Mr. Art Hanger (Calgary Northeast)
Mr. Speaker, the government has tabled a very important and in my opinion a somewhat problematic piece of legislation. I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to this legislation from the point of view of a police officer with 22 years experience on the force. As a policeman I have experienced what it means to have to make that judgment, the judgment that all police officers fear, whether or not to use deadly force. I also believe that attention must be paid to public opinion as it relates to criminal justice matters.
Before I speak to this bill I would like to interject a few appropriate words for what is in effect my maiden speech in the House. I would like to congratulate the Deputy Speaker on his appointment and the election of the Speaker of the House. I have not taken the time to offer my thanks to those people who made my presence in this House possible nor introduced the community of Calgary Northeast. I hope the House will permit me a few moments for this purpose.
I am indebted to all those people who played a vital role in my election. The first are my campaign volunteers who sacrificed so much time, gave so much effort and demonstrated such a civic commitment. They deserve the highest praise and I thank them all.
I would also like to express my sincerest appreciation to my wife Margaret and my three children, Laura, Mitch and Jason. Their love and support have provided a source of strength that is unfailing and which I depend on from day to day. I would like to extend my thanks and appreciation to all the good people in my riding of Calgary Northeast.
Calgary Northeast is a riding as diverse as any in Canada. It is made up of people from all ethnic groups, religions, educational and work backgrounds. During my campaign I was fortunate enough to have spoken to and received valuable input from a great many constituents. I am proud to claim the support of many new Canadians, first and second generation immigrants who have contributed so much to my riding.
Calgary Northeast is an economically diverse riding. Jobs come from service industries as well as oil and gas. Because the riding is so diverse both demographically and economically it is especially noteworthy that the people of Calgary Northeast are united in their desire for real, fundamental and lasting reform. They expressed to me their disillusionment with politics, politicians and business as usual in Ottawa and they urged me to communicate in Ottawa the need for political, economic and judicial reform.
Crime is a constant and growing concern in my riding as it is in many other communities across Canada. I am pleased to see the government is addressing the issue of judicial reform.
However, in Bill C-8, the bill to amend the Criminal Code provision dealing with the use of deadly force, I am concerned that the government has its priorities backwards. I have some real misgivings regarding this bill and I shall now turn to those reservations.
As I previously mentioned the criminal justice system is an area in which my constituents have expressed passionate opinions. Communities all over Canada have become concerned and
alarmed at growing crime and the apparent inability of the judicial system to adequately respond to and prevent crime.
Canadians are concerned about the safety of their families and they have reason to be concerned. Rates of violence across the country increase yearly and are reported daily. Confrontations between police officers and law breakers, many of whom are increasingly well armed and aggressive, are becoming more and more frequent.
Historically, the public has felt secure and satisfied with Canada's police forces and their handling of crime and criminals. However, in response to a charter case heard before an Ontario court, a case prompted by an incident that was more of a political problem than a procedural one, the government is tabling a bill that seeks not so much to address a problem with police as an artificial problem created by charter arguments.
In an Ontario court case in which a suspect was shot, a charter argument called into question the breadth of the current law regarding the use of deadly force. The court found that the law was too broad, since in theory-and this is a part of the Ontario decision-doughnut thieves could be shot by police if they fled from the scene of a crime. A brief to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police stated that the current law was out of date and noted that a literal reading of the rule could justify a use of force which could cause death or grievous injury against a shoplifter.
In a news release earlier this month the government announced it intended to introduce more restrictions on the use of deadly force by police officers attempting to capture fleeing suspects. The release said that deadly force should only be the last resort.
While I agree, along with everyone in this House, I am sure, that police officers must be held accountable for their actions, especially when those actions include the use of deadly force, we must bear in mind that there is ample case law already on the books dealing with this issue. Stare decisis has long functioned as a mechanism by which the use of deadly force is judged.
Common law has held that in order to use deadly force a police officer must have reasonable and probable grounds. Of course, in some instances there have been errors in judgment made on the part of individual police officers but the law has provided a basis for consideration of whether or not those judgments were proper ones. The current law lets police officers who are forced to make instant life and death decisions rely on their thorough training, their knowledge of the situation and their assessment of danger.
Upon examining the proposed new sections of the Criminal Code contained in Bill C-8 I have to ask the following question. Will an officer who has felt the necessity to use deadly force still be given the same consideration, and will the same precedent apply during an examination of an incident? Or will this revised law open up the door for consideration of external issues surrounding each incident, issues that do not bear directly on the decision to use deadly force?
The court case that caused the present law to come into question was precisely that sort of occurrence. As a police officer I dread any law that might have the effect of forcing officers to weigh political implications of the use of force in situations in which officers feel that either they or the innocent public are in imminent danger. Will this new law force such detailed examination by police officers? Will it place the onus of defence, not unlike criminal defence, directly on our police officers?
I believe the Canadian people want the police to have greater authority in dealing with crime and criminals, and less legal charter based restrictions upon their ability to defend the public. Will this law force a police officer who would already be suffering enormous trauma after having been forced to use deadly force to undergo an equally traumatic political defence of his actions?
Instead of giving police the authority and freedom that they need to properly defend our communities, are we ironically constraining them with the very charter which is supposed to protect law-abiding Canadians and their families?
If the law does not give a degree of latitude to officers, if the law constrains the freedom of police officers to make instant decisions backed up by training, dedication and common sense, then that law actually puts the lives of police and innocent bystanders at risk for the sake of protecting fleeing dangerous criminals.
Do Canadians want their police officers to have the freedom and authority to perform their duties even if that means having, in some tragic situations, to use deadly force?
I believe the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Does the public feel the need for a law that would restrict police officers, put more onus on the police and less on criminals? The answer to that would be a resounding no.
I understand that a court has issued a challenge to the current law, and I realize that some laws deserve to be challenged. But I am not sure this is one of those situations. Canadians have had enough of special interests groups that come up with government funded challenges to good, tested, working law simply because our charter gives them an opportunity for 15 minutes of fame. Laws should come from people, not from the courts, whose only role should be interpretation. Our police are finding themselves increasingly unable to perform their duty to serve and protect the public. Is the House aware that in some jurisdictions police officers are issued firearms but must keep them locked in the trunks of their cars?
Similarly, federal fisheries protection officers, although armed, are prohibited from making arrests. They are instructed to observe, record and report a crime but may not take action to stop it.
The public is enraged every time a police officer is killed in the line of duty. The public is enraged every time an innocent child is killed or molested. The public is enraged when the courts grant asylum to the likes of Charles Ng.
These are clear messages and the government is not heeding them. Instead it introduces a bill which casts doubt on legitimate use of force by police. This reflects very misplaced priorities indeed.
In closing, this bill is court inspired rather than people inspired. The court decision it stems from has no basis in common sense. When was the last time anyone heard of a doughnut thief or shoplifter being summarily executed by police? What nonsense. The cliche holds true: hard cases make bad law.
Further, as my hon. colleagues will point out, there has not been adequate bottom up consultation with those whose lives will be directly affected by this bill.
Last, why has the government chosen to make its first priority in criminal reform a restriction on police and not on criminals?
Subtopic: Criminal Code