Prosecution or persecution?

Why did Toronto police arrest a hard-working Chinese immigrant after he captured an incorrigible thief?
Michael Coren | Oct 20 2010 | comment  

David Chen, of Lucky Moose Food Mart, in Toronto, meets the media.

It really is difficult to believe. Or to put it another way, if it were the premise for a television police show you would think the whole thing was an implausible fantasy and had nothing to do with the realities of law, justice and policing. But the tale of David Chen, a career criminal and the Toronto police and crown prosecution service is as authentic as Canada’s obsession with socialised medicine.

In 2009 Chen, a Chinese immigrant to Toronto who is at the market buying produce at 3am and works more hours than many of us would think humanly possible, had had just about enough of the criminals and drug-addicts who habitually shoplifted from his grocery corner store.

His profit margins were minimal and each time the thieves stole his property it became increasingly difficult for the man to make a living. He called the police whenever a crime occurred but after a while they would arrive hours late and sometimes simply not show up at all.

Nor was Chen the only victim in the area – because of the number of Chinese people with businesses in this part of Toronto some in the criminal world considered it a “soft” target for their trade.

The final challenge came when a man whom Chen recognised from previous encounters stole some expensive plants in the morning and then returned later the same day, quite possibly to steal again. Chen challenged the man and asked if he would pay for what he stole. The response was foul and racist language.

At which point Chen made a citizen’s arrest and held the thief until the police arrived. When they did, however, they charged Chen and proceeded to offer the shoplifter, who had 43 previous convictions to his name, reduced charges if he would testify against Chen and help the crown and cops in their case.

The allegations are that Chen was intending to beat the criminal up, that he had used too much force and – wait for it- that he has box-cutters on his person. This said of a man who opens boxes all day long as part of his job!

The trial has started and is costing the public a small fortune in police time, lawyers’ fees and the like but also reveals what has become a worrying gap in Canada between the public perception of what constitutes justice and the legal and police community’s understanding of what is law.

As a citizen Chen was part of a social contract. He obeyed the law on the understanding that it and its officers protected him from anarchy and crime to the best of their abilities. When, however, the police not only failed to deal with his persecutors but did not even attempt to protect him it was surely they and not he who broke the contract. Yet when he tried to protect himself the police did indeed act and the lawyers working for the state insisted on the fiercest possible prosecution of a model citizen.

Polls have shown that the Canadian public support Chen in overwhelming numbers and many in the media have followed suit. Yet the trial has not been stopped and while Chen may not go to prison he could well be convicted and be given a police record that will restrict his international travel and damage his standing, credit rating and ability to work.

Such nonsense is not restricted to Canada and similar types of cases involving police stupidity have been launched in Europe as well.

In Britain a street-preacher was arrested and held in a cell overnight after being challenged by a part-time police community officer who was gay and insisted on knowing what the Christian speaker believed about homosexuality. The preacher had not been discussing this issue but when pressed stated that he thought homosexual activity to be sinful. For this belief he was taken into custody and only released when, obviously, someone at the police station realized just how illegally and dangerously the officer had behaved.

In Canada earlier this year hundreds of peaceful protestors at the massive G20 conference in Toronto were arrested after the police had initially failed to stop some of their cars from being torched and public property destroyed. A massive over-reaction after an enormous display of passive incompetence. Also in Canada in early October five young pro-life students were arrested in Ottawa after displaying graphic pictures of aborted babies on the university campus. It was certainly a controversial exhibit but similar events have been held by feminist, Palestinian and leftist groups at the university for some years.

Whether political, religious or criminal, what appears to be happening in many parts of Europe and North America is that rather than being guardians of the people the police are taking on the role of agents of the state. Instead of protecting citizens against crime they are enforcing state policy against citizens. That’s deeply worrying in theory and even more troubling in practise.

The Western, democratic notion of an apolitical police force is beginning to evaporate as the police concern themselves with “hate crimes”, “bias” and even plain political correctness. What David Chen did was not obviously political but it did question the authority and competence of authority and the police and did show an ordinary person applying the law and common sense. That, it seems, is now the worst crime of all.

Michael Coren is a broadcaster and writer living in Toronto, Canada.

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