Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Through you, I'd like to express my sincere appreciation to each of my colleagues for this opportunity to address the justice and human rights committee regarding my private member's bill, Bill , on personating a peace officer or a public officer.
I appreciate the support received during second reading, which allowed this bill to be sent to your committee, and the willingness of my colleagues from all parties to carry this discussion forward.
As you are aware, this is the second time that your committee will study this bill. It was Bill in the previous Parliament. The committee reported the bill back to the House for third reading without amendments, but it died on the order paper when Parliament dissolved. That was two years ago, but the issue is still very much relevant, and this additional sentencing provision is needed in section 130 of the Criminal Code.
I'm especially pleased to have the opportunity to present my bill to your committee this week, it being National Victims of Crime Awareness Week.
I am joined today by two of my constituents, a brave young woman and her mother, a hard-working registered nurse. Like too many families in our country, their family has endured the worst of our society. Victimized by an offender, at the mercy of the criminal justice system, and now facing future parole hearings, they are survivors and fighters. I am humbled by their courage to come to Ottawa and speak with you today, coincidentally during this National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. They have come here in support of my bill, and I am grateful for that.
I understand that committee members have the bill in front of them, so I'd like to cut to the chase by clarifying my intent and addressing some concerns that committee members might have. The very nature of my bill involves two or more charges, so when we're talking about multiple charges it's important to also discuss multiple sentences, concurrent sentencing, and whether or not my amendment would even apply in the case where the crown is unable to obtain a conviction for a second offence.
These are all important issues, and I appreciate the opportunity to have that thorough discussion with the committee, but I ask the committee to understand and remain focused on my intention to recognize the disarming effect that personating an officer has on a victim and the vulnerable situation that it puts them in. To support victims of this crime by strengthening the reparations provided to them, and to preserve the trust that Canadians have in peace officers and public officers, adding an aggravating circumstance to the sentencing provision for section 130 will achieve these goals.
In terms of the horrible crimes that occurred in my riding, we know that there were multiple charges, both aggravating and mitigating circumstances, and many convictions and many sentences, both consecutive and concurrent. It's probably a great case study for a criminal law student, but for the victims here today, it is a nightmare.
I understand that judges have the discretion to consider any factors they feel may have constituted aggression on the part of an offender, but there are also some circumstances that judges are explicitly required to consider when sentencing. They are in the code because we believe they should always be taken into consideration by a judge.
To expand the discussion further, there are aggravating circumstances defined in section 718 that apply to all criminal offences. There are also some special cases of aggravating circumstances attached to specific offences within the code. To be clear, my bill seeks to have a special aggravating circumstance in regard to the specific offence of personating a peace officer or public officer.
When we look at the aggravating circumstances that currently exist in the Criminal Code, we can see there is a common denominator: the vulnerability of victims. Crimes against children, crimes against the elderly, crimes involving firearms, or crimes that abuse a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim are all circumstances that Parliament has required judges to consider when sentencing.
They are legislated because offenders have taken advantage of the vulnerable position the victims are in. When citizens see a police uniform, they naturally trust the authority that comes with it. Personating a police officer is a serious breach of the public's trust and it has the same effect as using a weapon: it forces the victim to submit. This is why it is important for a judge to be required to consider it an aggravating circumstance to personate a peace officer or public officer as a cover for some other criminal activity. It would apply regardless of the age of the victim.
To address the issue of my amendment having any effect on actual time served, I want to stress that my focus is on amending section 130 to add the sentencing provision regardless of the length of sentences received for other convictions and whether or not they would be served concurrently.
We can only speculate on what type of crimes may be committed alongside section 130 violations, how individual cases would be committed, tried, and sentenced, how much evidence the crown may have in any particular case, or all of the mitigating or aggravating factors that may affect an offender's sentences.
