By Jordan W. Charness; photo courtesy

“Oh my! Peter, what happened to you?” I was shocked to see the look on my friend’s face, or more to the point, I was shocked to see the look of my friend’s face. His lip was swollen, he had a black eye and several other bruises on his face. He was walking slowly and quite obviously in pain.

“I tried to be a good citizen. I tried to stop a crime and look what happened to me!” He slowly and painfully replied. We got him an ice pack for his lip and settled him down into the most comfortable chair in the office and listened as he laboriously explained what had happened to him.

Just as he left work this morning and was walking to his car, he noticed a large young man intentionally take a key out of his pocket and scratch the paint of a brand-new Mercedes that was parked on the street. The young man went to the next car and keyed it as well. Peter cannot stand the sight of a beautiful automobile being damaged, or, in fact, any type of crime occurring, before his eyes. He yelled at the young man to stop what he was doing and to stay right there while he called the police.

Peter whipped out his cell phone and dialed 911, and explained to the dispatcher that there was a crime in progress and that she should send the police right away. He gave the dispatcher the details and while he was doing so the young man took off running down the sidewalk.

Peter ran after him yelling all the while that he should stop right there and that “he was putting him under a citizen’s arrest.” He quickly caught up to the young man, or more precisely the young man stopped and turned to face Peter. Although Peter is a reasonably large guy, the young man was much bigger. Nonetheless, Peter reached out and grabbed him by the hand and told him that he was going to hold him right there until the police arrived.

The young man took his free hand and swung it viciously into Peter’s face, knocking him to the ground but fortunately missing his nose. The young man then gave Peter a mild kick in the ribs and told him to mind his own business. He then took off on a run once again. With all the fight knocked out of him Peter just stayed on the sidewalk until the police arrived.

When asked what happened Peter explained that he was doing his civic duty and trying his best to stop a crime that was in progress. He told the police that he was exercising his right to perform a citizen’s arrest and that he got beaten up for doing so.

He gave a complete description of the perpetrator to the police even though the young man was long gone. One of the police officers thought that he recognized the description and went to call it in.

Although Peter’s heart was in the right place, the law in Canada is pretty clear that citizens rarely have the power to perform a citizen’s arrest. There is a provision to allow a citizen to try to prevent someone from performing a serious criminal act, but keying a paint job on a car hardly qualifies as such. As the police explained to Peter, he would have been better off snapping a picture of the perpetrator with his cell phone camera and handing it over to the police when they arrived to do their job. Calling 911 was a good decision, but taking the law into his own hands and trying to perform a citizen’s arrest was not. You can tell… just by looking at Peter’s face.

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