|David Chen outside the courthouse in a file photo. (Alex Urosevic, QMI Agency)
TORONTO - The Chinatown "vigilante" grocer and his two employees who chased down a thief, tied him up and tossed him in a van, had charges of assault and forcible confinement dismissed Friday.
A beaming David Chen raised a clenched right fist as supporters cheered in court after Justice Ramez Khawly acquitted him and two associates.
"It is impossible for me to say that I am satisfied that I know what happened that day," Khawly told a packed and silent courtroom at Old City Hall. "My verdict would be 'not proven' were it available to me, rather than not guilty or guilty."
The judge found that career criminal and drug addict Anthony Bennett - who had stolen $72 worth of plants earlier - had likely returned for a second haul an hour later in May 2009.
Chen approached him about paying for the stolen goods. Bennett swore at the grocer, then bolted and Chen chased him.
Chen and his co-accused employees, Qing Li and Jie Chen, tied up the 52-year-old career criminal and drug addict and hauled him away in a van.
"This was a continuing theft, plain and simple," Khawly said in dismissing all charges.
"That man (Bennett) is not there to chat or pass time. It is a no-brainer to infer he's there for an illegal purpose."
Flanked by his local MP, Olivia Chow, and his lawyer, Peter Lindsay, Chen said, "I feel very, very good" in uneasy English.
He didn't encourage others to follow his example to combat the plague of thieves at their stores.
"The advice is, be careful, call the police early, as soon as possible," he said through Ms. Chow, who interpreted for him for the phalanx of reporters and camera operators on the courthouse steps.
"I'm just at this point relieved it's over, and I'm relieved with the right results," Lindsay said.
The verdict rejected Crown prosecutor Eugene McDermott's argument that Chen and his workers had no right to arrest Bennett, because he had simply returned to the store and was no longer in commission of a crime, as required to justify a citizen's arrest.
Bennett deserved equal protection under the law as did innocent bystanders and others, Khawly said.
Police were justified in arresting and charging people committing an apparent assault and unlawful confinement in broad daylight.
"It's been suggested by some in the media that this is a prosecution that should never have gone forward," he said.
"Our system of justice is based upon equal protection by the law of all people," McDermott said.
"I think each case has to be dealt with on a case-by case basis."