Our role as legislators is to ensure that the maximum sentences and sentencing factors prescribed in the Criminal Code for each offence serve the purpose and principles of sentencing. I'm asking Parliament to add a sentencing provision to the crime of personating peace officers and public officers to ensure that future sentences for this crime serve section 718 of the code.
As for the types of crimes that are committed in concert with personation, what aggravating or mitigating factors might apply to an offender, or how an offender's total time served might pan out, these are all hypothetical scenarios. Mr. Chair, I'm not a lawyer, as many of my honourable colleagues at this table are—I was a math teacher—so I suggest that there are numerous permutations along that line.
Could there be a case where my proposal results in a sentence for section 130 offences being the longest of multiple concurrent sentences? I argue that this could be a possibility.
Could there be a case where my proposal results in a lengthier than otherwise sentence for a section 130 offence while the crown is unable to obtain a conviction for a concurrent offence, or the concurrent offence is thwarted and not carried out? I would argue, Mr. Chair, that this is also possible.
Of course, within the parameters of the maximum sentence for personating an officer, the appropriateness of a sentence would still rest with that sentencing court, but it is up to us as legislators to establish sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. We should recognize that this is a crime that can have varying degrees of harm, and therefore should be penalized accordingly.
We have legislated a new maximum for this particular crime. Now I believe we should give the courts this additional sentencing provision to ensure that the new maximum is exercised in the most serious cases.
Mr. Chair, during debate in the House, all parties remarked on the lack of credence that is given to this type of public deception. It was only in the preparation of comments that the prevalence of this deceit in the commission of crimes in Canada was brought to a conscious level for members. For victims, it's always at a conscious level.
In section 130, the crime is in the deception of the public about a person's status as a peace officer or public officer, whether or not it is for the specific purpose of facilitating another crime and whether or not another crime is actually attempted or committed. But in cases where the deception is intended to, and in fact does, facilitate the commission of other crimes, these are extremely serious instances of the offence of personating officers, and they therefore deserve appropriately high sentences.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and committee members, for your prompt study of this bill. I would be pleased to answer questions from the members.
Indeed the bill before us came about because of discussions I had with the victim in this particular instance.
During the study and the development of information with regard to the bill, I had a chance to go through some of the different cases. We had a stack of maybe 50 news reports that had come out on this type of thing in just the last couple of years. It didn't just happen and it wasn't in any one particular area. It was happening throughout the country. We saw many cases. I remember specific cases happening in Mississauga.
Shortly after Bill was presented, we also had a case of something very similar in Calgary. Someone said they were a police officer, and a young person was kidnapped. There was some quick response to that, and fortunately that was able to be solved.
We didn't do a study per se, but in the development of this, we certainly spent a lot of time looking at that. When we presented it both times, as Bill and now as Bill , we found that people were starting to recognize that it occurred in their ridings and communities as well.
Targeting specifically is based on opportunity, whether that involves youth, who are often there...and again there are specific circumstances. If we speak to the concept of sentencing, aggravating circumstances include the offence being against a minor. Our elder abuse bill looks at that for the elderly and for those with perhaps diminished mental capacity. However, this thought is for all people who are involved.
The second part is where this fell apart.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'm going to ask a question continuing along the lines of the aggravating circumstances piece, and then I'm going to be sharing my time with my colleague Blaine Calkins.
It's very nice to see you in this role, Mr. Dreeshen. This is a treat.
Following on the discussion you've had on aggravating circumstances, as you know, Parliament recently passed Bill , which was our Conservative government's bill on elder abuse. With that passage into law, a very important amendment to the Criminal Code, adding a new aggravating circumstances piece to section 718.2, applies to any offence against elder Canadians.
Bill would require a sentencing court, upon conviction of the offence of impersonating a peace officer or a public officer under section 130 of the Criminal Code, to consider as an aggravating factor the fact that the offender impersonated the officer in order to facilitate the commission of another offence.
While the sentencing court—and I just want clarification—already has the discretion, as you spoke to in your opening remarks, to consider such a circumstance as an aggravating factor, do you think making consideration of that factor mandatory would enable Parliament to specifically denounce such crimes?
