The recent trial of Torontonian David Chen and two of his employees at the Lucky Moose market has sparked a debate about the limit on the use of force to protect your property.
To briefly summarize the case a man by the name of Anthony Bennett had stolen some plants from Mr. Chen’s market but was identified by Chen on surveillance video. About an hour after the theft Bennett returned to the market and was seen by Chen and his employees. Chen asked Bennett to pay for the plants he had stolen but Bennett refused and ran. Chen and the employees gave chase, subdued Bennett, bound his hands and feet and put him in a van to bring him back to the market where they would call police and have Bennett arrested for the theft.
On-lookers, not knowing about the theft thought that Bennett was being kidnapped. They called the police who arrested not only Bennett but Chen and his employees. Chen and company were charged with kidnapping, assault and forcible confinement. The charge of kidnapping was dropped and they were found not guilty on the other two charges.
The prosecutor described the situation this way; “Of course shopkeepers are entitled to protect their property…but that’s not what happened in this case. [Mr. Chen] seized a person off the streets of this city, tied him up and threw him into the back of a van.”
It would appear to the prosecutor that only the police can seize a person off the streets, tie him up and throw him into the back of their van, all nice and legal and proper.
Where do the police get their authority to seize people off the streets and lock them up? They get that authority from the people, like Mr. Chen, who have consented to be governed by laws and to have the police and the government act as their agents to arrest criminals and protect their property. If the police are not immediately available then individuals are well within their rights to protect their property.
The source of a proper government’s authority is rarely identified in this country. It is an agent of the people and as such in incapable of exercising any rights which the people do not have. Examples: a shopkeeper does not have the right to kill a thief and therefore neither does the state. A person has the right to use whatever force is necessary to protect his life and property but no more than is necessary, and therefore the police are not permitted to use excessive force either. A person has no right to steal from a fellow citizen and therefore neither does the state.
The United States is more familiar with this notion than Canadians as the preamble to their Declaration of Independence contains the phrase: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” This is the true meaning of the word “democracy.” The power of the government and the police is derived from the power of the individual citizens whom they serve.
In July of this year a Rasmussen survey found that only 23% of Americans believe that the federal government has the consent of the government, 62% said No and 15% were unsure. If the survey were to be held here in Canada I wonder how many of us would even know what the phrase “consent of the governed” means.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right November 4th 2010. (Show #176) )