Harper set to introduce citizen's arrest bill
The Conservative government will table legislation soon after Parliament resumes in nine days to make citizen's arrests easier, the prime minister's office confirmed Saturday.
Despite the controversy that sometimes accompanies their law-and-order agenda, the Tories are hopeful that they can count on Liberal and NDP support since each party has already tabled private member's bills on the issue.
"I expect that the government will be introducing legislation as quickly as possible once the new session starts, in the next couple of weeks," Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas told The Canadian Press.
"We also hope that the opposition parties will support the government legislation."
Harper delivered that same message to two Toronto businessmen in a private meeting Friday, saying that the new bill would be introduced in Parliament in three to four weeks. The House of Commons resumes Jan. 31.
Harper met with shopkeeper David Chen and investment banker Ricky Chan in Toronto on Friday.
Chen made national headlines last fall when he was acquitted of assault and forcible confinement after catching and tying up a shoplifter in Toronto.
Catching a thief in the act is a requirement of the law when making such a citizen's arrest. Chen captured the shoplifter one hour after he stole plants from his store. However, a judge called the one-hour issue a "red herring," saying the thief had gone back for more loot.
The huge public outcry over Chen's case — especially in vote-rich Toronto — caught the attention of the government and opposition parties.
Soudas stressed that the government was not playing politics with the issue. He said Harper tracked the case closely but could say nothing publicly until it wound its way through the courts.
"The prime minister was following this very closely from the get-go," said Soudas.
"On issues such as this one, politics should always be left aside."
In separate interviews Saturday, Chen and Chan said their private meeting with Harper the previous evening left them feeling upbeat.
"People steal lots of things and we can't do anything," Chen said.
"We hope the law, [they] can change it so we can have more power to protect the store owners … I know how much money we lose there."
Chan, who attended the meeting to help with translation, added that Harper seemed genuinely interested in Chen's plight.
"In about three to four weeks, there will be a law tabled at parliament," said Chan.
Toronto MPs introduced similar bills
Last year, New Democrat MP Olivia Chow — Chen's MP — introduced a private bill to change the law to allow more time for such an arrest. Liberal MP Joe Volpe tabled a similar bill, using different language.
"The Conservative government, hopefully this time around with the expressed support of the Liberals and the NDP, hopefully this thing will go forward," said Chan, who formed a victims' rights action committee a year and a half ago to aid Chen after his arrest.
"If you've got the governing party presenting a bill, you've got a better chance of getting it done."
In November, Harper instructed the Justice Department to look at changing the Criminal Code to ensure that there is no repeat of what happened to Chen.
Chan said Friday's meeting was called on short notice, while Harper was in the Toronto area.
Chen, Chan and Harper spoke for about 10 minutes around the 6 p.m. supper hour, said Chan.
Though the meeting was private, and the media was not advised that it was taking place, Chan said, "we were told it was OK to discuss the meeting … by the prime ministers' office."
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's office would not discuss the prospect of new legislation being tabled when the House of Commons resumes, deferring all questions to Harper's office.