Mr. Speaker, at this stage, I will say that we plan on voting in favour of sending this bill to committee to be studied. It must at least be substantially amended, if not replaced by the bill that all legislators in this House wanted and that was much more simple than the one we have in front of us today.
The speaker before me mentioned some incidents in Toronto that have made people think. Two members from two different parties introduced much simpler bills to clarify things.
I will sum up the situation. A store owner who sees a shoplifter who has previously stolen from him return to his shop and act the same way, realizes that he will once again be robbed. He does not have time to call the police, who would not arrive in time. Therefore, he decides to arrest the individual himself and detain him until the police arrive. That is something that makes sense. I will talk about two cases I pleaded that show that this is useful, especially in a country as vast as ours, where sometimes the police are far away and may take 45 minutes to an hour to come arrest someone who is committing an offence on or in relation to property.
We should have been satisfied with these private members' bills. What is strange in this case is that the department is telling us that it is introducing this bill to clarify things, but the language it uses is far from clear. In a few moments I will read some excerpts. I think it will take a lot of thinking and explanations before we can truly understand the provisions of the bill.
I am told that people love to hear my speeches in the House. It feels as though we are talking to an empty room or to a completely disinterested group of people. Our debates are televised and some people are disappointed if I do not use examples from past cases of mine to illustrate my point. I will talk about two cases, if I have the time.
I would like to clarify our position from the outset. We recognize that this amendment to section 494 is exactly what members want right now. Subsection 494(2) of the Criminal Code states the following:
Any one who is
(a) the owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or
(b) a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property,
may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.
It is important to take note of what is not said in this subsection. It says “finds committing”. But if the following day the owner sees the person who committed the offence to his property—such as breaking his car windows, for example—it is too late to make a citizen's arrest.
That is what happened to Mr. Chen, as was mentioned by the previous speaker. And it happens quite often. We agree with the amendment proposed in Bill C-60, which would change subsection 494(2) to the following:
The owner or a person in lawful possession of property, or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property and
(a) they make the arrest at that time;
Up until that point, there are only slight changes to the current law, but then the following is added:
(b) they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.
This amendment, which is similar to two private members' bills previously introduced, would resolve the problem that we are all now aware of and provide the solution that we all want.
This government has a bad habit. Whenever it sees that the House is likely to reach unanimous consent on a given measure, it always has to add something. We in the Bloc Québécois are particularly concerned about the changes it is making to the principle of self-defence.
For instance, here are two situations that could become legal and—even worse—become widespread, if the bill passes in its entirety. After a dispute over a fence degenerates, one neighbour utters death threats against the other neighbour and his family. Incidentally, people do not usually really mean them when they utter death threats. They usually amount to nothing more than excessive language, not all that different from what is often heard here in this House, for example. The two are more or less on the same level.
One thing is certain: the neighbour who hears those threats should not feel truly threatened. However, say he does feel threatened and fears for his life, and wanting to defend his family, he will say, he goes after his neighbour and kills him, justifying his action by saying that the police could not guarantee his safety and that of his family in the long term. In such a case, no one would ever know if the deceased neighbour ever really intended to carry out his threats. Thus, if potentially deadly force is to be used, we want to ensure that the danger is real, that there is no other option besides violence to respond to those threats.
In the other scenario, imagine a young person shoplifting in a convenience store. The store clerk, outraged by this recurring act in his store that is eating up his profits, pulls a shotgun on the shoplifter, but it fires accidentally. At present, that is a criminal offence, because it deals with property and because it involves someone who is not a peace officer. He would be using force that is disproportionate to the crime committed and that caused someone's death.
This is why we want to carefully study the provisions of this bill that have to do with self-defence.
I have practised criminal law since 1966 and have always found the current provisions to be logical and rather self-explanatory and not requiring any radical changes. For example, without going into all the details, the current provisions on self-defence against unprovoked assault start out as follows:
(1) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.
(2) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted and who causes death or grievous bodily harm in repelling the assault is justified if
(a) he causes it under reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the violence with which the assault was originally made or with which the assailant pursues his purposes; and
(b) he believes, on reasonable grounds, that he cannot otherwise preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm.
No matter their education, jurors who carefully read this section, or if it is read by the judge—perhaps judges provide a copy of the Criminal Code section—are perfectly capable of understanding it. Now here is what they want to replace it with. Why? I do not know.
This is the proposed wording:
A person is not guilty of an offence if
(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force;...
I am not exaggerating when I say that I am certain that anyone hearing this for the first time will not understand the underlying principle. However, if they referred to the text I read earlier, the current Criminal Code section, they would have a much better understanding.
I do not understand when the government says that it wants to clarify an act, but then it uses such esoteric language to replace Criminal Code provisions that have stood the test of time.
As a lawyer, I have been involved in various cases. I remember a client who was accused of manslaughter. In fact, he might have been accused of murder, but the Crown was prepared to convict for manslaughter of a boat thief.
