Episode 40 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Section 35 - Defence of Property

Defending property is an ancient activity. The concept goes hand in hand with the old adage that a person’s home is his or her castle. That proverb became a legal principle, known as the “castle doctrine,” when Lord Coke commented in Semayne’s Case (1604), 77 E.R. 194 (K.B.) “that the house of everyone is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose.” Therefore property, land, and defence are inextricably intertwined both socially and legally.

As mentioned in the previous podcast, the defence provisions underwent a complete make over in 2013 resulting in a pared down defence of property section. Section 35 is a lengthy section and is as follows:

       (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if

           (a) they either believe on reasonable grounds that they are in peaceable possession of property or are acting under the          authority of, or lawfully assisting, a person whom they believe on reasonable grounds is in peaceable possession of property;

           (b) they believe on reasonable grounds that another person

(i) is about to enter, is entering or has entered the property without being entitled by law to do so,

 (ii) is about to take the property, is doing so or has just done so, or

(iii) is about to damage or destroy the property, or make it inoperative, or is doing so;

(c) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of

       (i) preventing the other person from entering the property, or removing that person from the property, or

       (ii) preventing the other person from taking, damaging or destroying the property or from making it inoperative, or retaking the property from that person; and

 (d) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

                   (2) Subsection (1) does not apply if the person who believes on reasonable grounds that they are, or who is believed on reasonable grounds to be, in peaceable possession of the property does not have a claim of right to it and the other person is entitled to its possession by law.

                (3) Subsection (1) does not apply if the other person is doing something that they are required or authorized by law to do in the administration or enforcement of the law, unless the person who commits the act that constitutes the offence believes on reasonable grounds that the other person is acting unlawfully.

Similar to defence of the person, defence of the property involves an objective/subjective assessment. The person relying on the defence must have an honest but reasonable belief that they either have or are assisting someone who has “peaceable possession” of the property. In considering the meaning of the phrase “peaceable possession” the Alberta Court of Appeal in the 1992 Born with a Tooth case cautioned that “peaceable” should not be equated with “peaceful.” According to Stephen’s 1883 treatise, A History of the Criminal Law of England, the phrase describes possession of property, which does not provoke a breach of the peace. Therefore, “peaceable possession” is possession of property in which the community accepts and in which there are no adverse claims. This requirement is in place to discourage the use of force in property disputes, which appeared to be the norm in Medieval England. This concept will be discussed more thoroughly when we arrive at s. 72 relating to forcible entry and detainer.

Not only must the accused have a reasonable belief she has peaceable possession but she must also have a reasonable belief that the other person is entering the property unlawfully or for an unlawful purpose such as damaging or taking the property for which the accused has peaceable possession. If this holds true, then the accused may rely on the defence if the force used is for the purpose of preventing the unlawful act or removing someone after they have committed or are about to commit the unlawful act relating to the property.

Additionally, the force used must be reasonable in the circumstances. The circumstances will of course vary depending on the facts of each particular case. It must be emphasized that the force used must be connected to ejecting the person from the property or preventing the person from taking the property. If the force is not used for that specific purpose, the accused cannot rely on this section but must instead rely upon the self defence section 34.

Subsection 2 and 3 outline the situations in which the defence does not apply. In subsection 2, the accused cannot rely on the defence if he or she does not have a claim of right to the property and the other person is entitled by law to possess it even though the accused reasonably believed he had peaceable possession.

This means that if the other person has a lawful right to the property, the accused cannot rely on the defence unless he has a “colour of right” to the property. Colour of right is a common law defence based on a mistake of law. An accused would have a claim of right if she has an honest but mistaken belief in a legal right or claim to a thing even if unfounded in law or in fact. Such a belief must be honestly held but not reasonably held. The “defence” of colour of right will be discussed further when we arrive at those sections where the defence is statutorily available such as theft pursuant to s. 322.

Subsection 3 applies in circumstances where the other person is exercising a lawful authority by entering the property or by attempting to take the property as in the situation of a bailiff seizing property to satisfy judgment. However, if the accused reasonably believes the person is acting unlawfully then he or she may still rely on the defence.

As with s. 34, this is a relatively new section and there is very little case law applying it. However, previous case law from the Supreme Court of Canada respecting the scope of defence of the property suggests that the force used can amount to more than a minor assault against a trespasser and may also involve the use of a weapon. Whether or not the force used in those circumstances is excessive would depend on the facts of each particular case.


Episode 36 of the Ideablawg Podcasts on the Criminal Code of Canada: Preventing Breach of Peace – Sections 30 and 31

Immediately preceding the “suppression of riots” sections in the Code, which we discuss in Episode 37, are two sections on preventing breach of the peace, sections 30 and 31. The are only two other sections, which make specific reference to the “breach of the peace.” One is section 72 relating to forcible entry and forcible detainer – a section that we will eventually discuss but without giving away the fascinating history of this section, is a definite nod to old English common law from the medieval period. The other reference to breach of the peace is found in section 319 “public incitement of hatred.”

