A worrying global trend sees Western officials increasingly working with unaccountable private security firms in the name of “efficiency”. Canada’s conservative government is joining in:
This fall the Government of Canada will reintroduce legislation that would expand the power of citizen’s arrest. In 2010 Bill C-60, as it was called, died on the order paper; this year, it will be part of a larger package of reforms to Canada’s criminal justice system.
The proposed amendments to Section 494 of the Criminal Code would expand the power of private property holders and their delegates to arrest individuals whom they “find… committing a criminal offence on or in relation to [their] property.” Specifically, it would sanction not only immediate arrest, as the existing provision allows, but also arrest “within a reasonable time after the offence is committed.”
This legislation is in some respects a study in how law reform in response to a single event can invite unintended consequences.
The bill was introduced following the trial of store owner David Chen (left) for assault and forcible confinement after he performed a citizen’s arrest outside his Toronto store. Chen had observed on his security camera a man stealing plants from the store. When the man returned an hour later, Chen and his associates grabbed the man, bound him, and confined him in a van for several hours until the police arrived.
Chen was ultimately acquitted. His case drew sympathy from politicians from across the political spectrum, and within a short time Canada’s principal parties — the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party, and the Liberals — each proposed changes to the Criminal Code to allow arrests like that which Chen had effected.
The bill’s impact extends far beyond the classic citizen’s arrest, however.
Although the Chen case is the reference point for the changes proposed by Bill C-60, the major beneficiary of any expansion of the power of citizen’s arrest in Canada would be the private security industry.
To fully understand the potential effects of Bill C-60, therefore, one must also take into account society’s increasing reliance on private security forces as the first line of response to many security threats. In this respect, Canada is in a similar position as many other countries.