Mr. Earl Dreeshen (Red Deer, CPC)
moved that Bill C-444, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak today to my private member's bill, Bill C-444, which seeks to amend section 130 of the Criminal Code by adding a sentencing provision for the offence of personating peace officers or public officers. The amendment would make personating an officer for the purpose of committing another offence an aggravating circumstance.
I would like the thank the hon. member for Oxford for seconding my bill. He served 30 years with the Woodstock police service in his past life and 10 of those were as chief of police. He is a great Canadian who continues to proudly serve our country.
I was moved to research and table the bill following a horrible crime that took place in my riding. Flashing lights and a police uniform were used as weapons to abduct a 16-year-old girl. She had just earned her driver's licence and was driving alone, as many of us do. She was held captive for 46 hours and brutally assaulted before she managed to escape from her attacker. She was brave. She survived.
The offender was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced with six offences, one of which was section 130 of the Criminal Code, which deals with personation of a peace officer or public officer.
The cold fact of the matter was that she was abducted only because she thought she was doing the right thing. When confronted by someone she thought was a police officer, she did what she had been taught to do. She stopped and she followed instructions. In this case, she ultimately lost any opportunity she might have had to protect herself.
This is one case that happened in my riding, but unfortunately this is a crime that is occurring in all regions of Canada and most often it is for the purpose of tricking a victim into thinking that they are under the control of a real officer so that another crime can also be committed.
When I began researching this issue, I found that what had happened in Penhold and Red Deer was happening in small towns and large cities all over Canada. Criminals are using authentic police lights and dressing in police uniforms to commit crimes such as auto theft and fraud in Kelowna; highway robbery in Oakville, Barrie and Brampton; assault and robbery in Ottawa; abductions in Scarborough and Calgary; break and enter and subsequent assaults in Sydney Mines and Oshawa; intimidation in Mississauga; unlawful confinement in Lethbridge; and fraud in Kings Country, Brantford and Toronto.
For the young woman in my riding, and all of these victims, the police uniform no longer represents safety and security. With time, they will cope with this fear and will hopefully regain their trust in authority. However, every time we hear of these types of incidents, one more person has this trust shattered. This is a concern for all of us, but it is a great concern for police who are out there trying to do their jobs.
The police who I have spoken to in my riding, RCMP veterans and serving members, have encouraged me in my mission to add this sentencing provision to section 130. It would not affect their enforcement of the offence, but they recognize that this amendment would help ensure that sentencing for this crime would reflect the significant impact that it has on our country.
There was a case in Calgary where a man personated a police officer and used flashing lights to attempt to pull over and abduct young females. CBC News quoted a sergeant with the Calgary Police Force who stated that the false representation of a police officer was “a very serious offence”. He went on to say, “We cannot have our confidence in the public eroded. It is very important that we are able to conduct our jobs, and if people do not trust the police or they are worried, it can make our jobs very difficult”.
I previously introduced the bill during the last Parliament. It had been reported back to the House by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The unanimous support that I received from the House was extremely encouraging, and I look forward to that same level of support from this Parliament.
As I describe the specific points of the bill, let me start by explaining the definition of peace officers and public officers in the Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code defines police officers as Canadian officers of customs and excise, immigration, corrections, fisheries and the Canadian Forces. It includes pilots in command of an aircraft, mayors, wardens, reeves, sheriffs, justices of the peace and, of course, police officers.
A public officer is defined as an officer of customs or excise, an officer of the Canadian Forces, an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and any officer while the officer is engaged in enforcing the laws of Canada relating to revenue, customs, excise, trade or navigation.
The bottom line is that these are all occupations that demand a significant amount of trust from the Canadian public. Anyone who falsely represents members of these occupations in order to commit a crime against a person is committing a serious breach of that person's trust, and that of all of us.
However, this bill is about sentencing. It speaks to the need for tougher penalties for this particular crime, in line with the fundamental sentencing principle of proportionality, which is stated in section 718 of the Criminal Code. The bill has a basic objective. It would make impersonating a peace officer in the commission of another offence an aggravating circumstance to be considered for sentencing purposes. It would add one clause to the Criminal Code following section 130.
