Citizen’s arrest

Guest Blogger Pulat Yunusov

It’s one of the cases that gets ordinary people all riled up. A chronic criminal, Anthony Bennett, who some say stole from Chinatown stores for years finally got caught. A hard-working store owner, Mr. Chen, aided by two associates, witnessed a theft, confronted the culprit an hour later and then caught him, tied his hands, put him in a truck and called the police. And what do the cops end up doing? They charge Mr. Chen with assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement, and carrying concealed weapons. The last charge is for having a box cutter.

But the cops had a lawful reason to arrest Mr. Chen. If citizens see crime in progress on their property, they can catch criminals. But Mr. Chen went after Mr. Bennett an hour after the theft. Mr. Chen and his two associates chased Mr. Bennett. It’s not clear where they caught up with him and locked him in a truck, but some running down the street was involved. Some punching is alleged. Apparently, Mr. Chen exceeded his powers of citizen’s arrest. That’s why his lawyer, Peter Lindsay, wants to challenge Canada’s citizen’s arrest laws.

Mr. Lindsay says the law “should be changed to allow private citizens to arrest people they suspect committed or will commit a crime.” So he wants citizens to have the power to arrest not only for crimes they see but also for crimes they suspect happened or even will happen.

Mr. Lindsay’s idea is unbalanced. Private citizens aren’t trained to recognize crimes or criminals. They aren’t trained safe arrest techniques. They don’t have proper custody space. Untrained people can harm someone. We can end up with even more arrests of innocent people than we have now. Kidnappers may have an easier time imitating citizen’s arrests. And the vigilantism that Mr. Lindsay’s idea can unleash is scary. The risks are just too high. And slow police response and endemic theft do not outweigh them.

The existing citizen’s arrest powers are sufficient. The crimes we are talking about are usually minor, and we don’t want ordinary people to arrest serious criminals anyway. Besides, other means exist to deter minor crime. The Chinatown business improvement area may find it less expensive to hire security guards (as it did before) than deal with civil claims by innocent arrest victims. And if the thief is really persistent, why not stake him out and do a proper citizen’s arrest on your property? All the video cameras will help with evidence if the police question the arrest’s legality. 

Although Mr. Chen and other store owners in the area deserve our sympathy, Mr. Lindsay’s idea goes too far. The Crown should exercise its discretion and drop the charges against Mr. Chen. He has already paid a price for whatever indiscretion he committed. This should be a lesson for the police, for the business improvement area, and for the social services. But this story should not be a reason to expand citizen’s arrest powers. The benefits will not justify the risks.


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