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David Chen outside the grocery store he owns on Dundas Street in Toronto's Chinatown.Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Six months after being arrested, strip-searched and charged with assault and kidnapping for catching the man who had stolen from his grocery store, Wang (David) Chen is still reeling from what he sees as an incomprehensible injustice.

"I kept thinking it's unfair," he said in an interview at his Chinatown grocery store Wednesday. "I did what I needed to do, what was right at the time."

Anthony Bennett, the man he's accused of tackling, tying up and confining in the back of a truck, is the same person business owners in the area say has been stealing from them for years.

When he pleaded guilty to two counts of theft in August, Mr. Bennett got a lighter sentence because he agreed to testify against Mr. Chen - the man facing trial for catching him.

According to a court transcript, because Mr. Bennett is a Crown witness he got 30 days in jail instead of the 90 the Crown had requested.

Mr. Chen appears in court Thursday. His lawyer Peter Lindsay hopes to persuade prosecutors to drop the charges against him, which he claims are a waste of already strained resources. If the Crown refuses, he'll launch a constitutional challenge of Canada's citizen's arrest law. Right now, a citizen's arrest is legal only if the person being arrested is in the process of committing a crime. That's too narrow, Mr. Lindsay argues, and doesn't allow shopkeepers to protect their property from repeat offenders.

On the morning of Saturday, May 23, surveillance video at Mr. Chen's Lucky Moose supermarket caught Mr. Bennett on a bicycle stealing $60 worth of plants, only to return an hour later. When confronted, he fled on foot, with Mr. Chen and two employees in pursuit.

They caught him, tied him up and put him in a delivery truck to await police. For their trouble, all three men face charges of assault, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and carrying concealed weapons (box cutters, Mr. Lindsay says).

Mr. Chen has become a cause célèbre as local business owners and members of the city's Chinese-Canadian community rally around him. A fundraising dinner brought in more than $6,000 to support the father of two, and a Victims' Rights Action Committee was formed to fight for those at the mercy of shoplifters.

Business owners in the downtown core say Mr. Bennett, who according to the court transcript is a crack addict with numerous prior convictions, has been victimizing their stores for years. Mr. Lindsay has collected numerous statements from business owners in the area saying they recognized Mr. Bennett on Mr. Chen's surveillance video; they had seen the same person dozens of times before, making off with items from their own stores.

Shortly before Mr. Bennett returned to Mr. Chen's store for the second time that Saturday morning, Hamid Kheiry and his wife, Homeyra Safaly, saw a familiar face outside their King Street West florist shop - the same man they had caught on video a dozen times previously, stealing more than $3,000 worth of plants and flowers from their shop.

The first time had been on Mother's Day, 2008, when the man made off with a $250 floral arrangement. Subsequent thefts prompted the couple to install surveillance cameras that caught the same man pilfering pricey flowers and potted plants on numerous occasions that summer. Mr. Kheiry said he reported several of the thefts to police, but nothing came of his complaints until the May incident at Mr. Chen's Lucky Moose supermarket.

He and several other shop owners plagued by thieves argue police aren't doing enough about rampant theft in the area - if they were, Mr. Kheiry said, there would be no need for vigilante actions like Mr. Chen's.

Detective Chris Trites said shoplifting is a problem everywhere. He said it's not fair to cast stones at police for not cracking down enough.

"It's easy for people to say things like, 'You should do something about drugs' or, 'You should do something about theft,'" he said. "If people really want to help, then they should be offering some sort of positive solutions or positive ideas."

Donald Powell, Mr. Bennett's lawyer, said it's not unusual for judges to give co-operative witnesses lighter sentences. He wouldn't comment on the charges facing Mr. Chen and his co-accused, but noted that had Mr. Bennett been in the act of stealing when Mr. Chen and his employees chased, tackled and bound him, the matter would have ended there.

That's what lawyer Mr. Lindsay hopes to change - to expand existing citizen's arrest laws so it's legal for property owners to arrest someone they suspect is committing or has committed a crime, even if they're not doing it at that moment.

"Why should the law be difficult and tricky for the good guy?" he said. "That's what doesn't make sense to me."