I appreciate what you're trying to do. You are basically trying to impose a stiffer penalty on those who discredit peace officers. Restoring the reputation of our public safety forces is important.
But I see a problem, even though I fear someone will point out that ignorance of the law is no excuse. When someone commits a crime, they know they are doing so, but do they know they are violating section 130 of the Criminal Code by impersonating a peace officer or an authority figure, such as a public officer?
Let's pretend someone wearing a Canadian gas company's uniform knocks on your door and says they are there to inspect a gas leak. This is an authority figure because they represent a public service. But, will the judge consider them to be a public official in a position of authority or a peace officer? Since the individual is in a position of authority, your definition could include it. Judges may have reservations about that, given that how they interpret a very broad text may lead to a stiffer penalty being imposed on someone.
With respect to section 2 of the Criminal Code, it may have been preferable to name everyone we want to protect. We would do well to make it clear that we want to prohibit people from impersonating those protected individuals, instead of having such a broad definition. Do you see what I'm getting at?
I would like you to enlighten me and explain why you opted for such a broad definition, when, in essence, you are trying to protect the public service and punish those who impersonate public officers.
As I said, my intent was threefold.
Certainly, there's that innate trust we have of the police and others, the firemen, to protect us, to be there.
As we get older, we find ourselves in different situations. I've come upon accidents where I know that I've had to call the police, and they come, and you're there to help them do a job, one which not very many people really want to be part of. It's then you get to understand how serious their job is.
Then when someone takes that and turns it upside down and because of that type of activity destroys the trust that you have, I think that's important.
When I've been discussing this with different individuals, that's what they were talking about, that they work so hard to try to do their job, which is a very difficult job, and then they have this type of a ruse that's coming in and destroying that. Maybe it's not destroying it from the point of view that so many people know about it—they're only going to hear about some of the really major cases—but it's also destroying it for that individual.
That's really what we're talking about. We're talking about it here during this the National Victims of Crime Awareness Week. I think this is really significant.
Thank you, Mr. Albas, for that question.
When we were looking at this, there was that transition. At the beginning, and based on the sentence that was meted out, it was only six months, but then as we were discussing it, the change had taken place so that it was the hybrid offence, so we were caught in the middle.
However, when we took a look at it, we recognized that the focus was still there. It was still a case of recognition that this was what the courts were going to be looking at. They would be looking at the five-year maximum, I suppose, under these circumstances. However, we would still have this opportunity to let a victim know there was a serious reason that they were stopped and what happened and why they were put in that particular position.
I think in a lot of ways, if we imagine ourselves in that case, lots of things happen to us that we wish didn't and are unseemly and so on, but to think that you were put in that position because of some type of an activity, that, I think, is the critical part. Again, it's the idea, the concept of using a gun to stop somebody. You're not going to stop. If somebody comes up to you and starts waving, sneaking up on you, you know you're going to lock the door. You're going to take all the precautions you possibly can, and then you can stand up and say you're doing what you can to protect yourself under these circumstances. But when you give yourself up openly because you're wondering why the police are coming to you, and that maybe they need your help.... I look at it from that perspective. Usually, if I'm driving, I have an idea why they might want to talk to me, but there are a lot of other circumstances like donations to the policeman's ball, that I get along the road.
Nevertheless, it is a situation where you don't want to be duped and you don't want other people thinking that you did something improper to put yourself in that position, because that certainly isn't the case. It wasn't the case in the incident that was the impetus for this particular bill, and it certainly isn't the case for anybody else who has had something happen to them either.
Good afternoon. My name is Laurie Long, and this is my daughter Jordan. We are from Penhold, Alberta.
Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 9:30 p.m., Jordan went to gas up her truck and get some juice for a sore throat. She had been feeling unwell all day but had determined she was not going to miss school the next day. She was 16 years old. She had been driving for about three months and enjoying some of the freedoms that go along with that milestone in life.
