The House resumed from November 17, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to speak to Bill .
I know issues related to justice and to making our communities a better place to live concern all members of Parliament as we try to make a difference in improving the quality for the citizens we represent. I look at Bill as a genuine attempt at making a difference in certain situations.
I am sure we can all reflect on some of the riots that have occurred in the past in Canada and abroad. Valid arguments have been made that we need to do more to protect our citizens, police agencies, law enforcement officers and individuals who are called in to riot situations. I think of individuals such as first responders, paramedics, ambulance attendants and fire personnel. These individuals put their life on the line in many situations in which the average individual is not obligated to participate.
We want to be sensitive and do the right thing to protect those individuals and, as I mentioned, the many different police agencies in situations that come before us for a wide variety of reasons. I could cite the old G20 and G8 conferences that were conducted.
Television networks across Canada televised some of the rioting that took place as a result of the G8 and G20. What Canadians saw on TV or in the pictures that were published left a lasting impression in their minds. One needs to be very sensitive to what our population as a whole thinks and how those people want politicians to respond to what they see.
A vast majority of protestors see a situation or a government and the many flaws that a government might have or want to propose throughout the years. In this case, governments from across the world came to Canada. We have to go the extra mile to ensure all residents of Canada have the right to express themselves, to show up and protest the issues that are important to them.
A vast majority of protestors are good, law-abiding citizens who want to express how they feel about important issues. Unfortunately, at times, that could lead to situations which become dangerous. What might start off as a peaceful demonstration will quite often have people come in to aggravate things. In essence, they are there to try to agitate and cause violent reactions.
It is important for us to recognize the validity of protests and the freedoms of individuals to participate in that process.
On the other hand, we have other types of situations that come before. We can look to Vancouver at the celebrations that followed the Stanley Cup, where citizens came to the street. Once again, a vast majority of those who participated came out because of that high sense of civic pride. They felt good about the Stanley Cup and the fact that Vancouver had made it into the playoffs. They wanted to share that experience and those emotions in a large gathering.
Much like protests that take place in Toronto, unfortunately, individuals will get themselves into these large crowds to aggravate, to try to cause problems for the community as a whole. It raises the issue of safety. All of us, I suspect, would argue that instigators are the ones on which we need to focus some attention. It is reasonable for us to try to come up with ways that will make a difference.
I see this private member's bill before us as a bill in which the member has given a personal assessment of how he feels on the issue. In reading his comments, I understand that he has done some consultation. However, more important, his comments indicate that he would be open to the process of committee and the possibility of making changes to the proposed legislation. I am encouraged by that in the sense that we have to go the extra mile to ensure we are not, in any fashion whatsoever and in no way, telling residents, citizens, landed immigrants and the like that they do not have the right to assemble. In the vast majority of cases, 99% plus, we should encourage people to convene and share their ideas, to share their sense of civic pride.
There are issues that will come and go and some of those issues will ignite. When they do, we have to ensure there are things in place that allow Canadians to vet themselves. There is a very good example that we have debated for the last week or so, and that is the whole issue surrounding pensions. I can envision that in the future large numbers of Canadians will get quite upset at the government for its plan. A budget will be presented and within it more detailed explanations will be given as to what will happen with our pension programs.
I suspect there will be a reaction to it and I, for one, will encourage individuals to participate in lawful gatherings in order to express their concerns. That is why it is so critically important, as we debate this bill, that we send a very strong, clear and succinct message to Canadians as a whole that as parliamentarians we view large gatherings of people as something good. We see them playing an important role in democracy, whether it is the protesting of issues or even, for that matter, supporting issues. I will make quick reference to Veterans Day and the large gatherings for our veterans, as well as large gatherings for sporting activities. It is something we need to underline.
The core of the bill suggests that there are those who gather with the idea of instigating in an unlawful way by using masks or disguises in order to evade being identified and we are right to be concerned. The bill at least attempts to bring that issue to the fore.
After today's debate, I believe the government might be in a better position to evaluate. I know one member of the Conservative caucus has suggested 10 years versus 5 years. The current bill, I believe, suggests 5 years as a potential penalty.
However, I do not want the specific debate on masks and disguises to take away--
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of private member's Bill introduced in the House of Commons on October 3.
In my remarks today, I will explain why Bill , is consistent with our government's commitment to protect law-abiding citizens and keep our communities safe.
When my colleague from introduced the bill, he indicated two reasons for doing so. The first reason was to create two new offences to discourage the wearing of a mask to conceal identity during an unlawful assembly or riot. Second, my colleague indicated that these offences would facilitate the arrest of rioters at early stages of the commission of these offence.
