Tories puts citizens rights ahead of criminals: Strahl

Greater power of citizens to defend their property and arrest criminals? Or "an invitation to vigilantism"?

A proposed bill that would expand the power of citizens to defend their property and arrest criminals shows the Tory government is putting victims rights ahead of the rights of criminals, says Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl.

But the BC Civil Liberties Association fears the proposed criminal code changes could put more power in the hands of private security guards, which is “an invitation to vigilantism,” BCCLA president Robert Holmes said in a news release.

Strahl disagreed, saying the idea of empowering private security officers as a “parallel police force” is not the intent of Bill C-26, the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act.

“It’s for situations where people are threatened and take an immediate response, if a peace officer is not available,” he said. “It’s not going to encourage vigilantism. This is about ensuring the justice system is on the side of law-abiding citizens.”

Micheal Vonn, BCCLA policy director, said the problem with the legislation lies in the phrase allowing a citizen to make an arrest “within a reasonable amount of time.”

She said citizens making an arrest after the fact of an alleged crime not only put themselves in physical danger, but legal danger as well.

It takes police officers years of training to learn the limits of their powers of arrest, she said, “and yet they’re contested all the time.”

“This is something the ordinary citizen is not in a position to know,” she said, and they could find themselves facing a wrongful arrest charge.

And if citizens can make an arrest “within a reasonable time,” she added, why is that not enough time to call 9-1-1?

But Strahl said the legislation clearly states that an “imminent threat” must be present and a police officer not available before a citizen can take action.

“Certainly it’s not for an individual to make their own determination whether a person should be arrested,” he said.

Vonn said the legislation follows the “very emotional” case of a Toronto shopkeeper who was charged after arresting a thief who had returned to the shop an hour after an earlier grab-and-run.

One day before the incident, the shopkeeper had waited five hours for police to respond to his call about a theft.

The shopkeeper was found not guilty.

Holmes said the solution is to hire more trained police officers, not to give arrest powers to citizens and private security companies that are not regulated or overseen in the same way as police.

“The idea that you could call Bob’s 9-1-1 Service and have someone forcibly arrest and detain another person is an invitation to vigilantism,” he said. “We call for this bill to be amended to close that gap immediately.”

Strahl said the changes are meant to simplify complex criminal code provisions around “self defence” and “defence of property” to make it easier for police, prosecutors and courts “to acknowledge an individual was within their rights to protect themselves or their property.”

“Under this bill, Canadians will know that the criminal justice system will stand behind them should they need to protect themselves against criminal acts,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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