TORONTO - One-time vigilante grocer David Chen finally received on Wednesday the news he has been eagerly awaiting: He’ll soon be able to better protect his Chinatown food store from shoplifters - legally.
Chen was at the Dim Sum King restaurant in the Dundas St. W and Spadina Ave area - steps from his Lucky Moose food market - when Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Rob Nicholson announced that a much-debated amendment to the criminal code - legislation called the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act, but casually dubbed the Lucky Moose Bill - will receive Royal Assent on Thursday.
Once the legislation comes into force, it will expand peoples’ power to make a citizen’s arrest.
Under current law, someone - a small-business owner like Chen, for example - can arrest a person for, say, theft, only if the culprit is caught in the act. Under the new rules, an arrest can be made “within a reasonable amount of time” after the offence has been committed on or in relation to one’s property.
A citizen’s arrest, often a risky endeavour, can only be made if it can’t be done by police at that time, and it must not involve unreasonable force, said Nicholson.
It was in May of 2009 that Chen and two of his employees chased after a repeat shoplifter after the latter stole flowers from Chen’s store. Nary a police officer to be found, Chen and his two workers tied the thief up and held him in the back of a van. But in an ironic twist, Chen and the employees were charged with forcible confinement and assault.
The three were found not guilty, but Chen’s ordeal ignited public debate and political action, with NDP MP Olivia Chow and then-Liberal MP Joe Volpe both tabling private member’s bills, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper visiting Chen’s store.
Nicholson on Wednesday called the existing rules antiquated and too restrictive, allowing victims of crime to be “re-victimized” by the system.
“Victims of crime should not be re-victimized by the criminal justice system when they attempt to protect their property,” said Nicholson, who was not specific when asked what would be considered a reasonable amount of force when making a citizens arrest under the new rules. Each situation different, he said.
Nicholson said a reason for the amendment is to deal with antiquated rules when it comes to citizen’s arrest, calling existing laws too restrictive.
Chen, long a victim of shoplifters despite reportedly installing $30,000 worth of security cameras, is happy with Wednesday’s announcement.
“I have more power to protect my store (and) my family,” said Chen. “If I catch someone stealing from me, and I call police, they won’t charge me again.”
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