Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-26, which covers and provides clarification on citizen's arrest. This bill is very similar, identical even, to Bill C-60, which was introduced by the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina during the last Parliament.
The changes made by Bill C-26 will allow citizen's arrests without a warrant within a reasonable period of time. Right now, under section 494(2) of the Criminal Code, a citizen's arrest must be made while the crime is being committed. Bill C-26 also includes changes to the Criminal Code related to self-defence and the defence of property.
Sections 34 to 42 of the Criminal Code pertain to self-defence and the defence of property. Sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code are repealed and replaced with a single self-defence provision that applies to any offence. The current distinctions between provoked and unprovoked attacks, as well as any intention to use deadly force, are eliminated.
Bill C-60 also sets out a non-exhaustive list of factors that the court may consider in determining whether the act committed is reasonable under the circumstances. The bill will repeal sections 38 to 42 of the Criminal Code, which pertain to defence of property, and replace them with a single defence of property provision. As a result, the bill will eliminate the current distinction between the defence of personal and real property.
The bill amends the citizen’s arrest section of the Criminal Code, but only section 494(2). Thus, the powers of citizens to make arrests set out in section 494(1) remain as they are. These powers mean that anyone may arrest without warrant a person whom he or she finds to be committing an indictable offence or believes, on reasonable grounds, has committed a criminal offence and is escaping from and freshly pursued by those with lawful authority to arrest that person.
The bill amends section 494(2), which applies to the owner or person in lawful possession of property or a person authorized by the owner or lawful possessor. At present, such a person may arrest without warrant a person whom he or she finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property. But the amendment goes on to allow such a person to make an arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committed. Such an arrest can be made if the person making the arrest believes on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.
In addition, a new section 494(4) is added to the Criminal Code, clarifying that a person who makes an arrest under section 494 is authorized by law to do so for the purposes of section 25 of the Criminal Code. The purpose of this amendment is to make it clear that use of force is authorized in a citizen’s arrest, but that there are limits on how much force can be used.
The government says that it is bringing forward this bill in order to make necessary changes to the Criminal Code that will clarify the provisions pertaining to self-defence and defence of property. The changes will also clarify the reasonable use of force.
We are very pleased that the Conservative government has decided to clarify the changes to citizen's arrest, especially since we had introduced a similar bill to that end.
Just like the Conservative government, we do not want honest Canadians who are victims of crime to be victimized again by our judicial system.
We support the amendments to the legal provisions on citizen's arrest, particularly because various courts have indicated that there are problems with the interpretation of the law. For example, they have said that the Criminal Code provisions concerning self-defence are too complicated and confusing. The provisions have been subject to much criticism. In R. v. McIntosh, Chief Justice Lamer wrote that sections 34 and 35 “are highly technical, excessively detailed provisions deserving of much criticism. These provisions overlap, and are internally inconsistent in certain respects.”
The judgment of the majority in R. v. McIntosh has been called “highly unfortunate” for further muddying the waters around self-defence provisions.
However, we believe that a more in-depth study will be required, given the complexity of this issue, as the courts have indicated. We must ensure that the bill clarifies the sections of the Criminal Code to help the justice system do its job. We will also have to look at the impact and consequences of this bill to ensure that these clarifications are acceptable to the Canadian public. We want to avoid having the clarifications to the Criminal Code encourage self-proclaimed vigilantes. In addition, we do not want people to put their lives in danger. We know that that is not the objective of this bill. However, a number of concerns about this have been raised by some of our constituents. That is why it will be important to allow parliamentarians to properly discuss this bill in committee.
We are obviously asking the Conservative government not to limit debate in committee, as it did with Bill C-10, for example. Bill C-26 will have serious repercussions on Canadians who must defend themselves or their property. That is why it is so important to properly debate this bill in committee.
I would like to remind the House of the facts that gave rise to the recent legislation on citizen's arrest. On May 23, 2009, David Chen, the owner of a grocery store in Toronto, arrested Anthony Bennett, who had stolen something from his store. After being caught in the act on security cameras, Mr. Bennett went back to the store about an hour later. At that time, the owner and two employees managed to tie Mr. Bennett up and held him in a delivery truck. When the police arrived, they charged Mr. Chen with forcible confinement, kidnapping and carrying an edged weapon—a box cutter, a tool that many merchants have in their possession. The crown attorneys later dropped the charges of kidnapping and carrying an edged weapon, but they maintained the charges of forcible confinement and assault.
According to the Criminal Code as it is currently written, a property owner can make a citizen's arrest only if the alleged wrongdoer is caught in the act. Mr. Chen and his two co-accused were found not guilty of the charges of forcible confinement and assault on October 29, 2010. In August 2009, Anthony Bennett pleaded guilty to theft and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
At present, the citizen’s arrest authority is very limited and is authorized only when an individual is caught in act of committing an offence on or in relation to one's property. Accordingly, this bill authorizes an owner, a person in lawful possession of property—or a person authorized by them—to arrest a person within a reasonable amount of time after having found that person committing a criminal offence on or in relation to their property.
The bill authorizes a citizen’s arrest only when it is not feasible in the circumstances for a police officer to respond, which is often the case in the event of shoplifting, for example. The time it takes for the police to respond is often too long and they arrive much too late. Furthermore, this bill stipulates that the use of force is authorized in a citizen’s arrest. However, a person is not entitled to use excessive force.
In addition, the person making the arrest must take the risk factors into account and ensure that their safety or the safety of others is not threatened. They must also ensure that they have correctly identified the suspect and their criminal conduct. Furthermore, reporting the incident to the police remains the best solution.
I would like to point out that thousands of Canadians work as security guards in buildings or businesses. Many of those guards have told me about the problems they have properly protecting the property of the merchants. They have to catch the criminal in the act and that is not easy. Often, they discover the crime after the fact, after reviewing the security camera footage. However, that is often done after the fact and the security guards cannot take any action against the wrongdoer. The worst part is that some wrongdoers return a number of times to commit theft and the guards hired by the businesses cannot do anything about it even if they saw the individual in question commit a crime before.
They have to again catch the wrongdoer in the act and they cannot arrest him for the previous offence. What is more, the complexity of a citizen's arrest makes security jobs risky. Security guards have to be 100% certain of what they are doing because if they are not, there could be legal consequences for their company and their own job could be on the line. It is very important that the provisions on citizen's arrest be clear so that these security guards are in the best position possible to protect businesses and the property of the merchants.
The new provisions on self-defence will also help these guards enforce the law, because the current provisions are too restrictive. Many security guards have told me that when they intercept an individual who committed a criminal offence, the individual generally becomes aggressive and does not want to be arrested by the security guard on duty. For a number of reasons, that individual will simply be asked to leave the premises, because the guards do not want to risk their safety or the safety of others. They would not want to risk being tried for assault. As a result, the individual who commits the crime gets away with it.
In summary, we support this bill at second reading so that it can be sent to committee and some of its provisions, which are quite complex, can be examined in greater detail. That is why the opinions of experts and legislative drafters will be key in the examination of some provisions of this bill. I would like to emphasize the importance of not limiting the debates, as the Conservative government has a tendency to do. I am asking the Conservative government to let parliamentarians do their job properly.