Citizens Arrest Provision in the Criminal Code

It happened in Toronto: a C-Store retailer, David Chen, was arrested and charged with forceful confinement because he caught a shoplifter in his Lucky Moose store in downtown Toronto and detained him. The incident was unusual in that the shoplifter was caught a few hours after he had stolen some goods, when he carelessly revisited the store only to be recognized and detained.

So how did the victim of a crime (Mr. Chen) end up being the accused? That simple question provoked a public uproar and local media frenzy, so much so that Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself visited the store and stood behind Mr. Chen in full support of his case.

Despite the public outcry, the accusations made against Mr. Chen were legitimate – although the existing legislation allowed him to detain a shoplifter until police arrived, he could only do so if that shoplifter was caught in the act. In Mr. Chen’s case, what he did wrong was detain a shoplifter after the shoplifter had successfully stolen goods from him. For this indiscretion, Mr. Chen was arrested, spent a night in custody and had to defend himself in court in Ontario (he was eventually found not guilty of the charges).

In order to address the injustice shop owners like Mr. Chen would face in such circumstances, the Federal government has proposed changes to the existing provisions of the Criminal Code. The changes would allow the victims of crime, like Mr. Chen, to make a citizen’s arrest and detain a shoplifter not only if the shoplifter was caught in the act, but also within a reasonable period of time afterwards.

On February 14, 2012, CCSA President Alex Scholten presented a brief to the Federal Justice Standing Committee in Ottawa, strongly supporting the proposed legislation. The bill passed third reading in Parliament in early May. On June 6, 2012, Scholten presented the brief to a Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs that was reviewing the proposed legislation. On June 27, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced that the bill would receive Royal Assent the following day. This legislation is now law.