Why Canada Doesn’t Need a Law Against Stealing Firefighting Equipment

Legislative change often comes in response to current events. This is a normal part our of democratic process, and the common law is designed to evolve as the world changes around it.

However, when the news of the day is particularly heart-wrenching, it can sometimes lead to some less-than-logical proposals in the House.

Such is the case with Bill C-365, a private member’s bill introduced by Conservative MP Mel Arnold.

The bill is short and straightforward. As the name implies, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firefighting equipment) means to add a new criminal offence, along with sentencing guidelines. This, I like – bills are too often too long, and are given deceptive and overly political names that attempt to twist their true purpose. Unfortunately, that’s where my love for Bill C-365 ends.

The bill means to criminalize the theft of firefighting equipment that causes an actual danger to life. As Arnold stated in the House of Commons,

“This summer I was shocked to hear reports of firefighting equipment being stolen and vandalized during the worst wildfire season in British Columbia’s written history. After researching the Criminal Code, it was apparent that there was a gap when it comes to the denunciation and deterrence of theft or damage to firefighting equipment.”

His research must not have been thorough, however, because the denunciation and deterrence of such acts are pretty well covered in the code already.

Theft is a crime. Depending on whether the value of the stolen property exceeds $5,000, it may be either a summary conviction offence or an indictable offence.

Additionally, it is a crime to willfully destroy or damage property, or to obstruct, interrupt, or interfere with the lawful use or operation of property. You’ll find this in section 430, which deals with mischief. According to s.430(2), anyone who commits mischief that causes actual danger to life is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to life imprisonment.

A person accused of stealing firefighting equipment can be charged with theft (presumably the indictable version). If their unlawful act lead to peoples’ lives being endangered, as was the case with the British Columbia wildfires, they could also be charged under s.430(2) for life-endangering mischief.

Stealing firefighting equipment is already quite illegal, and the consequences are already greater if that theft threatens someone’s life.

The last part of Bill C-365 deals with denunciation and deterrence, stating that acts involving firefighting equipment should be taken by the judge as an aggravating factor when determining the sentence for someone found guilty of the above offences.

However, this is also unnecessary, as judges already have the discretion to consider such circumstances in sentencing. That’s how the system works: we have faith in our adjudicators to make sound judgement in these matters.

If there were suddenly a spate of firefighting equipment thefts, and judges were for some reason letting those offenders off easy, this new legislation might serve some purpose. But as of this point, it only really exists to score political points.

The problem with legislation like this is that the Criminal Code is already a long, confusing document. Tacking on additional sections that pointlessly retread old ground only makes the problem. What we should be doing is making the Code more compact by removing outdated and unconstitutional provisions, not stuffing it with overly specific laws about stealing this or that.

Of course, the noble purpose behind the bill makes it hard to oppose. After all, what monster would support firefighting equipment thieves? And in the end, I think that’s the point behind the whole thing.

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