Because it is short, I would like to read my bill into the record. It states that the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after section 130:
|| 130.1 If a person is convicted of an offence under section 130, the court imposing the sentence on the person shall consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the accused personated a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be, for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence.
That is all. It does not seek to effect any interpretation of the crime. My bill would simply direct a sentencing court to consider this as one factor when dealing with someone convicted of impersonating a peace officer or a public officer.
We know that a number of factors come into play in a sentencing decision, such as the criminal record of the offender or the severity of harm caused to a victim. Aggravating circumstances are just one more factor that sentencing judges are required to consider that do not guarantee, but tend to increase, the severity of a sentence.
There are aggravating circumstances defined in section 718 that apply to all criminal offences. There are also aggravating circumstances attached to specific offences within the code. To be clear, the bill seeks to add the special aggravating circumstance to a sentencing court to consider the crime of impersonating a peace officer or public officer.
When we look at aggravating circumstances that apply to all offences, one of them is evidence that the offender, in committing an offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. This would apply in situations where an offender has an existing relationship with a victim, such as a teacher, a coach or a bona fide police officer. However, those who impersonate officers do not fall into this category. Offenders who impersonate peace or public officers have not abused a position of authority, for he or she does not have that position to begin with. This circumstance in section 718 cannot then be used, since this would apply to real police officers who have abused their position of trust. It does not apply to those who are posing as police officers.
An offender's false representation of him or herself as an officer is intended to deceive and breach trust and authority. However, this deceit is not captured by the existing circumstances that speak to these abuses. I hope that my colleagues in the House will recognize this gap in the law and work with me to fill it, as my bill seeks to do. We know that adding a new aggravating circumstance to the Criminal Code is an effective way to ensure that the fundamental sentencing principles are achieved.
As to the relevance of aggravating circumstances, Parliament recently passed an important bill on elder abuse, Bill C-36. With its passage into law we saw a very important amendment to the Criminal Code, adding a new aggravating circumstance to section 718.2 to apply to any offence against elderly Canadians. With this bill we are now seeking to apply this rationale when it comes to sentencing for crimes against Canadians who have been misled into thinking they are dealing with an officer but are then victimized.
The sentence for this kind of malicious deceit must reflect the significant impact that the crime has on the lives of victims. Victims, whoever they may be, must be assured that there will be serious consequences for the criminals who have hurt them.
By supporting the bill, we are also helping to preserve the trust and respect that citizens have for real, bona fide police officers. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust and respect the authority that comes with it. Our laws must reflect this reality.
I note that personation of an officer used to be punishable as a summary conviction and had a maximum penalty of only six months imprisonment. The Conservative government in the previous Parliament passed into law former Bill S-4, which increased the maximum penalty for this offence to five years imprisonment and made it a hybrid offence. I commend the Department of Justice for its work on increasing the maximum sentence for this crime, which came into force two years ago. Now we must give the courts this sentencing tool to exercise the new maximum in the most serious cases.
For 34 years I worked as a teacher of children and young adults. As a teacher, I shared their joys of accomplishment as well as their concerns about the future. I was always there to help them through difficult times when they had to deal with terrible ordeals. Being a receptive ear to their voices gave me an understanding of how difficult and fragile life can be.
As a member of Parliament I have once again heard such a voice. I shared the same concerns as others in our community when I heard of the disappearance of a young girl from Penhold. Prayers were all that I could offer. No one knew why her car was left where it was. There was nothing to indicate that she would have strayed from the errand that she was on. Her parents were frantic and our community of central Alberta empathized while we all waited. Finally the news broke that she had been found.
Only then did the pieces of this horrible ordeal start to make sense. The weapons used by her attacker were flashing lights and an RCMP uniform. That is why the car was left there. Her trust of the uniform and the false sense of safety and authority that it presented to her resulted in the most horrendous 46 hours that anyone could imagine.
The subsequent trial of her abductor forced the girl and her family to relive this ordeal. Finally a verdict and a sentence was rendered, but two things haunted them. First was the knowledge that the crime of personating a peace officer amounted to, in those days, only six months imprisonment, which was the maximum sentence allowed before the passage of Bill S-4. Second was that in the commission of this crime, the weapons used to lure her into a trap would not be recognized for what they really were. She had been deceived by the trust she had in the police and the weapon of deceit was considered more of a side issue than the catalyst for the crime.
