Monday, March 18, 2013

Concerning Changes to Citizen's Arrest and The Point of It All

Bill C-26 or Citizen's Arrest and Self Defence Act has come into effect. The Bill  makes changes to Citizen's Arrest. The legislation was prompted by what occurred to shopkeeper Davis Chen. A shopkeeper plagued by shoplifting took matters into his own hands when he performed a citizen's arrest on someone he caught shoplifting; the twist was that the perpetrator was caught on a return visit. The man originally escaped the store with his loot. It was on his return for more that he was caught ties up and placed into a van. A call to 911 suggesting an abduction in progress; the police arrived finding the shoplifter tied up in a van, the shopkeeper and two other were arrested on the spot. Mr. Chen was charged with forceable confinement and assault. Inadvertently becoming a celebrity among conservatives; Mr Chen represented as a man protecting himself and property because no one else was.

Mr. Chen won his case when the presiding Judge dismissed the charges. While he found that the police acted reasonable in response to the circumstances surrounding the 911 call; the Judge found that the Police's failure to respond to small crimes led people like Mr. Chen, who perceiving the gap in law enforcement, stepped up to fill the void. This leading the Judge finding reasonable doubt to Mr. Chen's guilt. I understand this to be a reflection of the judge believing that Chen was acting with need and in good faith.

The CPC made much of this case; Chen became a Hero of the conservative and their notions of self defence; a citizen acting when all others deputized to failed. He received a visit from Harper, many pictures ensued, lots of hay made. At the time I thought the circumstances surrounding  Mr. Chen were unfortunate but not entirely unreasonable; the arrest not the prosecution  I think the crown could have pursued the case with more creativity. The rules regarding citizen's arrest were clear and Mr. Chen violated them; they allow for a narrow window of time to act and for the kind of action allowed. If he had been familiar with Citizen's arrest he would not have run afoul of the law. Now to help people like Mr. Chen, you can either inform them of the correct procedure for making a Citizen's arrest or rewrite them with a little more room.

The Harper government, like every government ever, wasn't going to waste the opportunity to score some points with the base. So they proposed  minor changes to the Criminal code of Canada, concerning Citizen's Arrest in the form of Bill C-26. (Original bill died due to an election.)

The resulting Bill increased the time in which an arrest may be made, through the insertion more uses of  "reasonable" relating to what physical acts are permissible in defence of self or property and "reasonable time" for apprehension of suspect. The act gives more discretion to Judges on what they can consider reasonable under what circumstances. Interesting because recent legislation has been trying to curtail discretion.

I will end with a link to the Harper Government's Department of Justice's section on What You Need to Know About Making a Citizen's Arrest. This page will be a let down to the Gung Ho DYI Justice types. I will summarize for you what it has to say to the would be Citizen.

(1) Don't make and arrest if you don't have to, find a policeman.
(2) If you do arrest someone learn the procedure because it's important. You aren't a policeman. Be polite.
(3) You better know the kind of crime being committed because there are rules.
(4) You better arrest the right person because if you don't the person you are arresting might not take it well.
(5)  Arresting people is dangerous, you are not trained and things could go horribly wrong.  

This page is very helpful to would be protectors of property, but it practicably screams DON'T DO IT, find a policeman. You are taking a huge risk and exposing yourself to danger DON'T DO IT, unless you are very sure. Good advice.

The changes are not badly done; they do allow any citizen acting reasonably, in certain circumstances to act in defence of themselves and their property without worrying about going to jail. Just stay within the guidelines.

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