Why is this important?
First, the results of the bill would be safer communities, which, again, is our government's commitment, and to protect those who lawfully assemble with peaceful intentions, as well as to protect the businesses and properties that are surrounded during protests or other activities.
The volatility and danger of riots has long been recognized at common law. This criminal behaviour is made more serious by wearing a mask for the express purpose of making it more difficult to identify the persons taking part in riots and unlawful assemblies.
As members know, it is quite easy to pull out a digital camera on a BlackBerry or an iPhone, which is why we have seen over the last year people wearing masks during riots. There is an express intent to conceal their identity during criminal behaviour. The bill has been introduced to deal with this issue, to deter people from escalating into the cause of rioting and to hold them accountable for such actions.
The Criminal Code already contains the offence of being a member of an unlawful assembly and taking part in a riot. However, this bill would add a new offence to each of these provisions to address wearing a mask or a disguise to conceal identity without lawful excuse during the commission of either of these offences. It would also provide new penalties to reflect the more serious nature of the new offences.
At the present time, taking part in a riot is an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of imprisonment of two years. The new offence in the bill for taking part in a riot while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal the identity without lawful excuse would be an indictable offence with a maximum penalty of imprisonment for five years.
Similarly, the current offence for being a member of an unlawful assembly is a summary conviction offence, which is less serious than an indictable offence, with a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine and/or a maximum term of imprisonment of six months. This difference in penalty reflects the fact that an unlawful assembly precedes a riot.
Bill would create a new offence of being a member of an unlawful assembly while wearing a mask or other disguise to conceal identity without lawful excuse. The new offence would be a dual procedure offence with a maximum penalty of $5,000 and six months' imprisonment if the prosecution elects to proceed by summary conviction and a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment if the offence is proceeded with as an indictable offence.
It should be noted that Bill would fill a gap in the current law. At the present time, persons who wear masks or disguises with the intent to commit an indictable offence, including taking part of a riot, is subject to an offence under subsection 351(2) of the Criminal Code and is liable to a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.
However, subsection 351(2) does not apply to summary conviction offences. This means that the Criminal Code does not specifically address the situation of persons participating in an unlawful assembly who wear a mask or other disguise to conceal their identity without lawful excuse.
Essentially, what this means is that when someone participating in a riot knows that he or she will be captured on video on a cellphone and puts on that mask, we now have a way to hold him or her to account in a much clearer way than is currently outlined in common law.
To harmonize maximum penalties available for wearing a mask to disguise while taking part in a riot, and I believe my colleague opposite had discussed this earlier, this government will support an amendment to raise the maximum penalty for the new offence in the bill from 5 years to 10 years.
I want to assure members of this House that the new bill would not target people who wear masks or costumes that may conceal their identity while they are engaged in lawful protests, marches, gatherings or other activities commonly associated with the exercise of freedom and expression of lawful assembly. I will re-emphasize that this would not affect people who are protesting peacefully or are within the context of a law-abiding activity. This would affect people, when the riot act has been called, who don a mask to conceal their identity.
The rights to freedom of expression and lawful assembly are specifically and expressly recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I will explain why this bill would not endanger any of these freedoms.
First, a person cannot be charged with either of the new offences in the bill unless he or she is already engaged in committing the criminal offence of being a member of an unlawful assembly or taking part in a riot. It is only during the commission of either of these offences that the new offence provisions may apply.
A second requirement is that the wearing of the mask or other disguise during the commission of the offence of being part of a riot or unlawful assembly must be done for a specific purpose. This level of intent is referred to as “specific intent” and it is a higher level of intent than general intent.
The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was wearing the mask or other disguise for the purpose of concealing his or her identity while engaged in criminal activity. Implied in this is the concept that the person is concealing his or her identity for an unlawful purpose. Specifically, the person is concealing his or her identity to make it more difficult to be identified for the lawful purpose of law enforcement. As I will discuss in more detail in a moment, this is important because a person who wears a mask for a lawful purpose, such as safety reasons, does not have the specific intent to conceal his or her identity.
The reference to “without a lawful excuse” of each of the new offences in Bill confirms that the defence of lawful excuse applies to the new offences. This means that even if a person is wearing a mask or disguise to conceal his or her identity while committing the criminal offence of taking part in a riot or participating in an unlawful assembly, he or she would have a defence if the reason for concealing his or her identity is a lawful one. I will explain what I mean by this.