Although this term appears sparingly in the Code, it is referred to in many criminal decisions as an underlying objective of the criminal law, which is to prevent and contain breaches of the peace. The phrase is used for instance in discussing a breach of a recognizance condition of “keep the peace and be of good behavior.” It has meaning for a “peace bond” under s. 810 and pursuant to the common law. It also relates to the historical creation of trespass as a citizen’s means to address breaches of peace on private property - Harrison v. Carswell, [1976] 2 SCR 200. The term is also relied upon in Jobidon as a justification for the English common law prohibition against consensual fist fights as they notoriously lead to breaches of the peace. Finally, in R. v. Kerr, [2004] 2 SCR 371, the breach of the peace is discussed in relation to the required elements of s. 88 offence of possession of a weapon for a purpose dangerous to the public peace.

What exactly is a “breach of the peace”? The phrase was considered in Frey v. Fedoruk et al. a 1950 Supreme Court of Canada decision on a claim of false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. The claim arose when the Appellant was placed under a citizen’s arrest for unlawfully acting “in such a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace by peeping at night through the window.” Apparently, the window was curtain-less, which caused the defendant to chase the Appellant down the street and effect a citizen’s arrest. Justice Kerwin, in concurring with the majority in allowing the appeal for the Appellant, relied upon the following definition of the phrase “breach of the peace” from Clerk and Lindsell on Torts (then in its 10th edition and now, impressively, in its 21st iteration):

“A breach of the peace takes place when either an actual assault is committed on an individual or public alarm and excitement is caused. Mere annoyance or insult to an individual stopping short of actual personal violence is not breach of the peace. Thus a householder - apart from special police legislation - cannot give a man into custody for violently and persistently ringing his door-bell.”

The majority too preferred a more restrictive definition of such a breach of the peace, which did not contemplate a potential vigilante reaction but was more akin to a “riots, tumults, and actual physical violence.” The broader interpretation, so the Court held, was more applicable to the special case of forcible entry and forcible detainer pursuant to s.72, which as I earlier stated, we will discuss further down this Criminal Code road. In any event, the Court found the Appellant’s conduct did not amount to a known offence in criminal law as there was no breach of the peace and mere trespass was not a criminal offence.

Sections 30 and 31 grant authority to a citizen who witnesses such a breach of the peace to prevent it under section 30 and permits a police officer to arrest a person breaching the peace under s. 31. The sections read as follows:

Preventing breach of peace

30. Every one who witnesses a breach of the peace is justified in interfering to prevent the continuance or renewal thereof and may detain any person who commits or is about to join in or to renew the breach of the peace, for the purpose of giving him into the custody of a peace officer, if he uses no more force than is reasonably necessary to prevent the continuance or renewal of the breach of the peace or than is reasonably proportioned to the danger to be apprehended from the continuance or renewal of the breach of the peace.

Arrest for breach of peace

31. (1) Every peace officer who witnesses a breach of the peace and every one who lawfully assists the peace officer is justified in arresting any person whom he finds committing the breach of the peace or who, on reasonable grounds, he believes is about to join in or renew the breach of the peace.

 (2) Every peace officer is justified in receiving into custody any person who is given into his charge as having been a party to a breach of the peace by one who has, or who on reasonable grounds the peace officer believes has, witnessed the breach of the peace.

As already recognized in the case I previously referred to, Frey v Fedoruk et al, the concept of breach of the peace is old indeed and certainly the authority to prevent such a breach and arrest on the basis of such a situation comes to us from the English common law tradition. The eminent English legal scholar, Glanville Williams, thoroughly discussed this concept in his oft-quoted seminal article,  “Arrest for Breach of the Peace”, [1954] Crim. L. Rev. 578. Please note this article cannot be found online but an excellent discussion on his views are examined in The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law: The Legacy of Glanville Williams edited by Dennis J. Baker, Jeremy Horder, in the chapter on “Preventative orders and the rule of law.” I highly recommend this book. This excerpt of the book can be accessed on Google Books. Glanville Williams lucidly explains the purpose behind the English common law “breach of the peace” provisions as preventative in nature.

Section 30 is essentially a legal justification for the use of force and therefore it is important for defence counsel to keep this section in mind when representing an accused for a violent offence. An accused who relies on this section must use no more force than is necessary and it must be proportionate to the potential harm inflicted by the continuance or renewal of the breach of the peace.  However, as with any legal defence, there must be an “air of reality” to the defence before the trier of fact will consider it. Again, it must be remembered that the meaning of “breach of the peace” as previously discussed also circumscribes the defence. Also be mindful of some of the other words and terms used in the section – as the defence will have to establish the existence of these terms as well in order to rely on the legal justification. The person must “witness” the events. Additionally, the person is merely required to “interfere.” The dictionary definition of “interfere” is “to become involved in the activities and concerns of other people when your involvement is not wanted.” This is a much less onerous requirement than an actual use of force. Also, this section, as mentioned previously, also applies in preventative situations where there is a potential for a person to become involved in a breach of the peace.

Section 31 is temporally connected to section 30 as it contemplates the arrest of an individual who is breaching the peace and who, the arrestor believes on reasonable grounds will join or renew any such breach. Here the arrestor must either “witness” the events or receive an accused from a person who has witnessed the events. The actions, as is usual for these justifications and protections, must be reasonable in the circumstances. The section therefore gives an officer or an assistant the power to arrest in the circumstances and the right to take into custody a person who is detained pursuant to section 30.