Citizen’s arrest can be risky move for farmers

Canadians may now have more leeway, but arresting a trespasser or someone “invading” a farm is tricky. | Getty Images

In 2009, David Chen became a hero to many Canadians.

Chen, the owner of a small grocery mart in Toronto’s Chinatown, caught a criminal who had stolen plants from the store and locked him in the store’s truck.

The police arrested Chen for his actions and the crown charged him with assault and forcible confinement. Chen was eventually acquitted, but the case became national news as millions of Canadians thought it was ridiculous to arrest someone for defending his property.

Livestock producers in Canada may be tempted to duplicate Chen’s actions because animal rights activists have been invading farms and breaking the law:

  • In March, a group of activists invaded a dairy farm in Ontario and took a dead calf.
  • In April, a group of more than 50 invaded and occupied a hog farm near Abbotsford, B.C.

In such cases, farmers do have a legal right to defend their property and conduct a citizen’s arrest.

“While I would not recommend it, the farmer … could have legally detained all or some of the protesters while they were actively trespassing on the farm,” Kurtis Andrews, an Ottawa lawyer who specializes in farm law, wrote in a blog post on his website.

“Their entry could have also been physically blocked, or they could have been physically removed (all while using the minimum force necessary).”

Following the Chen case, the federal government altered the Criminal Code in 2012 to clarify self-defence, defence of property and citizen’s arrests.

Canadians may now have more leeway, but arresting a trespasser or someone “invading” a farm is tricky.

“It is such a risky proposition…. It all depends on the circumstances,” Andrews said.

“You can easily take things too far, and you’d be in more trouble than the person you’re dealing with.”

Glen Jacques, senior crown prosecutor in North Battleford, Sask., has similar advice about citizen’s arrests and forcibly removing people from private property.

Jacques spoke last year at Agri-Visions, an event in Lloydminster.

“The law requires property owners only use the minimum of force that is required, and if the incident goes sideways … the property owner may end up facing a criminal charge and/or a civil lawsuit,” he said.

It is a delicate legal matter, but removing someone from private property happens all the time in Canada.

“Think of any bouncer in a bar, throwing somebody out. They’re relying on reasonable force,” Andrews said.

“People use this on a day to day basis, this principle.”

For more information on citizen’s arrests, visit

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