Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-60. I have been watching this issue, like the rest of us have, for some time now. In fact, my colleague, the member for Trinity—Spadina, took the initiative and presented Bill C-565 in the House, which was a private member's bill designed to deal with this issue. I give her full credit for responding to her constituent. I suggest that this man is not alone in what he went through. There are many similar cases across the country every year. It is serious and important that this Parliament respond to these situations.
Mr. David Chen, as many of us now know, is the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart. He caught a thief who had repeatedly stolen from his store. Mr. Chen was charged with forcible confinement, assault and kidnapping because he caught the criminal an hour later outside he store and held him until the police arrived.
As was indicated by the member for Trinity—Spadina, many store owners in her constituency have had a similar experience as the Lucky Moose owner. She also mentioned at least nine other similar examples. The amendment in her bill would allow the owners to arrest criminals without warrant so that they could be turned over to the police. I believe she presented a petition signed by 10,000 people.
We need to consider what the store owner has gone through. My notes indicate that he has 20 to 40 cameras in the store, which is certainly a large expense for his small business. It sounds to me like he is constantly under attack by people stealing from his store. When Mr. Chen apprehended the thief, he had to go through at least nine months, perhaps longer, of stress and legal bills. I think the prosecution perhaps over-reacted, which is why we have this bill before us in the first place. If the prosecution had been reasonable and not charged him with all of these offences, I do not think we would see the bill we have in front of us today. However, that is the genesis of why this bill has come to the fore.
The government, never wanting to miss an opportunity given an election may be forthcoming, charged onto the scene. The Prime Minister, with the Minister of Justice and the press in tow, rolled into Mr. Chen's store and announced that he would adopt the provisions of the bill.
I believe the Liberal member for Eglinton—Lawrence has a similar bill that was later produced. The government was going to incorporate these bills into his bill. Of course, as we have seen from the government, when its bills come out they do not exactly mirror 100% what the other bills do. There are some considerations and concerns that we have with respect to Bill C-60, which is why we are interested in seeing this bill proceed to committee where some amendments can be made at that time.
As indicated, our party is recommending support for splitting the bill. We want to pass the amendments to section 494 of the Criminal Code at all stages without additional debate. Then we would like to refer the additional changes to the committee for a detailed study. The minister this morning and other members have indicated that we are dealing with five sections from the original Criminal Code of 1892. These five separate provisions create distinct defences and they all depend on the type of property and severity of the offences. So we are talking about something here that is going to need more detailed study at committee.
If we could split the bill, pass the amendments to section 494 of the Criminal Code at all stages without additional debate, and then refer the additional changes to the committee for study, that would be the way to proceed.
In terms of the amendments to section 494(2) of the Criminal Code, dealing with citizen's arrest, to permit arrest without warrant within a reasonable period, we would want to change the present wording. This change was originally proposed by the NDP and by the member for Trinity—Spadina in her private member's bill, Bill C-565, as a result of the “Lucky Moose” situation, which I have explained.
The amendment to section 494 of the Criminal Code has been supported in principle by the chiefs of police and the prosecutors and defence counsels. However, there has been no significant call for the additional changes by those who enforce and prosecute the law. That is why we would like to have this looked at further in terms of those provisions.
We would also recommend splitting the bill because Bill C-60 proposes compressing sections 34-42 of the Criminal Code which deal with: the defence of the person, sections 34-37; and property, sections 38-42 into two new parts. The stated rationale being:
--to clarify the laws on self-defence and defence of property so that Canadians--including the police, prosecutors and the courts–can more easily understand and apply the law.
We also have serious concerns about the overreaching nature of these changes and the possible unintended consequences that may result. There are already press reports concerning this bill and this incident which would give rise to some of the concerns mentioned by my colleagues. The members for Nanaimo—Cowichan; Skeena—Bulkley Valley; and the Western Arctic have all indicated concerns about how far things could develop in terms of vigilantism and how this would be communicated through the press.
As I said, we barely have the bill before Parliament and I have numerous press clippings indicating those very concerns, and perhaps exaggerating the case, because that is how we sell newspapers in this country. This could be misinterpreted by certain people who might feel that somehow the law has been changed and there is no limitation on what they can do to arrest a person.
The reality is we are simply providing that the person will have the power of arrest but on the basis that should there be a police officer available or if one can be reached then he or she must turn that person over to the police in short order. This is not designed to let people become vigilantes and mete out their own justice when and where they like. They will have to deal with the situation as it exists right now.
