Prime minister proposes citizen's arrest bill
Published Thursday, February 17, 2011 7:36PM EST
Prime Minister Stephen Harper laid out a proposal on Thursday that would offer more legal protection for people who make citizen's arrests.
Harper said the proposed legislation offers "much more clarity" in the criminal code for citizens involved in cases of self-defence and in the defence of property.
The proposal follows the high-profile case of David Chen, who is a Toronto shopkeeper who faced criminal charges after he subdued and held a shoplifter at his store in 2009.
Though Harper said people acting in good faith should be protected, he reiterated that police are the "front line of protection against crime."
While the prospect of a citizen's arrest had been a common law tradition in decades past, Chen's case raised confusion and concern among police and legal experts.
Chen, who held the repeat shoplifter after he stole some plants and then returned to the store, was later acquitted of all criminal charges. Chen had been charged with assault and forcible confinement.
A key plank of the proposal is that the citizen can act when "it is not feasible in the circumstances" for a police officer to make the arrest, the Prime Minister's Office said in a release.
"Currently, the ability to make a citizen's arrest is very restricted and is only permitted if an individual is caught actively engaged in a criminal offence on or in relation to one's property," the release said.
Julian Fantino, the minister of state for seniors and former OPP commissioner, said the new bill is a much-needed update of an old law.
"What really exists now in the Criminal Code is really, really dated and only talks about the kind of things one can do immediately upon finding someone committing a criminal offence on or in relation to their property," he told CTV's Power Play Thursday. "The proposed legislation is giving a little latitude when it's reasonable to make the arrest a little later."
Harper met with Chen last month and the Tories announced that a bill would be forthcoming.
Speaking at the time, local NDP MP Olivia Chow said she supports a bill to protect the rights of shop owners.
Chow, who represents the Chinatown riding where the theft occurred, noted that she had introduced a similar bill.
"The roadmap is in front of them. My private member's bill, it's in the House of Commons. All they have to do is say yes. If they want to copy it, that's fine by me," Chow told The Canadian Press in January.
"Let's make sure that hard working store owners won't get punished if they try to defend their stores because that's totally unfair."
Catching a shoplifter in the act is a requirement in the current law. But in Chen's case, he captured the thief at his Chinatown shop an hour after the plants were taken.
Nonetheless, the presiding judge in the case said that the one-hour lag was a "red herring," because the thief had come back to Chen's store to take more items.
Fantino said the proposed legislation will not allow for vigilantism.
"Any authority is not unfettered, it comes with accountability and responsibility," he said. "There is language in this proposed legislation that speaks to the checks and balances, this is not a field day for vigilantism."
Ryan O'Connor created headlines in Ottawa in 2009 when he chased after another car after a woman said the male driver assaulted her.
The chase reached speeds up to 170 kilometres an hour, while O'Connor relayed information to a 911 operator.
After police stopped the other car, they thanked O'Connor but said the chase was dangerous.
Speaking on CTV's Power Play Thursday, O'Connor said he thought the new bill would need to "draw the line" somewhere.
"If I see someone about to get into a vehicle impaired, do I arrest them?" he asked.