My understanding of a citizen’s arrest that it's when is a person detains another person who is caught committing a crime until police arrive. If the person tries to leave how much force can the arrester use? How certain must they be that the person did in fact commit a crime?

Recently there have been a number of sting operations by the Creep Catcher group, where they pretend to be young girls on dating websites and meet with an older male. They confront the person, film it, and make a citizen’s arrest. These stings have been increasingly violent.

One thing I don't get is: technically no crime has been committed yet, as there never was a young girl, so how can an arrest be made? Also, in many situations, they change the age after they agree to meet, so would this be entrapment?

In this question it says consent must be given for any physical contact. Is an exception made for citizens arrest?

Make no mistake, I'm against pedophiles etc. but I do think the tactics Creep Catchers use are unjust. I mean, what would people think if they saw police officers doing the same thing as Creep Catchers.

  • You might want to look up attempted enticement of a child. Some of these laws are created explicitly because law enforcement would prefer to catch these people before they find an actual child to abuse, rather than waiting for them to abuse one. It's impossible to do that without making "attempting" to do it also illegal. The definition is usually broad enough to include these sting operations, but not always.
    – animuson
    Apr 21, 2017 at 6:22
  • I don't really get how citizens arrests can apply to something non-tangible like this. I mean if I had proof someone was embezzling money from a company, can I run up to them on the street and detain them? What if the person says I'm mistaking?
    – Mahones
    Apr 23, 2017 at 9:04
  • It bears mentioning that police do use strategies like this. I knew a federal law enforcement officer who spent weeks pretending to be a twelve year old girl online for this exact purpose. Jul 18, 2023 at 22:06

2 Answers 2


The power of arrest is a common law power that predates police forces, that is, every citizen had an obligation to maintain the king's peace by arresting criminals. With the rise of modern police forces, the police inherited this general right to make arrest but it still remained a power of every citizen.

How much of this right remains depends on your jurisdiction and how the common law of "arrest" has been transformed by statute and case law.

The common law right only extends to arresting someone in the commission of a crime. In the example you cite, the arrests are probably unlawful and amount to the crime of kidnapping/deprivation of liberty/whatever its called where you are because the person is not at that moment committing a crime.

To arrest someone who you believe committed a crime in the past, you need a warrant or a power granted to you by some other statute (e.g. powers granted to police officers).

In either case, a person making an arrest is allowed to use reasonable force to do so.

  • What constitutes reasonable force? In one of the videos they claim they are allowed to use as much force to detain them as they use to resist. Is it legal to eg put them in a head lock until the police arrive?
    – Mahones
    Apr 21, 2017 at 6:53
  • @Mahones If necessary, yes. I used to work at a grocery store and our staff has had to do that with a shoplifter before. Some people just don't go gracefully.
    – animuson
    Apr 21, 2017 at 7:20
  • 3
    @Mahones this is one reason why citizen's arrests are problematic. If you are wrong that you have the right to make an arrest then no force is allowed. If you are right then the minimum force necessary in the circumstances to detain the person, however, if that force becomes disproportionate to the severity of the crime you can be in trouble..
    – Dale M
    May 25, 2017 at 0:38
  • 1
    @DaleM and unlike cops, one does not have a police union or qualified immunity as back-up
    – paulj
    Jan 15, 2021 at 16:07

Luring a child is a felony in Canada: see Canada Criminal code 172.1:

172.1 (1) Every person commits an offence who, by a means of telecommunication, communicates with

(a) a person who is, or who the accused believes is, under the age of 18 years, for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence with respect to that person under subsection 153(1), section 155, 163.1, 170, 171 or 279.011 or subsection 279.02(2), 279.03(2), 286.1(2), 286.2(2) or 286.3(2);

and further paragraphs specify different ages and offenses. Cutting through the section number jungle, this covers any attempt to have sex with a minor. This law does not punish having sex with a minor (that's separate), this covers communication with that end in mind. The fact that the would-be child is an adult is irrelevant:

(3) Evidence that the person referred to in paragraph (1)(a), (b) or (c) was represented to the accused as being under the age of eighteen years, sixteen years or fourteen years, as the case may be, is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, proof that the accused believed that the person was under that age.

If a 21 year old represents himself as being under 18, that fact proves that the accused has the requisite belief.

The Canada Dept. of Justice has a position on citizen's arrests, which would suggest "no you can't" (rather, you should call the police). That however is a suggestion, not a legal requirement. It is, however, correct, according to the law itself (federal), Criminal Code s. 494, which states:

(1) Any one may arrest without warrant

(a) a person whom he finds committing an indictable offence; or

(b) a person who, on reasonable grounds, he believes

(i) has committed a criminal offence, and

(ii) is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority >to arrest that person.

The first condition sanctioning warrantless arrest is finding a person committing an indictable offense. The problem here is that in these scenarios, the arresting person has a reasonable suspicion that the accused has commited such an offense, but they did not find them committing such offense. Under (b), a reasonable belief arrest includes not only "has committed" but also "is escaping from and freshly pursued by persons who have lawful authority to arrest that person", and the latter is not the case.

Since this would not be a lawful arrest, it would be unlawful battery (and other things, perhaps). Provincial law is unlikely to widen the scope of a citizen's arrest,

  • If A represents himself to B as underage, and B suggests a sexual encounter, and that suggestion constitutes an indictable offense, then why hasn't A found B committing an indictable offense?
    – phoog
    Apr 22, 2017 at 14:01
  • Because B did not witness A in the act while arresting. The law is in terms of someone you find committing, not find having committed, or have reasonable believe has committed.
    – user6726
    Apr 22, 2017 at 14:54
  • IANAL, but it seems to me that if B has suggested a sexual encounter with an (actual or presented) underage person, and then is meeting with the intent to consumate that suggestion, then B is indeed committing (as in, in the act of) a crime. Apr 22, 2017 at 22:03
  • That is not what the law, quoted above, says. To repeat, the person making the citizen's arrest has to actually witness the criminal act right then and there. Failing that, if they have a suspicion that B has committed a crime, they can report that crime to the police, because the police have further powers to make an arrest (viz. they do not have to actually observed the commission of felony). The felony was the chat-room communication, not the act of appearing at a donut shop with some expectation, and nobody witnessed (actually, directly saw) the telecommunication.
    – user6726
    Apr 22, 2017 at 22:12
  • (1) I don't see how the law specifies that the arrest must happen right then and there. (2) Surely showing up for a meeting with a purported underage person for the purported purpose of facilitating a sexual encounter is also illegal, even though it does not violate the statute you quoted.
    – phoog
    Apr 23, 2017 at 4:01

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