The day that this brave young lady and her mother came to me for help was the day I knew they needed the receptive ear that I had while I was a teacher, and it would also be part of my job as a member of Parliament. It is my hope that all of my colleagues can recognize the importance of the bill and will see that it is worth supporting.
Ms. Françoise Boivin (Gatineau, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, my question for my colleague from Red Deer gave an indication of our position. In fact, we will be pleased to support the government. When it comes to justice issues, that does not happen often. However, we will support Bill C-444.
I congratulate the member from Red Deer because he resisted the temptation to impose minimum sentences, something we see all too often in justice or crime bills. He chose instead to focus on the aggravating factor.
I believe that this bill respects victims' rights. It also respects judicial independence which, in my opinion, is indispensable in a true democracy and will also result in appropriate sentencing.
Some people find this to be a rather unusual bill, but it is not complicated. It refers to the notion of a peace officer, which already exists under section 130 of the Criminal Code:
|(1) Everyone commits an offence who
|(a) falsely represents himself to be a peace officer or a public officer; or
|(b) not being a peace officer or public officer, uses a badge or article of uniform or equipment in a manner that is likely to cause persons to believe that he is a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be.
|| (2) Everyone who commits an offence under subsection (1)
||(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years; or
||(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
As the member for Red Deer made clear, this bill creates an aggravating circumstance for anyone committing an offence by pretending to be someone he is not for the purpose of committing another crime.
I am sure that all of my colleagues have heard horror stories other than those we heard from the member for Red Deer. Such incidents have happened everywhere. I remember that a few years ago in Gatineau, people were posing as police officers and trying to collect money. They were passing themselves off as peace officers or police officers—it does not really matter what they were calling themselves—to fool people. That is not quite as serious as the incident described by the member for Red Deer, the one that led to the creation of this bill.
I appreciate the fact that one of our fellow citizens brought this problem to our attention. Now we are trying to find a solution, which is what we are here for. I was pleased to see that this bill received unanimous support during a previous Parliament. I do not expect that our colleague will have any trouble obtaining unanimous support for his bill.
The NDP intends to fully support the bill introduced by the member for Red Deer. We will certainly have some good discussions about this, not because we want to change anything, but because we want to make sure that people understand how important this bill is.
Other members have mentioned the fact that this bill is important in situations where a person claims to be someone we hold in high regard. I have in mind the definition of peace officer in section 2 of the Criminal Code, which the member from Red Deer spoke about: “a mayor, warden, reeve,...deputy sheriff, sheriff’s officer,...justice of the peace,...a member of the Correctional Service of Canada,...police officer, police constable, bailiff...” In Quebec, a bailiff is authorized to go to people's homes.
People are usually a little alarmed if approached by a person in uniform or someone acting in an official capacity. People believe in law and order, and they are prepared to do things they would not normally do if they had a few moments to think about it. As with any form of abuse, if someone takes advantage of a situation, as parliamentarians we must ensure that we crack down on these types of crimes.
However, we must allow the courts to do their job with the power given to them in a free and democratic society such as Canada, where we have the principle of the presumption of innocence.
As our colleague mentioned—and he is right—this is a hybrid offence. Thus, when the case goes to trial, the judge who hears the case can hand out different sentences. This can be prosecuted by indictment or summary conviction. It is the responsibility of the crown prosecutor to determine the seriousness of the matter based on the facts. The prosecutor must then formulate the sentence accordingly.
For once, I am applauding a bill. More often than not we are handed bills that impose a vision on the courts. This hinders the work of the trial judge, whose job it is to properly evaluate the different points of view and try to determine the appropriate sentence based on the case and the facts that are proven.
I very much appreciate how much work our colleague put into this bill. If they want to have our support, they should not boast that they know everything.
I felt the hon. member for Red Deer's passion about his file, and I know how hard he has worked to try to move forward on this issue. We are certainly not going to stand in his way on such an important issue. He also took the time to send us additional information so that we could make a decision at this stage.
