Toronto Chinatown grocer's trial begins

The high-profile trial of a storeowner charged with assault and forcible confinement after apprehending a shoplifter began Monday.

The high-profile trial of a Toronto Chinatown storeowner charged with assault and forcible confinement after apprehending a shoplifter opened Monday at Old City Hall.

The charges stem from a May 23, 2009, incident in which David Chen, owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart on Dundas Street West, apprehended a man he believed was stealing plants from his store.

The man who was nabbed by Chen, Anthony Bennett, pleaded guilty in August 2009 to stealing from the store and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

After Bennett was initially caught on security footage stealing from the store, he returned an hour later. At that time, Chen, 36, and two employees tied up the man and locked him in the back of a delivery van.

— Lawyer Chi Kun Shi

When police arrived, they charged Chen with kidnapping, carrying a dangerous weapon — a boxcutter — assault, and forcible confinement.

Crown prosecutors later dropped the kidnapping and weapon charges, but said they would proceed with the charges of forcible confinement and assault.

According to the Criminal Code, a property owner can only make a citizen's arrest if the alleged wrongdoer is caught in the act.

But Chen's lawyer, Peter Lindsay, said that provision is too restrictive.

"In this particular case, Mr. Chen had reasonable grounds to believe Mr. Bennett had stolen from him an hour earlier because he had video of Mr. Bennett stealing from him," Lindsay said. "And the fact that he didn't actually catch him in the act seems to me not to be important."

Changes to Criminal Code proposed

The case has garnered national attention and politicians of all stripes have aligned themselves with Chen in the case.

Olivia Chow, the New Democrat MP for Trinity-Spadina, where Chen's store is located, tabled a bill Wednesday that would allow store owners to apprehend suspected shoplifters "within a reasonable period" after the crime is alleged to have taken place. Liberal MP Joe Volpe tabled a similar private member's bill in the summer.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney toured Chen's grocery store last September and said at the time that shopkeepers should be able to use "reasonable means" to protect their property.

Chi-Kun Shi, a lawyer who is lobbying for changes to Criminal Code as a result of Chen's arrest, said, "David's case has brought to the forefront some pretty troubling aspects of our society today, I think.  

"If he gets convicted, I think there will be even more outrage as to what's wrong with us — that our Criminal Code protects and coddles criminals and punishes hardworking, solid people like David."