When someone arrests a person, the matter sometimes proceeds normally and calmly. In fact, that is what happens in the majority of cases. Hundreds and thousands of people appear for shoplifting, for example, in courts that deal with those kinds of cases, and it all takes place in normal fashion. Sometimes, however, that is not the case.
Our committee is made up of lawyers who practise criminal law on the defence side and crown attorneys. We are somewhat fearful of encouraging citizens to act in this manner, and here I am not talking about the moment when they find themselves in the situation. For example, a person I catch in the act knows that I saw him commit his offence. If I arrest him a day or two later, the fact that that individual committed an offence may be challenged. I am a citizen, not a police officer. I don't wear a uniform and I have not received the required training for that type of intervention. Our fear is that matters will deteriorate in that kind of situation. The problem is not that the merchant may act in bad faith. On the contrary, our concern is that, having been robbed, a merchant should not also be a victim of an assault or some other kind of violence.
We are therefore in favour of an approach whereby police authorities, who are competent in this area, intervene in these cases. When we consider the pros and cons, we weigh that in the balance. We are in favour of the safety of the merchant and the individual. Human life is the priority. However, when there are problems of substance abuse, criminal behaviour or street crimes, if we may put it that way, we very often see that the problem is related to both substance abuse and mental illness. Police officers who have to deal with these types of offences know this and perhaps have told you this in other circumstances. That must be borne in mind. The combination of these two factors is explosive, and sometimes the cause must be addressed, not the effect.
What I am saying does not help Mr. Chen. What happened to him is regrettable; I want to emphasize that. One might have hoped that some well-advised discretion might have been exercised. He should never have been charged, but he was. Fortunately, the judicial system worked and he was also acquitted. In our view, the act in its present form is good. It ensured that Mr. Chen was not convicted, which is positive.
However, we are concerned. The question that Mr. Cotler asked earlier raises the problem. It is not small merchants who should be our main concern, but rather the possibility that we are creating parallel agencies that have police powers without being trained as police officers. Police officers are subject to the control of parliamentarians, elected representatives, in their field of intervention and in their domain, but security agencies—