Not all of us were necessarily present during the 40th Parliament when MPs began examining this issue. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to say just how important it is for the new members of the 41st Parliament to have the chance to participate in such an important debate. It is a good thing that this is not done with private members' bills, but the same principle applies to any bill. We have talked about this enough over the past two, three or four years, and it is time that we do something about it.
The problem is that many members of the House are talking about Bill C-444 for the first time. It is worth taking a serious look at this bill.
As I was saying, the addition to the Criminal Code after section 130 does not apply in the aggravating circumstances that are already set out in section 718 but, rather, it applies specifically to the offence set out in section 130 where a person tries to facilitate the commission of another offence. For example, the person could impersonate a police officer in order to rape or kidnap someone. The person could also impersonate a bailiff in order to try to get money.
Unfortunately, many older people are targeted by such actions. Sometimes, criminals take advantage of their vulnerability. It is unfortunate, but true. So, once passed, this bill would give the courts the tools they need to make this type of behaviour an aggravating circumstance.
I hope that this is what will happen in cases such as these. I sometimes have to wonder about the sentences imposed in some cases, but who am I to say since those cases have been heard by judges. However, this time, the judges will not have any excuse and will have to consider the act of impersonating a police officer for the purpose of committing another offence as an aggravating circumstance.
I would once again like to congratulate the hon. member for Red Deer. The NDP will support this bill at all stages.
Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to address Bill C-444, the private member's bill put forward by the member for Red Deer, which seeks to increase penalties for offenders convicted of personating a peace officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence. I will be supporting the bill going to committee, and I thank the member for Red Deer for once again bringing this important issue to the attention of the House and to me personally in this regard.
The member for Red Deer has been engaged in this issue for some time, and his concern is as genuine as it is warranted. I share his concern and his outrage in this matter with respect to offenders who disguise themselves as police officers to facilitate their crimes, thereby undermining public trust in the police and other authorities. It is important that Parliament address this problem in as principled and effective way as possible.
Regrettably, while the principle underlying the private member's bill is important, the bill before us is unlikely to have the significant effect that the member himself seeks or that the House would seek. However laudable its intent, Bill C-444 emerges as yet another variation of a Conservative crime bill that attempts to deal with crime, as the member for Red Deer himself acknowledged, at the sentencing stage after the crime has been committed, after the investigation has been carried out and after the offender has been arrested, tried and convicted. In other words, after the very fact that it seeks to prevent and regrettably after it is already too late.
However to its credit, and this bears mention, it does not seek to attach mandatory minimums in the matter of sentencing. It does not seek to eliminate or circumscribe judicial discretion.
It has a laudable underlying objective. My concern is whether this particular legislation would seek the laudable objective that the member for Red Deer himself has in mind.
Accordingly, while I am prepared to send the bill to committee for further study, I expect that such further study may be less effectual than it might otherwise be. Therefore, I will use the remainder of my time to set forth certain considerations in respect of this contention. First, I will examine why the bill is unlikely to increase the length of prison terms for people convicted of personating a peace officer. Second, I will discuss why, even if it did lead to longer prison terms, it would not reduce the occurrence of this crime, which is the member's principal objective, with which I concur. Finally, I will explore other measures that might prove to be more effective and that will help underpin the very principle that underlines the bill.
As I said, Bill C-444 is not likely to have a major impact on the severity of sentences. To begin with, it should be noted that in cases of personation of a peace officer, Canada currently allows for sentences more severe than in many other jurisdictions. In 2009 the House unanimously passed Bill S-4, which established a five-year maximum prison term for personation as opposed to U.S. states like New York or Michigan, where the maximum is four years, or the United Kingdom, which allows only for a sentence of six months.
Canada's sentencing regime already takes this crime very seriously, and there is no reason to think that judges are overlooking important factors such as the purpose of the personation when handing down sentences. For example, in 2009 and 2010 a Winnipeg man dressed up as a police officer in order to gain access to crime scenes, without committing any further offence. He was sentenced to four and a half months. By contrast, in the case of the man who posed as an officer in the member's riding of Red Deer in order to kidnap and abuse a teenaged girl, the judge handed down a total sentence of 18 years, including the maximum sentence for personation permitted at the time.