Another reality is that the bill has come about because of prosecution misjudgments. There is no other way to describe it. We have had prosecutions, such as this case, where a person has been charged with kidnapping. When the prosecution overreacts like that, then it is reasonable to have a law in place to specify that there is some leeway. However, on the other side of the coin, how far do we take this? These are some of the concerns that our colleagues and other members have indicated in their questions.
In terms of Bill C-60 itself, the legislation would:
--expand the legal authority for a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after they find that person committing a criminal offence either on or in relation to their property, ensuring the proper balance between the powers of citizens and those of the police. It would also bring much-needed reforms to simplify the complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property, and clarify where reasonable use of force is permitted in relation to the above.
I did mention that the Criminal Code was promulgated in 1892. The original Criminal Code has these five separate provisions from 1892. They are all in separate sections and vary depending on the distinct defences. However, those depend on the type of property and severity of the offences.
It sounds like a very confusing mess to try to sort out. Pulling these things together in one area is probably the way that we should resolve the issue. But as I had indicated, we want to ensure that we spend some time looking at that and the fact that particular aspect of it is not something that has been the subject of a lot of concern to the police forces and those applying the law. It gives us more reason to want to take a closer look at it. Perhaps it is something that had not been considered.
The proposed amendments to section 494(2) of the Criminal Code on citizen's arrest would:
--authorize a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds someone committing a criminal offence that occurs on or in relation to property. This power of arrest would only be authorized when there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a peace officer--
That deals with the concern that somehow people would just simply ignore the police. They would still have to contact the police and turn the person over to the police as quickly as possible.
In terms of reasonable use of force, the legislation will make it clear by a cross-reference to the Criminal Code that the use of force is authorized in the citizen's arrest, but there are limits placed on how much force can be used. One cannot arrest a shoplifter and take him out back and beat him unrecognizable. That is unacceptable and would get one into a lot of trouble. However, one would be able to simply make the arrest using reasonable force knowing that he or she would not be charged with kidnapping or have to defend themselves in court for a couple of years and run up huge legal fees as a result.
In essence, the laws permit the reasonable use of force taking into account all of the circumstances of a particular case. That is how the courts look at it. They look at all of the circumstances, not just one.
That is why reading press reports is not always a very accurate way of understanding what really happened. The press view is simply one person trying to fit the story into two or three columns, once again, wanting to sell newspapers, there could be a sensational element thrown into the case. People should not believe everything they read in the press.
A person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen's arrest. That is very clear. I want to repeat that, a person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen's arrest. It can only be reasonable force.
In terms of other important considerations, a citizen's arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a peace officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain the public peace nor, generally speaking, properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals.
We do not want people who may be watching too many movies thinking that somehow they are going to be able to go out there and take on knife-wielding criminals, trying to stop them. We want people to do exactly what they are doing right now, reporting incidents to the police and getting them on the scene as quickly as possible.
In most cases an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person's body with a view to detaining them, or by using words whereby the person submits to the arrest. Citizen's arrests made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious unintended physical or legal consequences for those involved.
When deciding if a citizen's arrest is appropriate, a person should consider whether a peace officer is available to intervene at that time. If their personal safety or that of others will be compromised by attempting an arrest, they should report information about the crime to the police instead of taking action on their own. If they have the reasonable belief regarding the suspect's criminal conduct and identity, then they can turn over the suspect to the police without delay once an arrest is made.
I have been in the insurance business for 32 years and we have had instances of robbery. Many other agencies have as well. Our staff has been instructed by the police force to just simply give up the money. We do not want people being heroes. We do not want people trying to attack the person who is holding up the office. Whether they can see a gun, or a knife, or whether it is just a fake gun, the fact of the matter is the police do not want staff in businesses or offices taking action against these people because of the possibility that things could go wrong. It is not worth losing one's life over $100 out of a till. We instruct our staff to simply turn over whatever money they have to the thief, then phone the police afterwards and let things develop as they might.
In some ways things will not change. The practices we have will simply continue as they have before. The police will be called, the police will do the arrests. In those few cases where the store owners, shop owners or homeowners take action on their own, at least they are not going to be faced with kidnapping or confinement charges and all the other ridiculous charges that this man was charged with, as well as the cost and stress of having to fight it.
I have quite a number of other points to make. I will simply defer to questioners and perhaps will answer some more points there.