Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of our police officers. Across the country and for many years they have been calling for the reforms offered by Bill C-211. In fact, the police wrote this bill, the government not being able to develop a concept as simple and as common sense as this one. They had to do the work for them. Why did they do it? To keep Canadians safer. I am proud to do my part to see that police officers are given the authority to arrest parolees caught in violation of release conditions.
Specifically Bill C-211 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to create a hybrid offence of breach of parole or conditions of release. As a result, existing Criminal Code section 495 would allow peace officers to arrest without warrant an offender who is found to be in breach of his or her parole or release conditions. This bill would also grant arresting peace officers the authority to detain an individual charged with such an offence in order to allow the National Parole Board time to consent to or to oppose the continuation of his parole freedom.
As a new parliamentarian and a trusting Canadian citizen I was shocked to discover that this gap in law existed at all. Like most people I know, I would have presumed that a person on parole had such a privilege only as long as he was living within the conditions set at the time of his release. I would have also presumed that breaking those rules immediately removed privilege of parole. But that is not the case.
Chief of police Ian Russell said last month there is no power of arrest for a police officer who finds a person in violation of his parole. Ian Russell is the new police chief for the Ontario community of LaSalle. His comment appeared in the Windsor Star of January 17, 1998. Mr. Russell is a veteran of this war to amend the Criminal Code and has illustrated the problem clearly with the following story:
A convicted wife beater is released from jail but a condition of his parole is he stay at least 1,000 metres from the home of his victim. Nevertheless he goes to her home and stands on the public sidewalk. The frantic victim calls the police.
Officers arrive but the man is not trespassing. His behaviour cannot be called stalking. But he is violating the parole.
Can the police arrest him and remove the apparent threat. Not unless, as Russell explains, the convicted wife beater breaks another law on the spot. Because he is only in violation of a condition of his parole the wife beater could remain there until a police officer went to the parole officer and submitted a report or contacted the parole officer to ascertain whether he would issue a warrant to suspend the parole. Then and only then, armed with the warrant, can the police officer return to try and fine the parolee, arrest him and return him to custody.
The parole officer has no way of assessing an imminent risk and must rely on the peace officer's assessment anyway. The step of contacting a parole officer is pointless and potentially risky. This makes no sense. In the time it takes to contact a parole officer and convince him of the need to arrest the violator, he can leave the scene and repeat the whole business over and over again.
As Russell points out, if the violator has decided he will end up back in jail anyway he may return to do something “really worthwhile”.
What is achieved in this scenario? Nothing except for the protection of the privileges of the former inmate. I point out that a conditional release is a privilege. It must be earned on the inside, monitored on the outside and be capable of being enforced without needless bureaucratic red tape. That is why I stand in support of Bill C-211.
It seems only natural and only right that the safety of law-abiding Canadians should come before the privileges of a convicted criminal who has not even completely repaid his debt to society. I prefer to think of this as closing a loophole and not the reinterpretation of fundamental rights in this country. Bill C-211 is intended to return the balance of rights to law-abiding Canadians. That is those who expect our police officers to protect Canadians and their families from known dangers.
This bill has a three part upside which should make it particularly easy for members from all sides of this House to throw their support behind it.
First, the bill's only purpose is to help police protect society. That makes it non-partisan and nearly controversy free. Why would we as elected members of Parliament not help police do their jobs?
Second, it requires no money. How often can we say that about a piece of helpful legislation?
Finally, it confers no inappropriate powers on police. In fact, it clarifies a power most people would say should already exist. I can only restate that it is unacceptable for police themselves to be handcuffed by the inefficiencies of a pointless warrant process.
I am fully aware of the mine field we walk through known as the charter of rights and freedoms, or should I call it the challenges to the charter, which test the patience of regular Canadians such as me. One of the only criticisms of this bill is that without proof that present system imposes unreasonable time constraints on the police, broader police powers to arrest parolees who have committed no new offence would be unlikely to withstand a charter challenge.
I am in agreement that the charter should protect our individual rights and freedoms. As a member of the Reform Party I am committed to this philosophy and support our victims bill of rights. It is the ridiculousness of criminals using these very rights and freedoms they have themselves betrayed to shield themselves from punishment or to endanger innocent citizens that I disagree with.
Is it just me or are not convicted criminals supposed to lose some rights as punishment for their crimes? Would not completely fulfilling the conditions of one's parole be required before those rights are fully returned?
In the unlikely event of such a charter challenge I would hope common sense would prevail. I would also hope that the consistent and persistent request for such amendments to the Criminal Code by our police community, in addition to concerned, law-abiding citizens, would be taken seriously as proof that such a need exists.
After all, if we consider our peace officers to be professionals, we owe them a fair hearing of what they say they need and we owe them the tools they need to do their jobs.
Reconsider for a moment the scenario earlier where the hypothetical police officer was called by a victim of wife beating when her husband violated his parole by coming within 1,000 metres of her. Because he could do nothing the officer's time was wasted and the woman's danger persisted.
Remember, in order to protect her that police officer would have had to track down the parole officer, submit a report and have a warrant issued. Imagine what all this costs in terms of time, in terms of money and in lost opportunity to protect the person in need. With the chances of catching the offender at slim to none, any cost is too high.
Here we offer police officers, at their sincere urging, a no cost solution with a potential for quicker, more effective response to real life situations such as this. As for the price of peace of mind, simply imagine your own loved one in any kind of catch-22 situation like the ones these police officers deal with every day and notice how invaluable it really is.
Even if the requirements of Bill C-211 did cost money, we would be remiss in not passing this piece of legislation.
On the issue of prudence, what could be more reasonable than extending to peace officers the powers they need to do their jobs?
Ian Russell again says this best: “All we are asking is that the officer have the authority to apprehend and secure the inmate or parolee, take him to a facility, and forthwith contact the duty officer to see whether or not the arrest will continue via a parole suspension”.
This is reasonable and necessary. It is no more and no less than what is needed. It is similar to the method with which those who violate their probation conditions are treated. Police across the country say it will work and I agree.
I will conclude with one more example. In 1988 a psychopathic pedophile named Joseph Fredericks raped and murdered 11 year old Christopher Stephenson. Joseph Fredericks was on parole at the time and a condition of his parole was that he stay away from children. No peace officer saw them but what would an officer's options have been had he seen them? Arrest Fredericks? He has not committed a crime by being with Christopher. Take down the particulars and report to a parole officer and request a warrant? Would that protect him? Not likely. How about arresting 11 year old Christopher under the Child Welfare Act as a child in need of protection? Arrest a child?
In this case none of the above happened. Christopher Stephenson was murdered by Fredericks who was caught and returned to prison where he was slain by a fellow inmate. This is unacceptable.
I appeal to this House to put a high priority on this amendment to the Criminal Code and to equip our police departments with all the tools they need to deal with breaches of parole.