Simply put, it appears that judges have been making appropriate use of their discretion in such cases. The additional guidance offered by Bill C-444 is therefore unlikely to result in penalties for personation that are more severe.
However, even assuming the bill were to result in longer sentences for personation of a peace officer for the purpose of committing another offence, it is unlikely that offenders would spend more time in jail as a consequence. While judges may generally issue concurrent or consecutive sentences as they see fit, sentences for offences that are part of the same criminal act tend to be served concurrently, and it is difficult to conceive of a scenario in which a judge would issue a longer sentence for personation than for the offence that the personation was intended to facilitate.
In other words, if an offender receives an 18-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault, it does not much matter to him or her whether his or her simultaneous offence for personation is a year or two or five.
This bill would therefore be unlikely to achieve the member's legitimate objective of having people who personate peace officers spend more time behind bars.
Of course, I appreciate that the member's ultimate objective is not longer prison terms for people who commit this crime, but, rather, fewer personations of peace officers in the first place and that this is his principal objective, which I share.
This brings me to my second point, which is that the deterrent effect of longer prison terms has been repeatedly shown to be minimal. Therefore, even if a judge were to be moved by this legislation to issue a longer sentence for personation than he or she would otherwise have done and even in the unusual circumstance that such a sentence were served consecutive to the sentence for the related offence, there would still be no reason to believe that the occurrence of the crime of personation in Canada would be reduced.
As was pointed out by Michael Jackson of the Canadian Bar Association at the justice committee's hearing on Bill C-10:
|| The evidence is overwhelming...in every jurisdiction where it's been studied, that putting more people in prison for longer periods of time has no salutary effect upon public safety...
In fact, a research summary on the Public Safety Department's own website, which compiles 50 studies involving over 300,000 offenders, finds that, “To argue for expanding the use of imprisonment in order to deter criminal behaviour is without empirical support”.
That is a conclusion that has been reached time and again by studies in Canada and jurisdictions around the world.
For example, in 2010 a man used a police officer's costume to commit a home invasion and robbery in Toronto. Do we truly believe that he spent the night before consulting the Criminal Code, poring over the jurisprudence and parsing the sentencing guidelines and had the guidelines been different, would have chosen not to proceed or to forego the outfit? Or in the case of the 2000 tragic kidnapping and assault in Red Deer, the member's riding, is it reasonable to assume that an offender who was prepared to risk the substantial penalties for kidnapping and aggravating sexual assault would have been dissuaded by the prospect of a slightly longer prison term for personating a peace officer. I suspect not.
Increasing the length of sentences is manifestly a less effective way of combatting all crimes, personation included.
This brings me to the final part of my remarks, in which I will propose some alternative methods for minimizing the occurrence of personation of peace officers to begin with, which is the private member's bill's objective.
First, we should examine how offenders acquire authentic looking police attire and accessories. As the member for Red Deer noted in debate on the previous version of his bill, a wide array of police equipment is available online and at security supply stores, including strobe lighting for vehicles and uniforms that can be made to look very real with very little alteration. It is certainly worth considering whether there are steps that might be taken to limit the availability of such items.
Second, the government could partner with police in a public awareness campaign to inform Canadians that all police officers carry badges and photo ID and that citizens themselves have the right to request to see an officer's identification and to call 9-1-1 for verification if they are truly suspicious. By empowering Canadians in this way, as well as by reducing the availability of authentic looking police equipment, we would significantly limit the capacity of offenders to pass as officers of the peace.
In conclusion, as I said at the outset, I support and applaud the member for Red Deer for consistently focusing the attention of the House on this very important issue and I will support Bill C-444 at second reading. At the very least, the bill would serve as a statement by Parliament of the seriousness with which we regard the crime of personation of a peace officer. However, we should seek to do more than make what is nonetheless a very important statement.
As I have outlined, there may be concrete steps that we could take that would have an impact on the occurrence of the crime itself. I trust that we will have the opportunity to discuss such steps at committee and that the government will take a seriously impactful action to combat the personation of peace officers in the very near future as represented in the private member's bill of the member for Red Deer.
