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How to make a citizen’s arrest

Canadian law allows ordinary citizens to arrest someone caught committing a crime, but there are certain limitations and questions you should weigh before taking action.

Most importantly: you are only authorized to make a citizen’s arrest if it’s not feasible for a peace officer to do it. This aspect of the law aims to prevent vigilantism.

Also, you must contact police immediately to turn the suspect over to them. Any delay could invalidate the arrest and even leave you open to charges and lawsuits.

Generally, in order to make a citizen’s arrest, you must catch someone committing a crime or see them being pursued by lawful authorities.

Circumstances are slightly different for crimes occurring on your property. If it’s a more minor crime, like vandalism or shoplifting, you don’t have to catch them in the act; you can arrest them within a reasonable time after the offence occurred.

It’s another story for serious crimes committed on, or to, your property. For violent offences like break-and-enter, sexual assault, or murder, you must catch the suspect committing the crime.

The “reasonable time” codicil is a recent change to the law that came about in 2013 after a Toronto shopkeeper was himself arrested and charged for nabbing a shoplifter about an hour after the theft took place. He was later exonerated and the law changed to allow expanded powers for citizen’s arrests. The updated law doesn’t define how much time is considered “reasonable.”

To make an arrest for crimes committed on your property, you must be the owner of that property, or in lawful possession of it.

If you’re making an arrest:

  • Clearly inform the suspect that you’re making a citizen’s arrest and why.
  • Call the police immediately.
  • Don’t search or question the suspect.
  • Avoid using force if possible, or use as little as required.

You are allowed to use as much force as necessary in order to complete a citizen’s arrest, but be mindful of when and how much is justifiable. If a suspect is trying to escape or is violent, you can use force to restrain them. Excessive force could get you arrested, lead to a lawsuit, and possibly invalidate the arrest.


Read more:

What you need to know about making a citizen’s arrest:

Citizen’s Arrest and Self-defence Act: