Canadians can make “Citizen’s Arrests”! But be warned…

As of March 11, 2013, the new changes to the Criminal Code of Canada went into effect, pursuant to the new Citizen’s Arrest and Self Defence Act.  Previously, Canadians did have the right to make a citizen’s arrest, but only in circumstances where the perpetrator was “in the process” of committing a crime.  One of the most important changes that came about was to Subsection 492(2), which now includes:

“(2) The owner or a person in lawful possession of property…may arrest a person without a warrant if they find them committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property and…(b) they make the arrest within a reasonable time after the offence is committee and they believe on reasonable grounds that it is not feasible in the circumstances for a peace officer to make the arrest.”

However, despite these broader permissions, those who think to avail themselves of this law, should read the Department of Justice’s “Backgrounder” about this precarious right.  Readers can find this document online at:  The DoJ’s publication speaks to making a citizen’s arrest under Self-Defence and Defence of Property situations, but it also consistently warns that there must be “reasonable grounds” for the citizen’s arrest.  What are “reasonable grounds”, readers may ask?  That depends on the circumstances of each case, which are evaluated by law enforcement officials.  The DoJ issued a more detailed “checklist” that can be found at:  Again, I strongly urge everyone to read through this very, very carefully.

As a practising lawyer, I cannot stress enough the importance of reading and heeding to DoJ’s warnings.  If a citizen improperly arrests another under this law, the civil, and even criminal, ramifications will be extraordinarily severe.  Everyday citizens are not trained to make judgment calls on arrests, nor are they trained on the proper procedure for doing so.  A judgment error has led to serious consequences for some police officers – I would hate to imagine the extent of those consequences for private citizens!

So, yes, the new law grants citizens a broader scope in which to make citizen’s arrests, but this is not something that I would readily recommend to anyone.

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