Mr. Robert Goguen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to participate in the debate on Bill C-444, which has to do with personating a peace officer or public officer.
This bill is nearly identical to the former Bill C-576, which died on the order paper during the previous Parliament. Bill C-576 made it to second reading and was passed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The bill has to do with the existing offence of personating a peace officer or public officer. More specifically, it suggests that the fact that an individual personated a peace officer or public officer for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence should be considered an aggravating circumstance during sentencing. The only difference between the two bills is that the current bill also includes the term “public officer”.
Personating a peace officer or public officer is a hybrid offence punishable under indictment by a maximum of five years in prison. Before 2009, this offence was only a summary conviction offence. At the time, it was punishable by a maximum of six months in prison or a maximum fine of $5,000, or both. It was obviously not considered to be a very serious offence.
In 2009, our government changed this offence to a hybrid offence and increased the maximum prison term to five years in the former Bill S-4, the identity theft bill, which came into force on January 10, 2010.
The five-year maximum prison term takes into account the fact that the offence requires only that we establish that the accused personated a peace officer or public officer. There is no requirement that there be malicious intent to specifically do so or that something malicious be accomplished in doing so.
Some individuals may decide to personate a police officer, for example, simply to feel powerful or as a way to do something else that may or may not be serious, such as getting information or gaining access to a location. Personating a peace officer or a public officer so that others believe that one really is such an officer can, in itself, lead to a conviction. No other evidence is required.
In a few instances, personating a police officer or a public officer will be directly associated with other offences. It is a way to enable the commission of other crimes. Since most people in our society have faith in the police and in other public institutions, they may, because of that faith, submit to the authority of an individual they believe to be a peace officer or a public officer.
Cases where people's trust in police and public officers is abused are very troubling. They must be condemned by sentencing courts and by Parliament. Bill C-444 addresses these cases. The bill would require that personating a peace officer or a public officer for the purpose of committing another offence be considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes.
We could think of many situations where someone would voluntarily get into a police officer's vehicle, or let an officer into their home, before realizing that this person actually means them harm. Such cases are rare, fortunately. However, they are extremely serious, which justifies including them specifically in the Criminal Code.
It is also important to recall that in determining a fit sentence, the court must in all cases take into account all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors. Paragraph 718.2(a) of the Criminal Code describes a number of aggravating factors that apply to all offences. These include, for instance, evidence that the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim. But in addition to these factors which are specifically listed, the sentencing court always retains discretion to determine if additional circumstances revealed by the evidence are aggravating or mitigating factors that should affect the sentence.
It is already the case that a sentencing judge can take into account the aggravated nature of this form of police or public officer personation. What Bill C-444 does is essentially codify this practice in the text of the law.
Bill C-444 deserves serious consideration in this House because it addresses a truly horrific form of criminality which has so many negative consequences on the public at large, on the ability of police to carry out their functions, and especially on any individuals whose trust in public institutions and authorities was used against them to facilitate their victimization.
While this form of conduct continues to be rare in this country, there have been a number of incidents reported in the media in the last few years. One case involved drivers being stopped by a police impersonator and requested to pay immediately for an alleged speeding offence. Another case involved motorists who were followed after leaving a casino, and then pulled over and robbed of their winnings. There have also been profoundly disturbing cases involving police personation so as to get someone into a car to facilitate their kidnapping.
There was the tragic and devastating incident involving the kidnapping and sexual assault of a teenager in the riding of Red Deer, the riding of the member who is sponsoring this bill. No doubt, this incident is what prompted him to introduce this bill.
All Canadians should be aware that such things can happen and should be encouraged to be vigilant. Citizens should trust the police, but they should also recognize that criminals are not above exploiting that trust. It is a difficult balance to achieve. The exercise of a little bit of caution is a good thing. It is reasonable to ask to see the badge of someone who appears to be a police officer, especially if you are being asked to go with them or to allow them to enter your premises. This kind of verification process must be done respectfully and cautiously.
As Parliamentarians, we can help educate and inform Canadians about these risks. That is exactly what the debate on Bill C-444 is allowing us to do.
