Thunder Bay

Security guard oversight falling short, says Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says to avoid problems, there needs to be better government oversight of security guards.

'We're giving them significant power, but we're not setting up the mechanism to hold them to account'

Michael Bryant is the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. (CBC)

The head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says to avoid problems, there needs to be better government oversight of security guards.

The number of security guards employed in Canada has "ballooned" over the past decade, said association executive director Michael Bryant, to the point that "there's more security guards in Canada than there are police officers."

However, he said, the training and regulations haven't kept up with the growth of the industry. 

"There's practically zero oversight," he said. "At least compared to police, and the oversight for the police is wholly inadequate right now, in 2019 in Canada, as it is."

It's not uncommon for the association to hear about concerns about security guards and their powers, he said. 

Thunder Bay police confirmed they're investigating an incident, caught on video, that showed a security guard at a local Shoppers Drug Mart appearing to restrain a youth before slamming him to the floor.

A spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Limited, Shoppers's parent company, referred to the "use of force," as being against company policy and called the incident "unacceptable."

In Ontario, security guards can make legal citizens' arrests in specific situations — for example, when they witness a theft taking place — and in some cases can use force if it's considered "reasonable," Bryant said. 

"Reasonable is obviously always a grey area," he added. 

Bryant said he'd like to see more emphasis on de-escalation, as opposed to force, in the training that is required of security guards before they can get a licence in Ontario, as well as better oversight of the trainers themselves. 

He said the issue of security guards is something the Canadian Civil Liberties Association will continue to look into, adding that if the growth of the industry continues, he expects to hear about more concerns.

"We're giving them significant power, but we're not setting up the mechanism to hold them to account."

With files from Matt Prokopchuk