June 6, 2012
Senate considers expanding citizen's arrest powers
By Kris Sims, Parliamentary Bureau
One of Canada's best-known shopkeepers urged senators on Parliament Hill to pass a law allowing citizens to arrest criminals who break into their homes and steal their property.
"It's hard for shop owners to swallow the fact that shoplifters are allowed to come to our stores day after day and repeatedly steal from us," David Chen told the members of the upper chamber through an interpreter. "If someone comes to your house and steals an apple from you every day, one of these days you will be angry."
The senators are considering Bill C-26, which provides Canadians with greater powers of citizen's arrest. It was widely supported in the House of Commons.
Chen owns the Lucky Moose Food Mart in Toronto. When a career thief ripped him off yet again in May 2009, he had had enough. Chen chased down the thug, tied him up with twine and stuffed him into the back of a van, then called police.
When police arrived, however, Chen was the one charged with numerous crimes including kidnapping, forcible confinement and having a concealed weapon. The last count was added because Chen keeps a box cutter in his back pocket for work. He was later acquitted.
The case outraged Canadians, who demanded that MPs change the laws.
NDP MP Olivia Chow put forward a private member's bill during the last sitting of Parliament, and the spirit of it was carried over by the governing Conservatives after the election, who introduced the new law.
The senate committee also heard from Joseph and Marilyn Singleton of Taber, Alberta.
When the couple returned home to their rural acreage after a dinner in May 2010, they found a suspected thief trying to flee after he and two others had allegedly broken into their house, trashed their home and stolen their belongings.
When the suspect tried to smash through their garage door with his getaway car, Joseph feared for his wife, who was standing on the other side of it, calling police. Joseph hit the 20-year-old in the head with the butt end of an axe to subdue him. The homeowner was charged with assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, offences that carry up to 10 years in prison. The charges were later dropped.
The repeat offender, who was on bail after threatening another homeowner with a crowbar, was given house arrest.
"One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is answer questions from my young grandchildren, trying to explain why their grandfather was in trouble for protecting their grandmother," Joseph told the committee.
Marilyn echoed his feelings. "At the time of our home invasion, I never would have dreamed that Joe would be charged for possibly saving my life. If he did not take action, it's possible he would have had to explain to our children and grandchildren why he did not take action to protect their mother and grandmother."
Defending themselves against the charges cost the couple $30,000, draining their retirement savings.