Ms. Manon Perreault (Montcalm, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, naturally, I am pleased to support the bill put forward by my colleague from Red Deer. No one is against virtue. This bill is designed to ensure that personating a police officer or a public officer for the purpose of committing another offence is considered by a court to be an aggravating circumstance.
The bill does not include minimum sentences, which respects judicial independence while appropriately punishing the criminal.
It would therefore remedy a flaw in the Criminal Code by amending section 130, while also providing justice for victims. It is about appropriately punishing offenders by increasing penalties for those who take advantage of this trust to cause harm to others.
I would like to point out that the member who tabled this bill was concerned about an unfortunate incident that took place in his riding, where a young girl was sexually assaulted by a man disguised as a police officer who had fake cruiser lights on his car. The bill introduced by the member for Red Deer came out of a terrible event in his riding in 2009 that demanded action. He showed compassion with his response to this event in his own community. His approach is both balanced and appropriate. Congratulations.
This type of offence abuses the trust that people put in our institutions. Police officers are there to protect us. That is the foundation of our justice system, and it is compromised in these types of situations. When someone usurps the power of a law enforcement officer, that forces the victim to submit to false authority so that the offender can commit another offence. It is crucial that we protect the integrity of our institutions and prevent people from being misled.
It should be said that the majority of Canadians put their complete trust in the police and readily submit to an officer's requests. That is normal. But it is that same authority and power that is exploited to facilitate other heinous crimes.
Such incidents are rare, but they have terrible consequences. I would not go so far as to say that incidents involving personation of a police officer are on the rise, but the fact is that everyone is concerned about such offences.
The problem has surfaced elsewhere in the country as a factor in all sorts of crimes. I will provide several examples during my speech.
This bill also provides an opportunity to raise awareness. We have to remind people to be vigilant and careful. Everyone has rights, and anyone can ask an officer to confirm their identity. Such a request is perfectly acceptable if a police officer approaches an individual and makes suspicious requests or behaves oddly.
When in doubt, people have every right to ask an officer questions or request to see their badge or ID. Of course, they should do so respectfully.
This bill is about personating a peace officer for the purpose of committing another serious offence, such as theft, home invasion or, in the case of the crime committed in Red Deer, kidnapping and sexual assault.
Any abuse of the trust that people have in police officers is reprehensible because that trust is crucial to the well-being of our whole society.
In July 2011, Toronto police arrested a man on suspicion of fraud against elderly persons. The man in question pretended to be a police officer and made off with their wallets. He was charged with 14 counts of theft and 14 counts of personating a peace officer. His victims were all between 70 and 80 years of age. I just wanted to mention that we should never tolerate any form of elder abuse.
The most surprising thing about this case is that this was not the first time the accused had passed himself off as a police officer. In 2003, he was sentenced to four years in jail for personating a police officer in order to commit theft. In 2008, five years later, he was at it again. He passed himself off as a police officer to commit another theft, but he was convicted only of theft.
There have also been cases involving motorists who were pulled over by police impersonators for an alleged speeding offence or expired licence, only to be extorted for money. They forced victims to pay a fine on the spot, using the authority and power of a police officer along with the threat of towing the vehicle and the victim having to pay all of the related expenses.
Montreal police arrested two men for these kinds of offences in 2010. The two young men, both 18 years old, did not have police badges, but they did have flashing lights and managed to stop and search several vehicles in the east end of Montreal, demanding payments for fines while also stealing items from inside the vehicles. After several interactions with motorists, some drivers became suspicious and alerted the police as quickly as possible.
This case is particularly telling, since it shows that many people were completely fooled by these two men who passed themselves off as police officers—certainly corrupt ones—but police officers using their authority and their power.
Yet, this is not the first time that this happened. In 2008, the Calgary police had already charged two people who were personating police officers and who had tried to arrest drivers. They also had cruiser lights on their car. How is it that people other than police officers can purchase cruiser lights? I am just wondering.
Another incident took place in Oakville in 2010 when a women who was personating a police officer pulled a driver over, accused him of speeding and demanded that he quickly pay a fine right then and there. In that case, the woman did not have a uniform, a badge or an ID card. The situation was suspicious enough for the driver who was being scammed to call the police as soon as possible. Once the crime has been committed, victims take the time to think about it and then they realize that they have been scammed.
