It should come as no surprise that Canada’s Conservative government introduced amendments to our Criminal Code this week broadening the powers of citizen’s arrest.
After all, the changes are in line with many other legal changes the government has brought in over the past few years — made to appear to address a necessary issue when there isn’t one.
And like other criminal amendments we’ve seen from this government, the Lucky Moose Bill as it has been dubbed, offers potential to cause more problems than it ever could hope to solve.
The politically opportunistic bill was sparked in reaction to assault charges pressed against an Ontario shopkeeper who chased a shoplifter, knocked the man down and tied him up.
The Lucky Moose is the name of David Chen’s store.
The new bill expands the powers of citizen’s arrest beyond the previous definition, which limited the power of detention to the moment an offender is engaged in criminal offences against person or property.
The new act allows for citizen’s arrest “within a reasonable period of time,” which some suggest could be as long as 24 hours.
The most basic question — why was such an amendment necessary? Presumably, the new laws would have kept Chen from being charged and made to face trial, but does the plight of one shopkeeper warrant significant changes to criminal law? Chen was acquitted, by the way.
The fact is, the amendments will likely serve to encourage a whole new suite of people to contemplate taking the law into their own hands.
As well, the fact someone can “nab” someone hours after a crime should raise serious flags. How will they ever be certain they have the right individual?
“Canadians want to know that they are able to protect themselves against criminal acts and that the justice system is behind them, not against them,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement announcing Bill C-26.
That’s a wonderful “apple pie” kind of statement, although it is meaningless. Having the ability to chase down a lawbreaker or arbitrarily “detain” someone hours after does nothing to people protect from crime.
The very attempt to do so could even provoke violence — don’t expect every shopkeeper to have the physical authority to affect an arrest, and don’t expect every bad guy to willingly comply.
So few of us ever find ourselves in the position of needing to arrest someone for a crime. At best, changes to law to give us more ability to do so were not needed. At worst, the new law will cause people new problems, by encouraging them to act in ways they might never before have considered.
Our best remedy against crime is to avail ourselves of the tools we have always had — the well trained and professional law enforcement agencies in our communities.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.