Is immigration minister supporting vigilantes?


Jason Kenney, Canada’s Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism minister and Conservative Member of Parliament for Calgary Southeast, was in Toronto recently on a special mission. He wants Canadians to know that he supports vigilante justice. And he plans to work hard to ensure that shopkeepers and store owners can take the law into their own hands if they think someone has committed a crime.

Kenney apparently came to this decision because of an incident that occurred on May 23, 2009. David Chen, the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart on Dundas Street West alleged he saw a man put approximately $60 worth of plants in a box and ride off on his bicycle without paying for the plants.

Later that day, he claims that he saw the same man return to his store. When Chen and two of his employees saw the man who they assumed had stolen $60 worth of plants earlier in the day, they gave chase. The man dropped his bicycle and ran. Chen and his crew caught the man, physically assaulted him, restrained him by shackling his hands and feet and threw him into a delivery van (where he spent almost two hours) before Chen called police.

Chen and his crew were shocked when police did not agree that it was appropriate to physically assault and restrain a Black man even if you believe that he is a thief. The vigilante crew found themselves being arrested and charged with assault, forcible confinement and kidnapping. Their victim was charged with theft.

According to reports in the White daily newspapers, there was great community support for the vigilantes. It seemed that the merchants in the area and the customers thought that it was appropriate for three men to chase, physically assault and restrain one man who was a suspected shoplifter.

The fact that the suspected shoplifter is Black coupled with the negative images of Blacks in popular North American culture, had to have played a part in the opinions of the people in the neighbourhood. It is highly unlikely that a White man who was suspected of shoplifting a box of plants would have been chased, apprehended, physically assaulted, bound hands and feet and thrown into the back of a van to wait for police.

Four months after the incident, Kenny, the White knight, rides into the Dundas Street West area and begins grandstanding for the community. On Sunday, September 27, Kenney held a private meeting with Chen at the Lucky Moose Food Mart on Dundas Street West.

Following the private meeting, Kenney declared Chen “a victim of crime” and vowed to work on reforming a section of the Criminal Code that prevents business owners from apprehending shoplifters outside their premises.

Section 494 of the Criminal Code of Canada dealing with citizen’s arrest states that: “Any one who is the owner or a person in lawful possession of property or a person authorized by the owner or by a person in lawful possession of property, may arrest without warrant a person whom he finds committing a criminal offence on or in relation to that property.”

The man who was chased and assaulted was not committing any offence, he was at the time riding by.

Some skeptics were wondering if Kenney’s appearance at the Lucky Moose Food Mart was “merely a public relations stunt meant to garner ethnic votes”. When Kenney said that he was open to exploring whether “any modifications are appropriate or necessary” to section 494 of the Criminal Code it leaves me wondering if he gave any thought to the fact that he could be opening the door to vigilante action against certain groups of people in our fine multicultural city.

The fact that Kenney’s visit and comments about possible reform of the Criminal Code stems from an incident of vigilante action where a Black man who may or may not have shoplifted plants at some point but was not committing a crime when he was assaulted is very troubling.

In spite of his visit to a racialized community of mostly immigrants, Kenney has not proved himself to be a friend of some immigrant communities. He was appointed Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism on October 30, 2008 and almost one year later has done so much harm to migrant and temporary workers through Bill C-50 and Bill C-45 that groups like No One is Illegal and Justicia For Migrant Workers (J4MW) are inundated with calls from exploited temporary workers and other vulnerable immigrants whose lives are negatively affected by policies for which Kenney is responsible.

If Kenney is successful in restructuring Section 494 to make it legal for shopkeepers or store owners to decide that anyone passing by their store is a possible shoplifter and gives them the authority to assault and restrain that person, guess who will be the likely suspects?

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