Although the situation may arise, in rare cases there may be circumstances where a person taking part in a riot is, for example, wearing a mask to conceal his or her identity to ensure that he or she is not recognized by someone at the riot who is a threat to his or her personal safety. I expect that in most cases it would be clear from the circumstances that the person is wearing a mask or disguise for the purpose of facilitating his or her anonymous participation in the riot.
As with all criminal offences, the prosecution would be required to prove the intent element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the defence of lawful excuses are available to ensure that the new offences with higher penalties do not apply to people who wear masks for lawful purposes, even if they are a member of an unlawful assembly or take part in a riot.
I would like to stress that although these people may not be liable to be charged with one of the new offences in the bill, the current Criminal Code provisions still apply and, thus, these people remain accountable to Canadians for their criminal behaviour.
In closing, I believe this legislation is important because it fills a gap in the current law and clearly denounces the wearing of masks or other disguises to conceal identity without lawful excuse during an unlawful assembly or riot. By denouncing this behaviour that is the antithesis of lawful expression and assembly, the bill underscores the Canadian values of freedom, tolerance, respect and rule of law.
Therefore, for those who have been saying that this would hinder people who are participating in peaceful protest, I believe that it would the opposite. It would deter those who would come, escalate the situation into a riot and then try to conceal their identity so that they are not held accountable to law-abiding Canadian citizens.
At the end of the day, I think a lot of Canadians were shocked by the riotous activity that occurred in two Canadian cities over the last year. This bill is in response to that. As a government, we want to send a strong message to Canadians that we are committed to safe streets and safe communities, and to ensuring that businesses are protected and that the activity of peaceful protest can go on as part of Canadians' rights and freedoms.
Madam Speaker, I would like to say that I am pleased to speak to this bill but I am actually saddened that yet again the Conservative government has put forward a bill with the sole end to put people in prison. This is the third such bill that has come to us and I must ask why.
In this place, be it a naive point of view being a new member, it seems to me that our job is to find answers. Our job is to create bills and create tools that answer some of the issues that affect Canadians. Rather than use private members' bills and these moments to put forward ideas that could help Canadians, this is the third time that a bill has come forward that is meant to throw Canadians in jail.
The hon. member just spoke about the protection of property, streets and cities, but these bills are designed as reactionary after the fact. Businesses are not protected because they are already damaged. The streets are not safer because the riots have already happened. Yes, there may be methodology to take care of things after the fact but I am not sure why there is not more energy going into trying to figure out how to deter these things and dissuade people from committing these acts.
I listened very intently to the member's distinction from the Criminal Code. Section 351(2) of the Criminal Code states:
Every one who, with intent to commit an indictable offence, has his face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.
Although the hon. member pointed out some subtleties in terms of what already exists in the Criminal Code, I am wondering why this bill needs to exist. I also wonder why the bill was put forward. I do not know why there are not bills that come up that actually help Canadians. Maybe it is a means of finding more bodies for the $19 billion prison scheme that the Conservative government has in mind. That is a whole lot of prisons and a whole lot of space.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Tyrone Benskin: It is unfortunate the hon. members cannot behave in an honourable way and allow a person to speak without heckling, as we did them. It just shows what they are.
Lawful assembly is something that is held sacred in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When an assembly turns unlawful and people are wearing a mask, are they then going to be held liable, through this bill, for being part of this assembly even though they may not be committing a criminal act? How does one prove intent? How does one show intent as people are running through the streets trying to get away from a riotous situation? If they happen to be wearing masks because it is cold in the winter in Canada, would they be held liable because they are wearing masks but are just trying to get out of a dangerous situation?
It is unfortunate that the government feels that it needs to tackle a situation with a bazooka in order to feel better about itself, but I guess that is what it needs to do. However, we on this side question the actual need, as well as the intent of a bill such as Bill .
Lawful assembly is something that is part of our rights as Canadians and a bill like this may deter those rights. What I fear it would deter is people's safety and comfort in feeling that they can express their views in a public manner in safety.
It seems to me that people will become less and less inclined to speak out against the government and against wrongdoing. The civil rights movement was built on civil disobedience. When laws are unjust, one of the recourses citizens have is to take to the streets and speak their minds. My fear is that a bill like this would be more of a deterrent to that aspect of free speech, as opposed to protecting property and streets after the fact.
