Civilian arrest technically legal by Saskatoon security guard, but 'reasonable' use of force in question
Investigative consultant says it's up to police, courts to determine if use of force was reasonable
A video of a Saskatoon security guard making an arrest has sparked questions online over civilian arrests and use of force this week.
An investigative consultant said while an arrest may be legal, it's up to police and courts to determine if the use of force was "reasonable."
The incident in question happened at the FreshCo on 33rd Street West in Saskatoon's Mayfair neighbourhood. What led to the incident is not entirely clear.
The nine-minute video was recorded by a witness and shows a man who identifies himself as the grocery store's security guard trying to force handcuffs on a woman. The guard can be heard accusing her of stealing as bystanders plead with him to let her go and let police handle it.
"The issue will be, did this person have reasonable grounds to believe that this person had committed an offence? And then the second question is, did he use reasonable force in attempting to arrest this person?" said Jay Watson, a lawyer with Cuelenaere LLP in Saskatoon.
Watson said it's a complicated situation as there's a security guard present, with a job to prevent theft, who believes he has witnessed theft by a civilian. He then goes to make a citizen's arrest. Anyone can make a civilian's arrest if there are reasonable grounds and a reasonable use of force, he said.
GRAPHIC WARNING | Federation of Soveirgn Indigenous Nations calls for guard to be fired:
The main difference between a security guard making a civilian arrest and a police officer putting someone under arrest is that police officers have legislation protecting them if they are wrong, said Watson.
"If just the security guard doesn't have reasonable probable grounds, was found by a court or uses unreasonable force, he can be sued and he may be committing an offence," he said.
Watson said everyone has opinions, but it's going to be up to police and the courts to have the final say.
"It's definitely not black and white. It's grey. As lawyers and judges, we're used to that," he said. "From the public's point of view, I can see there's no easy solution to this issue."
Bruce Pitt-Payne, a former RCMP officer and investigation consultant, said it's Section 494 of the Criminal Code of Canada that allows citizens to arrest people if they have grounds to. But Saskatoon police will be looking closely at all aspects of this situation.
"The security guard would have to prove to them that he had the actual lawful grounds to make the arrest. If that happens and it's shown to be valid, then the police would still have to look at the reasonableness and the proportionality of the use of force," Pitt-Payne said.
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"Meaning, what would a reasonable person believe? That's the test, the simplistic version."
This specific situation is complicated as the security guard was allegedly injured as well, Pitt-Payne said. At this time, police would treat both people involved as suspects and victims and interview witnesses, look at medical records and video evidence. That may take time.
We have to always be fair enough to remember that de-escalation only works if all parties involved want it to work.- Bruce Pitt-Payne
Pitt-Payne said de-escalation training should be increased tenfold for police and security guards alike. He said there can never be enough training, but more so for security guards who typically have drastically less training than police officers.
"We have to always be fair enough to remember that de-escalation only works if all parties involved want it to work. So it isn't always just a training issue."
The result is "unfortunately very much dependent ... on what each of the people involved in that situation want to do," he said.
Video hard to watch: former police officer
Joel Pedersen said it's hard to see the video. The former Saskatoon police officer now runs 2J2 Fitness and 2J2 Security, training security guards across Saskatchewan. Pedersen said he doesn't want to be a sideline quarterback and say what should have happened, but it's sad to see situations get out of control.
"Often we think about having balance, especially when emotions are high and trying to bring that level-minded behaviour in line," Pedersen said. "It's really challenging to say what could have been done."
Pedersen said through his experience as a police officer for over 25 years, he knows it's a challenge for police to be everywhere all the time. He said security workers — such as the community support workers or security guards — step up and bridge that gap, but need proper training.
"I think that's a huge support to the police service and the overall safety of the city," Pedersen said. "But the training that we want to provide is humane, so that when the security officer or security guard, if he or she does have to defend themselves … they do it in a humane fashion."
On Friday, when speaking to CBC Saskatchewan, Pedersen was conducting a training session with the Downtown Community Support Officers who work in Saskatoon's downtown.
The session was scheduled before the incident took place and was teaching communication and techniques for de-escalation. Pedersen said de-escalation is a key element of security training and work and starts with responses and being proactive before things get out of control.
"I don't believe the security guard's role is to take the place of the police by any stretch of the imagination," Pedersen said. "A lot of the work should be gathering out information and reporting that information."
When incidents like this do occur, it's important they are recorded, reported on and looked at, Pedersen said. He said it's about focusing on how to correct it and have professionals do better in the future.
"It is unfortunate to see that kind of incident take place in Saskatoon, because sometimes we think in our own bubble of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, that these kinds of things don't happen here. But they do."
The head of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations said on Thursday the FreshCo incident was one instance of violence Indigenous women face. He called for the guard to be fired.
Pedersen said that it can help the community to have Indigenous people trained in these guard roles.
With files from Morgan Modjeski