The Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defence Act came into force on March 11, 2013, making important changes to the provisions governing self-defence and a citizen’s power to arrest. These amendments could be significant for employers with private security or whom are prepared to take action against theft at a moments’ notice.

Arguably the most important change brought about by this legislation is the addition of the ability for a citizen to make an arrest within a “reasonable time” after an offence is committed. Under the former provision, arrests could only be made where a citizen caught an offender in the midst of the criminal act.

Allowing an arrest to occur a reasonable time after an offence is committed is a measure introduced on the back of the political will following the prosecution of David Chen, a shop owner in Toronto who was charged with assault and unlawful confinement in 2010. Mr. Chen, the owner of a convenience store called the Lucky Moose Food Market, had participated in a citizen’s arrest of an individual who had returned to his store after stealing plants. Mr. Chen and two of his employees attacked and bound the returning thief, and were transporting him in the back of a van when they were arrested.

Mr. Chen and his employees were acquitted in a colorful judgment of the Ontario Court of Justice. The Court found that the thief’s return to the store was part of the same criminal transaction and that there was a reasonable doubt as to the excessiveness of the force used in the arrest.

Mr. Chen became a central figure in the enactment of the Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defence Act: he was mentioned by Parliament in its discussions of the bill (Bill C-26) and Canada’s Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada announced enactment of the bill from the Lucky Moose this week.

The Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defence Act also amends the provisions relating to self-defence in the Criminal Code to allow persons to take action (including action by force) where they have a “reasonable belief” that they or another person are threatened with force or even in the defence of property.

The concept of “reasonableness” is left undefined and will be subject to interpretation by the Courts. Citizens remain urged to exercise extreme caution when using force in the course of making an arrest.

Bill C-26

R v. Chen