An Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Citizen’s Arrest and the Defences of Property and Persons) will expand the legal authority for a private citizen to make an arrest within a reasonable period of time after they find a person committing a criminal offence either on or in relation to their property. This legislation will 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.
Amendments to the Criminal Code section 494(2) on citizen’s arrest will 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 occurred on or in relation to property. This expanded power of arrest will 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 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.
A citizen’s arrest is a very serious and potentially dangerous undertaking. Unlike a police officer, a private citizen is neither tasked with the duty to preserve and maintain public peace, nor properly trained to apprehend suspected criminals. In most cases, an arrest consists of either actually seizing or touching a person’s body in an effort to detain them. Whenever possible, a person should report wrongdoing to the police instead of taking action on their own.
A citizen’s arrest made without careful consideration of the risk factors may have serious unintended consequences for those involved. When deciding whether to make a citizen’s arrest, a person should be aware of the current laws (see below) and 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 can turn over the suspect to the police without delay once an arrest is made; and,
- they have a reasonable belief regarding the suspect’s criminal conduct and identity.
It is extremely important to ensure that there is correct identification of the suspect and their criminal conduct. If a citizen’s arrest takes place at the very time a person is found committing a crime, the correct identification of the suspect will not be in question. If a citizen’s arrest takes place within a reasonable time after a person is found committing a crime, the accuracy of the identification can be in question. Stress or the presence of a weapon can negatively affect an eyewitness’s memory. Arresting the wrong person could provoke a violent confrontation, and risk injury or death.
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. Indictable offences include relatively serious offences involving violence against persons, but do not include some property offences. Criminal offences can be any type of offences, including serious personal injury offences and all types of property offences.
Section 494(2) of the Criminal Code, which is the provision to be expanded by this Act, addresses offences on or in relation to property. It 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. Again, “criminal offences” means any type of offences.
“Finds committing” means situations where the accused is “caught in the act” of committing the offence.
Whichever power of citizen’s arrest is employed, the law requires that when a citizen’s arrest takes place, the individual must be delivered to a police officer without delay. If a person making a citizen’s arrest does not call the police as soon as possible, the arrest might be ruled illegal, and there could be civil or criminal consequences for the person making the arrest.
SELF-DEFENCE AND DEFENCE OF PROPERTY
The Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act will 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 will 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 will 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 will 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 will 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 various aspects of the particular situation, such as 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. The following considerations must be taken into account when the defence of property is raised:
- 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.
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 not considered reasonable in defence of property alone. The Citizen’s Arrest and the Defences of Property and Persons legislation will not make any change to the law relating to deadly force.
Department of Justice Canada