By: Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA - The NDP says it will support Conservative government legislation to make citizen's arrests easier.
New Democrat MP Olivia Chow said Saturday she supports a decision by the Tories to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code.
The prime minister's office confirmed on Saturday that a bill would be tabled soon after Parliament resumes Jan. 31.
"I expect that the government will be introducing legislation as quickly as possible once the new session starts, in the next couple of weeks," Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas told The Canadian Press Saturday.
"We also hope that the opposition parties will support the government legislation."
Despite the controversy that sometimes accompanies their law-and-order agenda, the Tories were hopeful of Liberal and NDP support because each party has already tabled private members' bills on the issue.
"The roadmap is in front of them. My private members bill, it's in the House of Commons. All they have to do is say yes. If they want to copy it, that's fine by me," Chow said in an interview Saturday.
"Let's make sure that hard working store owners won't get punished if they try to defend their stores because that's totally unfair."
Harper told two Toronto businessmen, shopkeeper David Chen and investment banker Ricky Chan, in a private meeting Friday that the new bill would be introduced in Parliament in three to four weeks.
Chen made national headlines last fall when he was acquitted of assault and forcible confinement after catching and tying up a shoplifter in Toronto.
Catching a thief in the act is a requirement of the law when making such a citizen's arrest. Chen captured the shoplifter one hour after he stole plants from his store. However, a judge called the one-hour issue a "red herring," saying the thief had gone back for more loot.
The huge public outcry over Chen's case - especially in vote-rich Toronto - caught the attention of the government and opposition parties.
Soudas stressed that the government was not playing politics with the issue. He said Harper was tracking the case closely but could say nothing publicly until it wound its way through the courts.
"The prime minister was following this very closely from the get-go," said Soudas.
"On issues such as this one, politics should always be left aside."
In separate interviews Saturday, Chen and Chan said their private meeting with Harper the previous evening left them feeling upbeat.
"People steal lots of things and we can't do anything," Chen said.
"We hope the law, (they) can change it so we can have more power to protect the store owners . . . I know how much money we lose there."
Chan, who attended the meeting to help with translation, added that Harper seemed genuinely interested in Chen's plight.
"In about three to four weeks, there will be a law tabled at parliament," said Chan.
Last year, Chow - Chen's MP - introduced a private bill to change the law to allow more time for such an arrest to be made. Liberal MP Joe Volpe tabled a similar bill, using different language.
"The Conservative government, hopefully this time around with the expressed support of the Liberals and the NDP, hopefully this thing will go forward," said Chan, who formed a victims' rights action committee a year and a half ago to aid Chen after his arrest.
"If you've got the governing party presenting a bill, you've got a better chance of getting it done."
In November, Harper instructed the Justice Department to look at changing the Criminal Code to ensure that there is no repeat of what happened to Chen.
Chan said Friday's meeting was called on short notice, while Harper was in the Toronto area.
Chen, Chan and Harper spoke for about 10 minutes around the 6 p.m. supper hour, said Chan.
"It was very nice. The prime minister took a personal interest on this matter. He was very genuine and interested in David's current situation," said Chan.
Though the meeting was private, and the media was not advised that it was taking place, Chan said, "we were told it was ok to discuss the meeting . . . by the prime ministers' office."
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's office would not discuss the prospect of new legislation being tabled when the House of Commons resumes, deferring all questions to Harper's office.
A man was convicted and served 30 days in jail for stealing plants from Chen's store.
Anthony Bennett admitted in court that he returned to the store an hour after that theft to steal more.
After Chen's acquittal, a Crown prosecutor said the decision would not set a precedent, and that it could continue to prosecute such charges against shopkeepers on a case-by-case basis.