That night was the start of a horrendous ordeal for her and our family. She was observed at the gas station by a man who followed her back to our home and, while dressed as an RCMP member, forced her out of her vehicle and into his at gunpoint. He covered her eyes with blacked out ski goggles, cut her face with a knife while shouting, “You're under arrest. You're under arrest”, and ultimately bound her and put her in the trunk of his car and drove her about 30 kilometres away on a -32° Celsius night.
He approached her in our backyard not 25 feet from my bedroom window where I was. She was bound, blindfolded, and assaulted multiple times. She was missing for about 47 hours. It was terrifying, a parent's worst nightmare, certainly a young woman's worst nightmare.
On Saturday, February 28 at about 8:45 p.m. we received a call from a payphone to our home. Hoping against hope it was Jordan, my husband answered. It was Jordan. While he tried to figure out where she was, he told her to stay there and that the police were coming. What she replied stunned us. She said, “Dad, a policeman did this to me”. We found out the next day that the man was not a police officer, but he had dressed like one with the coat, the fur hat, and the flashes on the shoulders. He had borrowed his mother's white car and had a police light in it. He had pulled in behind Jordan in our backyard and told her that she had an insurance violation. Later a member of the major crimes unit in Edmonton stated that he felt the man's uniform was authentic enough that his own wife would have had trouble knowing whether the man was RCMP or not.
The major point here is that he never would have been able to get as close to her as he did without her using her cellphone for help or attempting to run into the house if he was not dressed as law enforcement. During the criminal trial for this man, he faced one count of personating a police officer. We were stunned to learn at that time that the maximum penalty for this offence was six months' jail time. That has now been changed to a hybrid five years maximum. Making the personating of a police officer an aggravating circumstance would allow judges to impose penalities befitting the crime.
In 1954 Abraham Maslow published his research and findings on the basis of motivation and referred to it as the hierarchy of human needs. This simple idea has become a fundamental framework for understanding how people are motivated and how they become successful and productive. The hierarchy is represented as a tiered triangle in which each tier must be achieved before the next tier can be reached. The triangle consists of a base of basic physiological needs like air, food, water, etc., followed by safety. The next levels are social, ego, independence, and self-fulfilment.
For all intents and purposes, safety forms the base of this triangle. If there is no safety, there is nothing else. Jordan has had this sense of safety torn away from her by someone who she thought was there to keep her safe, because that is how he represented himself. We depend on the police to keep us safe. We trust that they will. We tell our children that if they get into trouble they should find a policeman or they should call the RCMP.
An individual who dresses as a policeman in order to victimize someone or control them is abusing the public trust. I cannot tell my children not to trust the police. Police serve a valuable and needed purpose in society. The uniform and the office are sacred, and we as citizens of this society require it to be sacred. Because of how small this world has become in the wake of social media and 24-hour news, an episode like this does not affect just one person or our family; it affects thousands of people.
This is why we approached Mr. Dreeshen in May 2010 to bring to his attention the importance of this issue. He did not let us down. He drafted a piece of legislation that asked that the Criminal Code be modified to make personating a police officer an aggravating offence.
I would like to thank Mr. Dreeshen for working so hard on his bill, and thank this committee. It is a profound privilege for a citizen from Penhold, Alberta to come to Ottawa to be heard by the leaders of our country, so thank you.
Jordan continues to have issues regarding anyone wearing a uniform, be it the RCMP, the police, security, or a peace officer. It is likely that she will have these issues for the rest of her life. As another RCMP member said to us when we were talking to him about this issue, it's understandable that she would, because even as members, he said, they feel a little jolt when faced by the flashers in the rear-view mirror. For her, it's a whole other story.
RCMP members worked with us to flag Jordan's registration so that in the event she was stopped on a traffic violation they would be aware that she would be calling for confirmation of identification. Members were as distressed as we were that someone would commit such a heinous crime while representing themselves as law enforcement.
