Comments by Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 on Bill C-365, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code. This is a private member’s bill introduced by North-Okangan Shuswap Conservative MP Mel Arnold, and would establish specific penalties related to the theft of, and mischief against, firefighting equipment. The bill is in response to various reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized during the 2017 wildfires in B.C. Both the Liberals and NDP oppose the bill.
IN THE BRIEF two minutes I had before the Christmas break, way back in 2017, I did a little reflection on the B.C. wildfire season. I also talked a little about how disappointed I was that from the initial signals from the government, it would not be supporting the bill. To be honest, I found that very concerning, distressing, and to be frank, a little shameful, because this is an important measure that, if put in place, would ultimately help to protect lives.
I think what I need to do is pick up by explaining what the bill is about and bring it back to why it is so important for our firefighters, our men and women who respond every day to very difficult situations. It is also important to note that the bill has massive support from the people who would be most impacted by it, and that is a number of our different associations. We have really positive support from across the country, but unfortunately, it does not appear the government is listening.
What does the bill propose to do? It proposes a new and specific offence for theft of firefighting equipment that causes danger to life. There is a reason this has been put forward. It is that there is a gap in our existing legislation, because the current code’s provisions applicable to cases of mischief or theft of firefighting equipment, especially in cases where each mischief or theft causes danger to life, have not gotten the proper treatment they deserve.
The second thing the bill does is that it proposes to establish mischief related to firefighting equipment as an aggravating circumstance. That would add gravity to the offence.
The third component of Bill C-365 seeks to establish clarity on what the objectives of the sentence should be when a judge is determining a sentence for any theft of firefighting equipment, regardless of whether or not danger to life has been caused. If someone vandalizes someone’s home, or there is mischief related to some activities that perhaps young adults undertake, that is a significantly different offence in terms of its possible implications than when there is mischief, damage, theft, or loss related to firefighting equipment.
I do not have the statistics in front of me, but I suspect that in our country our professional firefighter departments that are staffed 24-7 perhaps have a little less to worry about because they have significant checks and balances, and paid staff. They are always there, having a good eye on the equipment and providing security. However, in the riding I represent, we have volunteer firefighters and departments all over. These are men and women who give up their time. They might go to a fire practice on a Wednesday night. They practice and they are there to respond to community emergencies. Their equipment is perhaps not as secure. They do not have the ability, because it is volunteer, to check as often as perhaps other places can.
We talked about the wildfires of 2017 in the communities I represent. I can remember that in 2003 there was another horrific season in the area of Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo. We live in a small community. We have a volunteer firefighting department, and both my son and my husband were part of that particular department. When the province declared a state of emergency, it all of a sudden gave the authority for the province to call all of the volunteer fire departments into action to deal with the crisis.
As one can imagine, this fire department trained on a Wednesday, had done some live fire training, but certainly did not have the ability to respond. Nor did it have the equipment. The equipment it had was critically important.
I remember a day when the firefighters were called out to a grass fire outside their normal boundaries because they were now under provincial control. They headed up the mountain with the equipment. Had there been any flaws in how that equipment worked, it would have put their lives in danger. They were not as experienced, had been called to action in a place outside their normal area of expertise, and did not have a lot of training around grass fires, which were quickly expanding through the mountains. Had anything been tampered with or stolen, it could have been significant and dangerous. Quite frankly, lives could have been lost.
When the government suggests that this is in an unnecessary bill and that the penalties are already quite fine, it needs to think about the reality of the situation. People who steal or tamper with firefighting equipment know exactly what they are doing. They know they impact equipment used for response to serious and significant issues.
I ask the Liberals to reconsider this and think about the volunteer firefighters, like in the case in 2003 where it was my husband and son. Had they headed up this mountain where the grasses were burning and the equipment had malfunctioned, think of what the repercussions could have been. How would they have felt if someone had tampered with or stolen necessary equipment? Should there not be significant and appropriate repercussions? The government needs to rethink its position.
I want to congratulate my colleague who put forward the bill.
As one further thought, talking about the B.C. wildfires, the government indicated it would do everything possible to help. This is one thing it could do that would be very helpful in moving forward and protecting public safety.