The defendant was living on an island east of Laval and he had several neighbours. Thieves would arrive by water. One night, the defendant, who was having prostate problems, got up and turned on the lights. He heard a noise, looked outside and saw people fleeing in a canoe. He realized that they were thieves. He finished what he was doing and went back to bed. Later, he heard the sound of boats knocking together even though the river was calm at that hour. He kept the light off and looked outside. What did he see? He saw two people in a canoe pulling his neighbour's motor boat behind them. He yelled out to them and told them to let go of the boat immediately, that they had been caught red-handed. The people kept paddling as though nothing were wrong and headed toward a nearby island to hide. The man found the shameless thieves and told them he had guns. He warned them to give up the boat or he would shoot.
At this point his wife was awake and he asked her to call the police. He could still see the two men paddling. Since he is a hunter, he has at least two guns: a rifle he uses for big game hunting and a .22 calibre gun.
He decided against using the moose hunting rifle because the shot could be fatal and the .22 calibre gun would make enough noise just to scare them. The man warned the thieves that he was aiming his gun at them, ready to shoot, but they kept on paddling. He decided to shoot in front of the canoe to scare them, but they kept on paddling. He warned them he was going to shoot again and he ordered them to let go of the boat. The thieves continued to paddle. The man took another shot in front of the canoe—or so he thought. Then one of the perpetrators seemed to be hiding in the canoe and the other raised his paddle and said they were surrendering. They came back toward him. The police were called to the scene.
One of the two thieves got out of the canoe, but the other one seemed to remain hidden inside. The man warned the thieves that he was armed and that they should not do anything foolish because the police were on their way. Finally, when the police arrived, the man handed over the rifle, trembling, and said that there was another person hiding in the canoe. The police went to look in the canoe and saw that the other person was dead.
Normally, a .22 calibre bullet fired at that range should not do that, but a .22 calibre bullet is still a bullet even though it is small and slow. In this case, the bullet entered the thief's side, passed between two of his ribs, through one of his lungs—where there was not much to stop it—and lodged at the base of his heart, which is what caused his death.
A police officer would have had the right to do what this man did, although admittedly a police officer would not have done it. Nevertheless, under the Criminal Code, a police officer has the right to behave like this. He used the only force available to make the arrest and it was deadly force. Individuals do not have the right to use deadly force simply to protect their property.
I told myself that the jurors would understand his position, so we decided to bring the case before a jury. We had an expert shooter come in, who told me to ask the police officers whether they had touched the weapon or made any changes to it. I asked him why and he said that he would tell me later. The police officers said that they had kept the weapon as they had found it. The expert shooter noticed that the sight was not calibrated for the range in question. He said that if the man in question had not wanted to hit the thieves, he should have aimed above their heads. Although a bullet travels several feet per second, a canoe also travels a certain distance in several seconds.
I thought that the judge would have to often reiterate that the force must be reasonable and proportional to the situation. If shouting was not enough to convince boat thieves who are on the water to stop, how else could they be stopped other than with a shot? The man had weapons at his disposal and he chose the less dangerous one. He aimed ahead of the boat so that the thieves would see the flash. His arguments convinced the jury and he was acquitted even though the judge told me that she would have found him guilty. She did not sentence him to time in prison since she understood his reasoning. This earned me some nice comments from the presiding juror, who knew Mr. Roy, Mr. Mulroney's former chief of staff. Mr. Roy was actually her nephew, and she told him that the lawyer was extraordinary. However, that has nothing to do with the application of the law, except that a law that is difficult to understand could lead to a sympathy verdict. This bill is ten times harder to understand.
I think that I have time to talk about another case, but it is about the ordinary arrest of an ordinary citizen after the fact. It is similar to the case of Mr. Chen, except that a security guard was involved. It is 17 years since I last practised criminal law. At the time, it was not popular for men to shave their heads, except maybe a few troublemakers. The individual in my case had no hair, no eyebrows, nothing. He had what is called alopecia universalis. He told me that he had no hair anywhere—yes, even where you are thinking. It is odd to see someone without any hair or eyebrows. This person told me that a few thousand people in Montreal have this condition, including the drummer of for the band Corbeau. He said that people always mistook him for someone else.
He had just moved and went into Steinberg's grocery to buy some bread and coffee for breakfast. When he got to the cash, he was arrested by the security guard who said that he had stolen something the day before. He responded that he had not been in the store the day before and that it was likely someone who looked like him. He said that he was often mistaken for the drummer from Corbeau, who had the same condition.
We explained his conditions and the effects of it, but when I tried his case, the security guard at the door of the court had the same condition. So we did not need an acquittal, but we filed a lawsuit. Steinberg went bankrupt and the security guard committed suicide. He had made a mistake by arresting him the following day. He did not have the right to arrest him because he had not caught him in the act.