She was actually pulled over about three months after her abduction, which sent her into a panic attack; however, she said that because there were two policemen and she had three friends in the car, she was able to talk herself down. She never speeds now. She never disobeys the rules of the road. She never wants to give a policeman any reason to pull her over, because of her deep mistrust of the uniform.
This is not how we need the police presence to be viewed in this country. We ask those people to go out and possibly give their lives to protect the citizenry of this country. By that fact alone, the penalties for personating an officer of the law need to be strong. They need to approach the maximums more often than keep the minimums.
About five months ago, Jordan and her boyfriend Jimmy were driving home from bringing me a drink at work, and not an alcoholic drink, but an iced tea. It was late at night. I work night shifts. I'm an RN in the emergency room in our local town. On their way home, they came upon an accident involving a single vehicle, with a driver who appeared to be drunk. They did the right thing, and they called the police.
For whatever reason, five RCMP cruisers arrived in a short amount of time, lights flashing, and Jordan experienced a full-on flashback and began panicking and crying uncontrollably. The very people who we as a society are supposed to turn to in times of crisis sent her into an exacerbation of her post-traumatic stress disorder.
Thankfully, a kind policewoman asked Jimmy what was happening, and when he told her that Jordan was the girl from Penhold—they all know who she is—and had been abducted by someone dressed as a police officer, she went around, got all the flashers turned off, and let Jordan go home in Jimmy's car, later giving him a ride to our house.
My point is that this is ongoing, this fear of the RCMP and law enforcement persons in general, and it hasn't eased up. I very much doubt that it ever will.
Because our society is based on laws and those who protect and uphold the law, it is doubtful that Jordan can go through her life never seeing a member of that profession. That man and all others who commit crimes dressed as law enforcement abuse the public's trust. Our society cannot function if we do not trust law enforcement.
We need to make it clear that personating a member is not only an offence under the Criminal Code, but it's an offence against society as a whole, and that is why it should be an aggravating offence, so that justices may penalize accordingly and make the punishment fit the egregious nature of the crime.
I'm not yet sure that it's a question. It's more a comment, because when we have to study these bills and the sad and really terrible, terrible ordeal you went through, it breaks my heart to know that what you should be having the most confidence in.... That sense of confidence has been totally violated and is something that never comes back.
It's good for politicians to hear this, because we deal with paper, and some of us are lawyers and we deal with words. Although I don't wish this to happen to anybody, it's good that we have had your testimony here today. I'm sure that it's not easy to come here to share this story with us. For that, I really thank you.
This is one of those occasions when I'm proud to be an MP, in the sense that we can all work together to try to do something better, although I do take into account the fact that you still have your doubts, and I still have my doubts, in that even legislation like this will not solve everything. There are always going to be people trying to do something bad to people. I'm not sure that even this will...but if it can help, make it move forward, and maybe help Jordan get some—I don't know how you say this in English—solace, I guess you could say, with regard to the whole ordeal, I think that just for that it will be worth it. I really commend you for taking the time to come in front of us to share this very important story so that we can now put a face to it, even if not all the faces.
Jordan, you're going to be the face of all the others who have had to live through this, and for that you should be very proud of yourself. I do hope that one day you will be able to—not to forget, because you never forget—feel a bit more confident. There are some ex-cops at this other table. It must hurt them probably even more to know that somebody's actions give a bad name to what is such an important job for all Canadians.
That's all I wanted to share with you. Thank you for your courage.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I call this meeting back to order.
We're joined by Ms. Markham from the legal department in case there are any questions. Thank you very much.
Are there any questions for the Justice department on this one-clause bill?
Seeing none, I'll proceed.
Shall clause 1 carry?
(Clause 1 agreed to)
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the chair report the bill back to the House on Wednesday?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: That's it, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.
We don't have any agenda items for Wednesday so I'll cancel Wednesday's meeting.
We will start Bill on Monday.