be proceeded with by way of indictment or by summary conviction procedure. Hybrid offences are considered the same as indictable offences for purposes of arrest without warrant.
The bottom line is that the police officer will now have the flexibility the member for Wild Rose would like. The police officer can arrest without warrant where he believes the person has breached or is about to breach a condition of his probation and not just during the course of the offence.
Bill C-41 received royal assent on July 13, 1995 but is not yet in force. Therefore the first part of Bill C-343 will be unnecessary as soon as Bill C-41 comes into force.
I would also like to bring to the attention of this House another relevant modification included in Bill C-41. It is a modification to section 740 that may make it easier for the police officer to do his job. Section 740 refers to someone who "wilfully" refuses to comply with a probation order. Bill C-41 changes the wording to "without reasonable excuse". This may make it easier for a police officer to legitimately challenge a person, in the situation I have described, to provide a reasonable excuse for being in the park or near the school yard in apparent violation of the probation order.
Bill C-343 would give more freedom to arrest than Bill C-41 would give. Bill C-343 would create an exception to the general rule for this offence of failure to comply with a probation order. The arresting officer would not have to bother considering the overall circumstances, or whether it was necessary to take the person into custody in order to establish his identity for example.
It is evident there is a preference in our criminal law for using appearance notices or summons as opposed to arresting persons on the spot. Taking someone into custody without warrant should only be done where it is necessary. Alternatively the peace officer is expected to seek a warrant or issue the appearance notice.
Why should we make the breach of a probation order an offence different from most other offences in the Criminal Code? Why should the peace officer not be bound to respect the safeguards placed into the code to guarantee basic rights and liberties?
It is unacceptable to exempt this particular offence from the rules governing arrest powers for other criminal offences. I am not sure whether an argument could not be made that such an exemption is arbitrary or otherwise excessive and therefore contrary to the charter of rights and freedoms. The real issue here is controlling the risk to the community or to particular individuals presented in various situations.
Probationers are subject to the active supervision of probation services and this supervision provides an additional measure of control. Probation officers are experienced in judging when a breach of probation order is merely a technical violation or
something more serious that deserves revocation of the probation or an arrest and separate charges under section 740 of the Criminal Code.
Police and probation officers work together to monitor these conditions. I believe peace officers have what they need to handle almost every situation. If a suspect is actually committing the offence of breach of probation, they have authority to arrest that person without a mandate. Similarly, they have that authority when they believe the suspect has committed the offence or is about to commit an indictable offence. Alternatively, they may choose to issue an appearance notice or even seek a warrant.
They are not overly restricted in their ability to arrest someone who is hanging around a park or drinking alcohol or attempting to approach the residence of a former spouse without a reasonable excuse. If they believe a loiterer is about to repeat that offence or commit another one, they can exercise their good judgment and arrest that person.
I do not believe the criminal law modifications proposed in Bill C-343 are necessary.