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Can I be charged or sued for making a citizen’s arrest?

Though citizen’s arrests are a rare occurrence in Canadian society, they do happen and it’s important to know what the limitations are in regards to how to conduct a citizen’s arrest.

What is a citizen’s arrest?

A citizen’s arrest is described as the forcible detention of a person who has committed or who is suspected to have committed a crime by a person who is not a police officer or law enforcement official.

What does the law say?

A person has to observe a very tight set of rules when making a citizen’s arrest. A person can make an arrest when it’s not “feasible” for the police to be there to make the arrest.

The law does allow a person to make an arrest in extremely limited circumstances. The person has to be sure that the police can’t be there, there is no other way to apprehend the individual, that the person intending to make the arrest and other people won’t be in danger, that the suspect can be turned over to the police right away and that a person has a reasonable belief that the suspect has committed a crime.

When can I arrest a person?

If you are arresting a person for a serious criminal offence, which includes violent offences, the arrest can only be made when you are witnessing the person committing the crime and not after. To arrest a person after an indictable offence has been committed is against the law.

However, things are a tiny bit more lenient when a criminal offence is less serious and is being committed on the person’s property or in relation to a person’s property.

In that case, the person can:

  • Arrest a person you find in the act of committing a crime; or
  • Arrest a person within a reasonable period of time after having found that person committing a crime.

Change to the law in 2013

Whereas before the new law was passed, a citizen could only arrest a person if they caught them red-handed committing a crime, the new law gives more leeway to citizen’s making arrests but only in cases where a person’s, or other people’s, property is involved.

The law now allows a reasonable amount of time in which to make an arrest after the person has committed the crime. Again though, that doesn’t apply to cases of indictable criminal offenses.

When can I be charged or sued?

A citizen’s arrest is not only potentially dangerous but it’s also considered a serious undertaking. The first thing that should be done is that the police should be called.

You could be held criminally liable and/or sued if you use excessive force against the person you are arresting the perpetrator.

Excessive force is often defined as the use of force that goes beyond reasonable and prudent force needed to apprehend an individual. Usually, a person should use only the amount of force needed to apprehend and detain the individual and no more.

You can also be held liable if you don’t hand over the suspect to police right away or if you fail to call police as soon as possible.

If you have been charged for a citizen’s arrest and/or are being sued, you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible.

Read more:

What You Need to Know About Making a Citizen's Arrest

Citizen’s Arrest and Self-defence Act