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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Citizen's Arrest

What we've been waiting for?
The Citizen's Arrest and Self-Defence Act

The Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act

17 February 2011
Toronto, Ontario

This legislation would expand the legal authority for a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after they find that person committing a criminal offence either on or in relation to their property, ensuring the proper balance between the powers of citizens and those of the police. It would also bring much-needed reforms to simplify the complex Criminal Code provisions on self-defence and defence of property, and clarify where reasonable use of force is permitted in relation to the above.


Proposed Amendments:

Amendments to the Criminal Code section 494(2) on citizen’s arrest would authorize a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after he or she finds someone committing a criminal offence that occurs on or in relation to property. This power of arrest would only be authorized when there are reasonable grounds to believe that it is not feasible in the circumstances for the arrest to be made by a peace officer (i.e. a police officer).

Reasonable Use of Force

This legislation will make it clear, by cross reference in the Criminal Code, that use of force is authorized in a citizen’s arrest, but there are limits placed on how much force can be used. In essence, the laws permit the reasonable use of force, taking into account all the circumstances of the particular case. A person is not entitled to use excessive force in a citizen’s arrest.

Important Considerations

A citizen’s arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a peace officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace, nor generally speaking, properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals. In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person’s body with a view to detaining them; or by using words where the person submits to the arrest.

Citizen’s arrests made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious unintended physical or legal consequences for those involved. When deciding if a citizen’s arrest is appropriate, a person should consider whether:
  • a peace officer is available to intervene at that time;
  • their personal safety or that of others would be compromised by attempting an arrest;
  • they should report information about the crime to the police instead of taking action on their own;
  • they have a reasonable belief regarding the suspect’s criminal conduct and identity; and,
  • they can turn over the suspect to the police without delay once an arrest is made.

The Current Laws

Under section 494(1) anyone may arrest a person whom they find committing an indictable offence or a person who, on reasonable grounds, they believe has committed a criminal offence and is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person.

Section 494(2) of the Criminal Code, which is the provision proposed to be expanded by this Bill, currently provides that anyone who is either the owner or, in lawful possession of, or has been authorized by the owner or the person in lawful possession of property, may arrest a person they find committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.

“Finds committing” means situations where the accused is “caught in the act” of committing the offence. This concept extends to take into account a situation where the accused has been pursued immediately and continuously after they have been found committing the offence. Also, the law requires that when a citizen’s arrest takes place, the individual must be delivered to a peace officer without delay.


Proposed Amendments:

New Criminal Code provisions are being proposed to clarify the laws on self-defence and defence of property so that Canadians – including the police, prosecutors and the courts – can more easily understand and apply the law. Clarifying the law and streamlining statutory defences may assist prosecutors and police in exercising their discretion not to lay a charge or proceed with a prosecution.

Amendments to the self-defence provisions would repeal the current complex self-defence provisions spread over four sections of the Criminal Code (s.34-37) and create one new self-defence provision. It would permit a person who reasonably believes themselves or others to be at risk of the threat of force, or of acts of force, to commit a reasonable act to protect themselves or others.

Amendments to the defence of property provisions would repeal the confusing defence of property language that is now spread over five sections of the Criminal Code (s.38-42). One new defence of property provision would be created, eliminating the many distinctions regarding acts a person can take in defence of different types of property. The new provision would permit a person in “peaceable possession” of a property to commit a reasonable act (including the use of force) for the purpose of protecting that property from being taken, damaged or trespassed upon.

The Current Laws:

Defence of Self and Defence of Others

Under sections 34 to 37 of the Criminal Code, distinct defences are provided for a person who uses force to protect themselves or another from attack depending on whether they provoked the attack or not and whether they intended to use deadly force.

Defence of Property

Under sections 38 to 42 of the Criminal Code, multiple defences for the “peaceable possessor” of property exist. Considerations of the type of property (either personal or real property), the possessory right of the possessor, and of the other person and proportionality between the threat to the property, and the amount of force used must be taken into account when the defence of property is raised.

Use of Deadly Force

The use of deadly force is only permitted in very exceptional circumstances — for example, where it is necessary to protect a person from death or grievous bodily harm. The courts have clearly stated that deadly force is never considered reasonable in defence of property alone. The legislative reforms currently being proposed do not make any change to the law relating to deadly force. Courts will therefore continue to make any necessary changes on a case-by-case basis, developing the common law if and where appropriate.

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