Why does the government feel the need to act only after the fact? Why is it that these bills have come forward? There have been three, as I said before. One bill would put people in jail for defacing monuments, as opposed to educating and rehabilitating individuals. Another bill would put people in jail for telling people they cannot fly the flag, rather than developing a program to make Canadians proud of the flag, proud of the work Canada does and proud of what Canada represents. Now we have a bill that would throw people in prison for wearing a mask. If an individual were to wear a mask while defacing a monument and telling somebody else not to fly the flag, does that mean the person would get 15 years in prison? Is it concurrent? Is it added on to? We do not know.
The government comes across to this side of the House and I am sure to the majority of Canadians as they see more of these bills, as a vindictive and punitive government, as a government that does not respect Canadians, that does not have faith or confidence in Canadians, that feels it has to legislate Canadians into obedience and the government's way of thinking. That is a sad indictment of the group of people that is supposed to be taking care of Canadians and looking after Canadian needs, not after the fact but before the fact.
This bill is so pointless that I do not really have that much more to say. I leave members with these questions: Why is it that the government needs to act after the fact? Why is it that the government feels it has to be punitive in order to get its point across? Why does the government not trust Canadians? Why does the government not believe that Canadians can learn through positive reinforcement rather than punitive, vindictive and sorely misguided options?
Madam Speaker, I am proud to speak in favour of Bill , introduced by the member for Wild Rose.
I will approach this from a different realm, that being my experience as a police officer. I will speak to a specific event that occurred on July 28, 1991, which was a defining moment for Penticton, British Columbia. It pertains to a riot which I investigated. I can speak to this bill with some knowledge regarding riots and unlawful assemblies.
On July 28, 1991, at 41 minutes after midnight, the mayor of Penticton made a proclamation under section 67 of the Criminal Code with regard to an unlawful assembly and riot situation. The police waited 30 minutes before taking action, as required under the Criminal Code. At one o'clock in the morning, the police took action on approximately 5,000 to 10,000 people who had congregated in the downtown area of Penticton, which is commonly referred to as Main Street and Lakeshore Drive. My colleague from will remember it well. It was a night like no other.
When police officers are involved in a riot, their hearts are pumping and they are thinking at a million miles an hour as to what they can do to try and quell the situation and minimize the damage that will occur or has occurred. As a result of that, they are trying to be as proactive as possible.
As opposed to the member who spoke before me, I see this as a proactive bill. I will explain why.
In 1991 we did not have the electronics we have today; we had videotape and TV cameras. We had one sole purpose: we had to be able to identify people. Under sections 67 and 68 of the Criminal Code, one must be identified to be convicted in a court of law. Back in 1991, those who were masked, and there were many, had to be ignored because we could not identify them. As a result, there was a lot of damage that had been done on Main Street and a couple of other streets down in the lower part of Penticton that we could do nothing about by people who had concealed their faces.
Members must understand that the police officers were put under a lot of constraints at that time. There were not a lot of us. There were only 38 officers to deal with about 5,000 people. We did what we could do. The main thing we wanted to do that night was disperse the crowd, but we could have done a lot more had this law been in place. We could have started apprehending people immediately, thus hopefully stopping other crimes from occurring, such as wilful damage, break and enter, and theft.
This bill which the member for has brought forward is proactive. I will explain why.
During a riot, normally people conceal their identity for three reasons. The first and most important is they want to conceal their identity so that the police cannot identify them. The second is that under most circumstances during a riot tear gas is lobbed and one can be protected from it by wearing a mask. The third is that it empowers people to do something they may not normally do if they could be identified by the police. I believe that is what the bill is all about, taking the empowerment away from those who believe they have carte blanche during a riot or unlawful assembly.
The intent of Bill is to do just that, to take away the empowerment. I do not believe this is trying to throw people in jail for the sake of throwing them in jail.
I understand that after 30 minutes of the proclamation being read under section 68 of the Criminal Code, anyone who does not disperse can be arrested. It is at the discretion of the police officer whether or not that person should be arrested.
As the member who spoke before me has said, for those who are trying to flee, in all likelihood, if the police are coming toward those people and they run away, that is a good thing, because we would like them to get out of the area. We want to get the people who provoke the police, and they normally are the ones who have their faces concealed.
The addition of a charge under these circumstances is quite relevant. The relevancy is that those who cover their faces with a disguise or a mask are the ones who are provoking the riot to continue.
It is very difficult for the police to stop something when they do not have the power to stop it.
Bill , brought forward by the member for , is an exceptional bill. It would help police immensely. It would not be used during peaceful demonstrations. It would not be used to discourage people from providing their opinion during a peaceful demonstration, but should the Riot Act be read, the game would change, and all of a sudden it would not be a peaceful situation.
