There has been great gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the arrest of an alleged shoplifter at a Shoppers Drug Mart store on the York University campus in Toronto. During the arrest, the accused man sustained an injury to his ankle that has York University’s Black Students Alliance screaming murder because, apparently, the alleged thief is black. I can’t tell in the video that’s been circulating. Apparently to racist groups, it doesn’t matter that the man is also, allegedly, a criminal.
Regardless of his entirely irrelevant skin colour, the man has been charged by Toronto Police with assault, assault with intent to resist arrest, theft under $5,000, and possession of property obtained by crime under $5,000.
The law already permits anyone who witnesses a crime to make an arrest and to use reasonable force in doing so.
The Black Students Alliance is alleging the store’s loss prevention officers exceeded their lawful authority in effecting the arrest. CP24 quotes the BSA saying, “Instead of Toronto Police Services being called the LPO executed their own brand of justice where they had no jurisdiction to do so. They are not paid to place their hands on folks who come in and out of the stores they are hired by.” A statement that appears to have been accepted at face value by many in the Toronto media.
A great deal of air time has been spent on talk radio debating whether laws should change to give security guards the right to arrest shoplifters or use force. I have to admit… this drives me nuts. Because, the law already permits private security officers to arrest offenders and to use reasonable force in doing so. In fact, anyone can do this. Even you.
If you see a person commit a crime, you can arrest him (or her) and detain him until police arrive.
Section 494(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada gives you this authority. Section 25 of the Criminal Code authorizes you to use reasonable force while doing it. “Reasonable,” however, will ultimately be determined by a judge – and you will rightly be held accountable for any force you use. And, if the person you are lawfully arresting strikes or attacks you while you’re doing so, you always have the right to use reasonable and appropriate force to defend yourself under s.34 of the CCC.
Security Officers and “loss prevention officers” in Ontario must be trained and licensed by the province. However, they are not “peace officers” and do not have any more powers of arrest than you do. But, they don’t have any less either. They may also have delegated authority under trespass laws to enforce the property owners’ rights, but that’s not relevant in this case.
The key to a lawful citizen’s arrest is that you must actually witness the crime in order to effect an arrest. You cannot act on information you hear from someone else. To act on someone else’s information, you must be a peace officer – who have additional powers of arrest and obligations under the law.
So, the Shoppers Drug Mart loss prevention officer didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, Toronto Police have said so publicly. Police report the shoplifter was injured while he was involved in a scuffle with the security officer during the arrest. A scuffle, according to police, that the offender initiated. Karma sucks.
So, enough already about whether security guards should have the power to arrest! They already do and always have. And, enough, about this being a racist act. If you commit a crime, regardless of your skin colour, you should expect to be caught and charged. That’s not racism – it’s justice.