Mr. Speaker, before question period I had set out some arguments that reflected the concerns already raised by some hon. members that this bill may not be a good start in terms of the intent. There may be good reasons that this bill should have been referred to committee before second reading to allow some expert testimony from witnesses to assist in making whatever changes they felt necessary before it came to the House for debate.
I pulled up the minister's speech from Friday on this matter, and it strikes me that this has been going around for a long time. In fact, we are talking about an incident that took place in 2009. Mr. Chen was acquitted on February 17, 2011. It has taken a very long time for this bill to be received. I think it was only on February 17 that the bill was tabled at first reading, and here we are in March.
I wonder why the minister would not take the opportunity for a bill that includes, in the opinions of a number of hon. members, potentially some confusing areas that may be very problematic. The factors that would determine whether or not there was a reasonable amount of time, a reasonable expectation, et cetera, are very long and when these incidents occur on a snap basis, the public at large will not be familiar with them. This bill may encourage people to feel empowered that they can undertake a citizen's arrest without knowing that they may very well still be charged. Ultimately, it would be up to the courts to determine whether or not they met the test under the bill. This is not a black and white situation.
Given that is the case, the only explanation I can think for why the minister did not refer the bill directly to committee was that the justice committee right now, as usual, is bogged down with several pieces of legislation. Considering the average time it would take to discharge those pieces of legislation, it is likely that this particular bill would not come back to the House after committee until sometime in the fall. We may not see this bill go to the Senate until the Christmas break, and then the Senate will deal with it at some point.
That is an awfully long time, even though it still presumes that the bill would go through the process very expeditiously. However, I do not believe that would be the case. I much suspect there will be substantial amendments sought at committee, first of all, to delete a number of clauses and, second, to add others, which may be challenged as beyond the scope or intent of the bill. There may be other problems with it.
As much as I hate to admit it, this particular case has been used as a bit of a political football.
I was reminded by another member that the member for Eglinton—Lawrence introduced a private member's bill on June 16, 2010, after Mr. Chen was acquitted and when the government still had not taken action.
On September 27, 2009, the minister of immigration actually visited Chinatown for a photo op and made an empty promise to raise the issue of amending the Criminal Code with the government.
On June 16, 2010, after nine months of inaction, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence introduced his private member's bill.
On October 10, 2010, Mr. Chen was acquitted. I was in error when I said it was February 2010; it was actually October 2010.
On November 4, 2010, the member for Eglinton—Lawrence held a press conference calling on the government to adopt his bill, Bill C-547.
On January 21, 2011, the Prime Minister met with Mr. Chen and promised legislation would be introduced soon.
On February 15, the government put a notice on the notice paper by the Minister of Justice that there would be a bill. It was in fact tabled in February and debated in the House for the first time on Friday.
This was an important case of clarification necessary in the Criminal Code for Mr. Chen and for other citizens who are victims of robbery, but there are certain elements that have to be taken in the law.
For most Canadians, it is a slam dunk. They are going to protect their property even if they have to tackle the guy, whoever he might be, and hold him until the police come. They do not think about whether or not they are using unreasonable force. If they happen to see this person the next day and recognize him they will tackle him. They are not sure whether that is a reasonable period of time.
That is precisely what the bill deals with, the various factors on how the courts are going to be asked to interpret our intent for this legislation. From listening to a couple of the speakers, I think the conclusion is that it is going to add confusion. Let me give some examples.
When people think about the amendments they will understand that in a heated moment, in a snap decision they might not have considered some of the following.
First, a person is not guilty of an offence if he or she believes on reasonable grounds that force is being used against him or her, or another person, or that the threat of force is being made against him or her by another person, if the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting himself or herself from another person, and the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.
That is where the problem starts. What constitutes being reasonable in the circumstances to use force to arrest someone? In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the bill suggests that the court may consider certain things. It is not that the individual should consider them, but I doubt that the public at large would be able to deal with it.
The court is going to have to consider the nature of the force or the threat being used and the extent to which the force was imminent or whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force. For example, were there any options. The court will have to consider the person's role and intent in the incident, what he or she was doing, was the person a party to it at some point in some way. The court will have to consider whether the party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon. Sometimes it is unknown and people are not sure what constitutes a weapon.
The court will have to consider the size, age and gender of the parties to the incident. I am not sure many people would even think about that. I suppose if the individual is a very large person and the other person is intimidated by that individual, it may have some influence on the person's judgment about whether or not the person is going to attempt to arrest the individual. The nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties becomes relevant, as does the nature and proportionality of the person's response to the threat of use of force, and whether the act committed was in response to the use of threat or force the person knew was lawful. That is part of it.
There is another whole part that goes into the whole aspect of defence of property, but there is a lot of parallel of what constitutes a defence of property. The point, without reading the various provisions, is that the bill does not propose a change in the Criminal Code, which is going to make a defence of property by apprehending or arresting someone because it is one's property.
I have a feeling that Canadians may not be comfortable understanding that we are balancing off the interests of defending and protecting our property and civil liberties. There are certain things that cannot be done to other people. Where is that balance?
When I looked at the speech the justice minister gave on Friday, he used terminology to say that the bill was balanced and necessary, but the speeches so far do not concur. The commentary so far is that although the amendments to sections 34 through 42 in the Criminal Code would cause some confusion, there seems to be some support for the amendments to section 495 and section 494.
Currently section 495 of the Criminal Code says that a peace officer may arrest without warrant a person who has committed an indictable offence or who, on reasonable grounds, the peace officer believes has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence; a person whom the peace officer finds committing a criminal offence; as well as any person whom the peace officer believes, on reasonable grounds, has committed or is about to commit an indictable offence.
What the courts have told us is that for an arrest to be valid on the basis of reasonable grounds, the grounds must be objectively established, in the sense that a reasonable person standing in the shoes of the officer would believe that there are reasonable and probable grounds to make the arrest.
Section 494 of the Criminal Code deals with a private citizen making an arrest. Currently section 494 of the code says that a private citizen may arrest those found committing indictable offences, those being pursued by others who have the authority to arrest, or those committing criminal offences in relation to property.
It is important to note, and the minister agrees, that there is a legal duty under section 494 to arrest and deliver the person to the police forthwith. This has been interpreted by the courts to mean as soon as reasonably practical under all the circumstances.
All of a sudden, “reasonable” and “interpretation” become a big part of the bill.
The bill would expand section 494(2) to permit the property owner or a person authorized by the property owner to arrest a person if he or she finds that the person who committed a criminal offence on or in relation to his or her property is just at the time when the offence is being committed or also within a reasonable time after the offence is committed.
Here again is the concept of a reasonable time and, all of a sudden, it is subject to interpretation, so caution has to be taken.
I think I have made my point with regard to the changes being made. I would like to briefly comment on a couple of other points.
We have had two private members' bills on this issue already. It is clear that the government has not taken this seriously. In fact, it has politicized it by having photo ops and saying that it is going to do things, which it did not do for almost a year. Then, when we look at the calendar and what is going on at the justice committee, it is very clear that the bill is a long time away from ever becoming law, if at all.
I also note that the very last clause of the bill says that the bill will come into force when it gets fixed by an order of Governor in Council.
After the legislation goes through the House and the Senate and receives royal assent, the provinces have to get involved. It becomes even more problematic because the provincial policing authorities are probably the ones which are going to have to enforce this law. The government has not done its homework. It should have been done already. I do not believe that the government is serious about this. I hope it does not stand in the way of getting the bill through the justice committee expeditiously.