The bill would allow police to arrest those who conceal their identity. It would stop crime from happening before it happened. It would dissuade people from continuing an act of empowerment and egging on the police. It may stop a riot a couple of hours earlier. That is what it is all about. It is about trying to sway people to be peaceful, as opposed to being in a riotous state.
As a police officer who has been involved in a riot, I know it is not fun. It is very dangerous for everyone involved because everyone is pumped up and wants to do something.
That night in Penticton, there was over half a million dollars damage done in under two hours. I do not know how much damage was done at the G20 summit, but I do know that we could have prevented at least some of it had the bill been in place.
This would help police officers move forward so they can immediately arrest someone who is wearing a mask and then identify the person. The sole reason for the bill is to identify those people who have masked themselves.
Again, I appreciate the bill being brought forward by the member for . It would be a great opportunity for the police to use it when they need to. It would not be abused. I believe the bill would dissuade people in the future from entering into riotous situations and/or unlawful assemblies.
I do not have much more to say. I wanted to speak to my experience. I believe that this bill would be a great move forward for the police community.
Madam Speaker, we have had some excellent debate on my private member's Bill , the preventing persons from concealing their identity during riots or unlawful assemblies act.
Bill would improve public safety. There is a great risk of injury to anyone involved in, or in the proximity of, an unlawful gathering or a riot.
Those risks are only compounded when people intent on causing trouble wear masks and conceal their identity. Police say the main reasons masks are worn in a riot are for the purpose of committing crimes or intimidation. Wearing disguises in such chaotic situations emboldens offenders by giving them the anonymity to commit crimes without fear of consequences. They know that they are not likely to face prosecution if they cannot be identified.
I do not think any member in the House would deny that it is in the public interest to stop riotous behaviour as quickly as possible. Therefore, Bill aims to strip away the anonymity that criminals depend on by making the wearing of a mask without lawful excuse a new offence. The ability to remove people who don a mask to deliberately cause trouble would be a new tool for police to prevent these individuals from instigating or committing criminal acts.
As we bring second reading debate to a close, I would like to encourage all members to support the bill. To those who are still undecided, I would like to speak now from the perspective of the many police officers, business owners and individual citizens who have expressed their support for this legislation. Police chiefs in Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria all support its aims.
Recently, Toronto police officers took me on a tour of the streets that were hardest hit during a riot there. It was an eye-opener to see first-hand the route that the rioters took and to have police explain their efforts to try to control such a volatile situation.
A group of masked individuals, who police say showed up with the intent to cause trouble, inflicted massive damage on private businesses and torched four police cars along the way. According to best estimates by police, businesses endured $2.5 million worth of damage.
I certainly hope that the NDP member for and the Liberal member for , who represent the area of Toronto that was most affected, are paying very close attention. I hope that those members' votes on the bill will reflect a determination to stop that kind of mayhem from happening again against their constituents and business owners.
Business owners and operators are virtually sitting ducks when riots occur. Storefronts seem to bear the brunt of the destruction. It does not matter how large or small the operation, these are all businesses that have made investments in our local economies. They employ our citizens. They pay taxes to all levels of government. They improve our quality of life by providing services for consumers. They do not deserve to be sitting ducks for violent masked thugs.
Measures to deter riots from escalating are the best safeguards against the destructive results of a riot. Business owners who have suffered loss certainly know this.
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association is composed of member businesses that were hardest hit by the riot in that city. It has unanimously endorsed this legislation. I would like to read its letter of support. I certainly hope the Liberal member for , who is supposed to represent the interests of those business owners, will take note and consider the concerns of her constituents when she votes on this bill. To quote the DVBIA:
June 15, 2011 is a dark moment in our city's history that traumatized thousands of residents, employees and hard-working business people.
The property damage incurred that evening combined with the looting that took place is in the millions of dollars. Vancouver's picture postcard image was sullied by the actions of reckless and irresponsible individuals who have no respect for the laws of our country.
Any and all efforts to further strengthen the laws to mitigate any unlawful public gatherings... are welcomed by our members.
The last word goes to Brian Rogers, a resident of Baie-d'Urfé, Quebec, who is a constituent of the Liberal member for . He wrote:
Congratulations on introducing your bill which would make it illegal to wear a mask during a riot or civil insurrection. Its moral intention is entirely in line with Canada's heritage of the common law...
I urge all members to join me in improving public safety by taking away criminals' ability to hide in plain sight during a riot.