Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all hon. members who agreed to partake in the debate today on Bill C-8. I would like to deal with some of the concerns as I understand the bill and to express my opinions as they relate to the legislation.
First of all I would like to discuss some of the questions that were brought forward regarding the fleeing felon legislation, in particular police officers and criminals.
After that, I would like to talk about fishing off the coasts of our country.
The member for Delta said that we really have to be concerned more with the safety of the police officers. This legislation is not meant to do everything in the criminal field to deal with all of our concerns.
The member for Wild Rose said it is unfortunate that the first piece of legislation the justice department brings forward deals with reducing the power of the police.
First, it does not reduce the power of the police. Second, the reason this legislation is coming forward now is because of the negotiation and consultation that has taken place over the past two years by this government and the preceding government. There was a lot of dialogue, going back to 1992. The consideration of this subject matter has gone on. The Department of
Justice now feels that the time has come to put this legislation before the House of Commons. I think to delay it further would be totally unnecessary.
It does not take away from the powers of the police. What we have is legislation that is overly broad in the Criminal Code. The current provision does not direct police officers to consider the danger posed by the escape of the suspect before using deadly force to attempt to prevent the escape.
It appears from the literal reading of subsection 25(4) that deadly force can be used to stop a suspect from avoiding arrest even though the suspect poses no risk of physical harm to anyone, including the police officer, provided of course that the escape cannot be prevented by reasonable means in a less violent matter.
What we are saying here is that we are not risking the life of the police officer. We are not going to risk the life of anybody for whom the police officer has the role of protection. If it is felt that anyone's life or safety is threatened or grievous harm could come to that person, deadly force would be used. There are certain crimes which by their very nature would not pose a threat to the police officer or to the public if that suspect escaped. There would be other means of arresting that suspect.
We are not letting anyone go. We are not endangering anyone's life. We are saying that the law as it is now is so broad that the police can use deadly force for any offence that they wish. That is not in the interest of society and, from the discussions I have had with the police, it is not in the interest of the police. Every time somebody who is suspected of a crime is shot, people automatically say: "Ah ha, the police are gun happy. They just shot somebody for no reason at all". That is often not the case at all. Maybe now and then, in a very isolated incident, a policeman or policewoman uses his or her firearm unnecessarily. Very seldom will a police officer even draw his or her firearm unnecessarily.
I would be the last one to say that we are changing this legislation because police officers are using this section in the Criminal Code unnecessarily. They are not. They are being very responsible about the use of their firearms. There is no question about that.
This law has been in the Criminal Code in this fashion for a long time and we feel the time has come to change it. We are not in any way trying to reduce the effect and the force of the police.
The situation is that we have consulted with police officers in this regard. They feel that this provision in the Criminal Code should be changed. We also say that any doubt whatsoever is going to be given to the police officer. This is very clear in the provision as it relates to penitentiaries.
It was stated by the member for Scarborough earlier today that only certain guards in penitentiaries are armed. The fact is they are armed for a reason. If there is an escape from a federal institution-not a provincial or municipal institution because it is not felt that escapees from there are going to pose the same threat as from a federal institution-the guard cannot by the very nature of the institution take the time to find out if this is one of the more hardened criminals or one of the less dangerous criminals. Because there are hardened criminals in that institution, the guard has the right to use his or her firearm.
We have to look at this legislation. We have to look at it not from the point of view of changing it because the law has already been changed by the court decision. On April 26, 1993, the current subsection 25(4) of the code was ruled to be an unconstitutional violation of a suspect's section 7 charter right to life and security of the person. This was decided by the Ontario court in the case of R. versus Lines.
We have a charter decision in which the court said that if somebody has committed a crime and is fleeing, they can be shot. This very provision puts the life and the rights of the criminal in danger. I do not think anyone in this House would say that even suspects do not have rights under the charter. Every Canadian has rights under the charter.
We do not want to see criminals escape. I agree with the member for Delta that it seems to be more involved now to test the determination of the police to make the arrest, and more and more people are thumbing their noses at the authority of the police. That in itself does not warrant the person being shot. We have to keep that in mind. We have to look first of all to the fact that public safety is our most important consideration. We have to look too at the role of the police officer. As I see by this legislation, the police officer is not having his or her role interfered with or handicapped in any way.
I agree with members opposite that if that were the case then I too would have to look at this legislation in another light altogether. Because this is not the case, we have to make this change.
What happens if, although it has not gone to the Supreme Court of Canada, this provision of the Criminal Code is designated as being unconstitutional in accordance with section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Once that happens, effectively the provision is null and void.
What we will have here is a provision which is ineffective if we do not make a change. By not making the change we are hindering the operation of the police because they do not have any guideline now. The existing guidelines have been determined to be contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have an obligation now to make this change, to take away the
grey area, and to explicitly say in constitutionally acceptable terms what it is the police can do. That is all we are doing here.
I think we owe it to the police and to society to do this.
Something else is really important here too. The member for Gaspé, for example, says that he wants to move an amendment to the bill. It is a good idea because the standing committee will sit soon, maybe next week. It will be appropriate to present amendments in committee, and I would like to assure the hon. member here that his amendment will be considered and I thank him for his interest.
I do not promise that his amendment will be adopted, but it will receive our consideration.
It is a really serious situation, as the last speaker for the Bloc Quebecois said. We have a serious situation with the fisheries off Canada's Atlantic coast.
In Atlantic Canada now, we have more than 45,000 unemployed people. It is really serious and it is bad for the people of Atlantic Canada as well as for Quebecers, because there is really no more fishing now. We have a feeling that fishermen off the coast of other countries have the same problem. It is really necessary to have something, so that we can tell fishermen in Quebec and Atlantic Canada that there will be laws and regulations which will be applied in their interest.
We have to do something to tell the people we know there is a problem with foreign overfishing. We are not changing the laws here. We are not bringing forward something that does not exist right now. We are putting this into what we are considering in Bill C-8.
We are saying that we are not going to bring forward confrontation with foreign vessels. That is not the intention. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans outlined in detail the process we go through in confronting a foreign vessel. It is very detailed. Every chance is given for the master of the vessel to bring the vessel to a stop or to turn it around. Sufficient time is given for the crew to vacate a certain part of the vessel so that what has to be done will be done without endangering the lives of the crew of the vessel.
If something is not done then we are telling the foreign fishing vessels to come in and overfish and make a clean getaway. That is not the message we want to send. It is getting far too serious for that right now.
We do not want confrontation and it has not been done to date but we have to do something to enforce the fishing rules in our jurisdiction.
The last speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, has a great deal of experience and he was an admiral in the Canadian navy. He will give us some indication of how this can be done and how the Canadian government and the authorities would confront a foreign vessel.
I want to thank the members of the House for their participation. We welcome all their considerations in committee. We welcome any suggestions they may have. We want to have a good hearing on this. We want to call some witnesses. We are not going to call an unlimited number of witnesses but we want to get good witnesses who can make a contribution. The minister will appear to answer some questions that members of the committee may have. We want to take this to committee so we can begin this study.
I feel that there is a good reason for this legislation and we are going to aid the enforcement of our fisheries laws and regulations. We are going to give to the police officers a good provision that is constitutionally correct under which they can act. We are going to do this without hurting or inhibiting the security of the Canadian people.
I think what we are doing with this legislation is in the interest of all Canadians.