It is important to remind the public that there are ways to identify who is really a police officer. Police officers, whether they are plainclothes or in uniform, always have a photo ID card and a badge. If they are not visible, people have the right to ask to see them and should call the police if they have doubts as to a police officer's true identity.
Crimes such as what happened in the riding of Red Deer, or elsewhere in the country, have made the public and victims more distrustful of our institutions. Personating a peace officer should not be considered secondary in these cases, but should be considered an aggravating circumstance by the courts during sentencing.
We know how much trust the public puts in the people it believes to be real police officers. Personating an officer is even more serious, because it exploits the public's trust in the police. It affects all members of society; not just the victims.
The bill exposes a troubling and worrying aspect of the crime, which is when the offence is committed for the purpose of committing another offence. This bill will very much improve our justice system. It will give the courts a necessary—and currently lacking—tool for sentencing.
The member for Red Deer did a good job with this bill. It epitomizes his compassion for and understanding of the victim and the victim's family, and is an improvement to our justice system.
This private member's bill is a shining example of a logical and balanced approach to justice. The fact that there are no proposed minimum sentences should encourage the Conservatives to reconsider their normal approach to these issues.
It goes without saying that this is and will continue to be an important issue. Personating an officer is a crime that leads to other crimes. It must therefore be considered an aggravating circumstance by the courts. I urge my colleagues to unequivocally support this bill.
Ms. Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-444, an act to amend the Criminal Code (personating peace officer or public officer). The bill was introduced by the member for Red Deer and is virtually identical to former Bill C-576. The only difference is that in Bill C-444 the aggravating factor applies to personation of a public officer as well as a peace officer. Former Bill C-576 was approved by the members of this chamber at second reading and was subsequently also adopted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights without amendment before dying on the order paper.
Bill C-444 is a simple and straightforward bill with only one provision. It would make it a mandatory aggravating factor on sentencing for the crime of personating a peace officer or a public officer, if the offence was committed for the purpose of facilitating the commission of another offence. As I will shortly explain, the purpose of personating a peace officer or a public officer in order to facilitate the commission of another crime is not an essential feature of the offence for reasons that will become obvious.
Let me begin with the offence itself. Section 130 makes it a crime to personate a peace officer or a public officer. This offence is punishable by up to five years in prison. A person can commit this offence in one of two ways. The first way is if people falsely represent themselves as peace officers or public officers. The word “falsely” means obviously that people only commit the offence if they do not in fact hold the office they pretend to hold. The offence has been interpreted to require that people intentionally misrepresented themselves to someone as if they did in fact hold such an office. There will have to be some evidence that the person deliberately tried to deceive another person about his or her status as a peace officer or a public officer.
The second way people can commit the offence is when they use a badge or other uniform article or equipment in a manner likely to cause others to believe that they are peace officers or public officers. Once again, of course, a person can only commit the offence in this way if he or she is not a peace officer or a public officer. As well, it is clear that there has to be some evidence that the use of the equipment or badge was likely to deceive the public or a person.
Whichever way the offence is committed, two things are clear. First is the harmful nature of this conduct. The very fact that people who have certain functions wear uniforms and use badges and other identifying equipment is testament to the importance of ensuring that the public is able to identify them as people who have those functions.
Some professions require the use of a uniform for a variety of reasons. The uniform is intended, in part, to provide visual proof that the person wearing it belongs to a particular group. This has several beneficial aspects. When people know they are in the presence of a law enforcement officer, their behaviour may change. Not only does the uniform alert potential criminals that law enforcement is present, but it also alerts law-abiding citizens to the same. When citizens need help, they may scan the area for the distinctive uniform of a police officer. When drivers approach an intersection or roadway that is occupied by a person in a police uniform, they typically submit to that person's hand directions without question or delay.
Many parents teach their children to respect and trust a person in a police uniform. The overriding message the uniform sends to law-abiding citizens is that such an individual can be trusted and that is precisely how the problem of police personation arises. It is that natural trust, ordinarily well-founded, that can be exploited and abused by criminals for their own purposes.