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Rex Murphy Point of View

October 22, 2009

Work hard and play by the rules - this used to be the mantra of no less than Bill Clinton.

Among those who really work hard and play by the rules are many new Canadians:  this may be a stereotype.   I surely hope it is.  The hardscrabble dignified industry of many new Canadians  (and some not so new) is a stereotype to be proud of.

You see it in the small stores, markets, taxis, building sites all over this country --- faces from all over the world ---long hours, small pay, minimal whining: --- many people living this regimen doing real work, many of them being equipped for so much better.  They take it stoically and they deserve admiration.

There’s a hardworking grocer, David Chen, in Toronto who is in a real pickle these days. Seems he chased a shoplifter some six months ago - a repeat shoplifter say other storekeepers in Chinatown, Toronto - caught him, tied him up, put him in the back of a truck while waiting for the police.

Today that grocer is facing real legal threat: kidnapping charges, forcible confinement, and carrying a concealed weapon - boxcutters --- boxcutters being to grocery store employees what tuning forks are to piano tuners.

The thief has been successfully prosecuted, but according to a Globe and Mail story he got 30 days in jail, rather than 90, "for agreeing to testify as a Crown witness" in their case against the man whose store he was robbing.

This seems a little upside down - and partly echoes the case in Alberta where a rancher was charged with excessive force for chasing a thief who stole his, the farmer’s, all terrain vehicle. 

In the Toronto case, surely the person who set all these things in motion is the shoplifter: if there were no theft - there would have been ---no chase, no tying-up, no waiting in the truck.

But to call the response kidnapping looks like zeal on a bender - and to heap on these other charges appears more than drastic.

The shopkeeper, like the rancher is, I gather, one of those who works hard and plays by the rules: but he’s the one getting the legal anvil over his head --- while the feather duster is being applied to a man that shopkeepers, under affidavit, say "has a criminal record dating (back) to 1976" and "has been stealing from their stores for years."

I don’t want to make too much of a particular case, but there is in this story an element which defies common sense and contributes to the ever-growing notion that in our very modern world very many, many things are upside down.  The little guy - new or long term Canadian - is caught in a peculiar space:  between criminals uncaught, who harass him repeatedly with seeming impunity, and a law which works most efficiently, doesn’t miss a beat - when it turns on the guy, man or woman who works hard and plays by the rules.

Mr. Chen may be many things.  But he is surely not a kidnapper.  And there are over 5,000 signatures on a petition in Chinatown as evidence of frustration and puzzlement over a man who tried to protect his store and his livelihood from another man who was stealing bits of both from him.

For The National, I’m Rex Murphy.