By Shazia Islam
Changes to the federal Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act came into effect on Monday giving Canadians more leeway to detain law-breakers.
According to the Department of Justice website, the act now authorizes “a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds someone committing a criminal offence that occurred on or in relation to property.”
Before the amendment, citizens could only make an arrest if they catch someone in what the new bill calls “the act of committing the offence.”
But the meaning of “within a reasonable period of time” remains unclear, an expert said.
The wording is “one of the puzzles to this legislation,” University of Toronto law professor Hamish Stewart told Humber News.
“I don’t think we can know that for sure until there’s some case law that illuminates the meaning of that phrase,” Stewart said.
The high-profile case that prompted the changes involved Toronto shopkeeper David Chen who was charged with assault in 2009 after he and two employees from his grocery store chased after and forcibly confined a shoplifter, the Globe and Mail reported.
Const. Victor Kwong, a spokesperson with Toronto Police, told Humber News that “what the media never did print about these cases before was that after (suspects) were arrested, they were held for over an hour,” he said. “That’s not right – anyone who is arrested has to be turned over to the police immediately.”
Chen and his associates were acquitted of the charges in 2010 followed by an appeal to change the law so citizens could protect themselves and their property when police are unable to respond quickly, the Globe reported.
The murkiness around the time of the arrest also extends to the use of force as seen in another case in Toronto involving assault, the Toronto Star reported.
Moses Mahilal was charged after he stabbed an intruder on his property in 2011, the Star reported.
The act allows “the reasonable use of force, taking into account all the circumstances of the particular case. A person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen’s arrest.”
“They have to meet certain thresholds when citizens are doing their own arrests,” said Kwong.
It will be up to the courts to decide if Mahilal should be charged for the attack, but the legislation has come under scrutiny by all the parties involved, the Star reported.
The Department of Justice urges people to consider the following before making an attempt to arrest someone:
- Is a peace officer available to intervene?
- Could their personal safety or that of others be compromised by attempting an arrest?
- They should report information about the crime to the police instead of taking action on their own.
- They can turn over the suspect to the police without delay once an arrest is made.
- It is extremely important to ensure that there is correct identification of the suspect and their criminal conduct.