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The Globe and Mail

Harper heeds call to lessen restrictions on citizen's arrests

Flanked by NDP MP Olivia Chow, Toronto shopkeeper David Chen leaves court on Oct 29, 2010, after charges in his case were dropped.

Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Crime-fighting Canadians who find themselves in Toronto grocer David Chen's shoes should be granted more leeway in nabbing criminals, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.

Mr. Harper told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he has asked Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to draft changes to the Criminal Code to spare others the kind of ordeal Mr. Chen and two employees faced before they were acquitted of assault and forcible confinement last week.

"The case of David Chen has raised concerns right across this country," the Prime Minister said. "Now that the case has been ruled on and common sense has prevailed, this government, myself and the Minister of Justice, have instructed the Department of Justice and instructed officials to look at possible changes to the Criminal Code to prevent incidents like Mr. Chen's from occurring again.‬"

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Peter Lindsay, who represented Mr. Chen in his court case, welcomed the Prime Minister's comments.

"It sounds like a very positive development and I hope that they'll follow through with it," he said. "It's simple change and it will just give shopkeepers the additional protection they need."

Mr. Lindsay successfully argued that a citizen's arrest should not be restricted to situations where a person is arrested at the moment they commit a crime.

At issue during the trial was whether Mr. Chen had the right to make a citizen's arrest on Anthony Bennett, an inveterate shoplifter who had returned to Mr. Chen's Lucky Moose market in Chinatown an hour after he had stolen $72 worth of houseplants. Existing law holds that a suspect can be caught committing a crime, but not after the fact.

A judge, calling Mr. Bennett's return to the shop part of a "continuing theft," ruled Mr. Chen indeed had that right, although he expressed grave concern that the shopkeeper and his employees then bound the thief with rope and wrestled him into the back of a delivery van.

Police, responding to 911 calls from witnesses who thought they had seen an abduction, arrived minutes later and arrested the men. They were jailed, strip-searched and initially charged with four offences, including kidnapping, and weapons possession related to the box-cutters they carried for opening crates at the grocery store. Those charges were dropped before the trial.

Olivia Chow, a New Democrat Member of Parliament for the Trinity-Spadina ward in which the Lucky Moose sits, and Toronto-area Liberal Joe Volpe had introduced separate private member's bills calling for looser restrictions on citizen's arrests.

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Ms. Chow said she is happy the Prime Minister has acted to change the law, as she had repeatedly called on him to do during and after the trial.

"I hope we can fast-track the approval of this bill and have it done by Christmas," Ms. Chow said. "If not Christmas, let's make it Chinese New Year in early February."

With a report from Adrian Morrow

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