Bill C-26 (S.C. 2012 c. 9)
Reforms to Self-Defence and
Defence of Property:
Technical Guide for Practitioners
C. Overview of Changes: Key Quotes (Parliamentary consideration):
The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, House of Commons, Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, February 7, 2012:
In terms of the defences of property and person, the bill replaces the current multitude of provisions, which are largely unchanged from the original text enacted in 1892, and actually they had a pretty extensive history for 1892. These are basically the provisions that were contained in the laws of Upper Canada in or about 1840.
We have replaced those provisions with a simple, easy-to-apply rule for each defence. For decades criminal practitioners, the Canadian Bar Association, the Supreme Court of Canada, academics, and many others have criticized the law of self-defence primarily, but also the law of defence of property, as being written in an unnecessarily complex and confusing way.
The complexity of the law is not without serious consequence. It can lead to charging decisions that fail to take into account the merits of the defences in particular situations. It can confuse juries, and it can give rise to unnecessary grounds of appeal, which cost the justice system valuable time and resources. The law should be clear and clearly understood by the public, the police, prosecutors, and the court.
Bill C-26 meets those objectives. It makes the act more specific and simplifies it without sacrificing existing legal protections.
The basic elements of both defences are the same and can be easily stated. Whether a person is defending themselves or another person, or defending property in their possession, the general rule will be that they can undertake any acts for the purposes of protecting or defending property or a person as long as they reasonably perceive a threat, and their acts, including their use of force, are reasonable in the circumstances.
Mr. Robert Goguen, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, House of Commons Debates, December 1, 2011:
The provisions on defence of the person and defence of property, as they are currently written, are complex and ambiguous. Existing laws on self-defence, in particular, have been the subject of decades of criticism by the judiciary, including the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as lawyers, academics, lawyers' associations and law reform organizations. Much of the criticism has to do with the fact that the existing law is vague and hard to enforce. It is fair to say that reform in this area is long overdue.
These kinds of defence were included in the very first Criminal Code. The wording of this part of the legislation has remained very similar since the original Criminal Code was written in 1892. Defence of property was covered in nine separate provisions containing a number of subcategories and other very complex provisions that have become obsolete and unnecessary.
Professor Don Stuart of Queen's University, whose textbooks on criminal law are widely used by first year law students in this country, has written:
The defences of person and property in Canadian law are bedeviled by excessively complex and sometimes obtuse Code provisions.
It is important to be clear, however, that the criticisms of the law do not pertain to its substance but rather to how it is drafted. Self-defence and defence of property are and have always been robust in Canada. There has been a lot written in newspapers about the right to self-defence and protection of one's property, some of which suggests that these rights have been diminished or are inadequately protected. This is untrue. The law is robust, despite the fact that the rules as written in the Criminal Code suffer from serious defects, and despite the way the media have portrayed these issues in recent times.
Parliament has a duty to ensure that laws are clear and accessible to Canadians, criminal justice participants and even the media. That is exactly what we are proposing to do in Bill C-26, even though the actual rights of Canadians are robust and upheld in Canadian courts on a daily basis. When the laws which set out these rules are confusing, we fail in our responsibility to adequately inform Canadians of their rights. Obviously, unclear laws can also complicate or frustrate the charging provisions of the police who themselves may have difficulty in reading the Criminal Code and understanding what is and is not permitted. Bill C-26 therefore proposes to replace the existing Criminal Code provisions in this area with clear, simple provisions that would maintain the same level of protection as the existing laws but also meet the needs of Canadians today."
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