How Much Force Are Police Allowed to Use in Making an Arrest?

A police officer can use as much force as is reasonably necessary to make an arrest or deal with a potentially dangerous situation, including where the officer honestly believes it is necessary to use force to prevent the commission of an offence while ensuring his own safety and the safety of others. This includes lethal force.

Section 25 of the Criminal Code protects people who enforce the law. It reads as follows:

25. (1) Every one who is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law
a) as a private person,
b) as a peace officer or public officer,
c) in aid of a peace officer or public officer…

is, if he acts on reasonable grounds, justified in doing what he is required or authorized to do and in using as much force as is necessary for that purpose.

27. Every one is justified in using as much force as is reasonably necessary/span>
(a) to prevent the commission of an offence/span>
(i) for which, if it were committed, the person who committed it might be arrested without warrant, and/span>
(ii) that would be likely to cause immediate and serious injury to the person or property of anyone; or/span>
(b) to prevent anything being done that, on reasonable grounds, he believes would, if it were done, be an offence mentioned in paragraph (a)./span>

This is what the Criminal Code says about how much force can be used:

26. Every one who is authorized by law to use force is criminally responsible for any excess thereof according to the nature and quality of the act that constitutes the excess.

By way of example, police officers can legally handcuff someone they’re arresting. If the person resists then the police may use appropriate techniques to compel the person to compy, such as telling the person to stop resisting and to put their hands behind their back. Twisting the arm of someone who is resisting or struggling, or punching him in the abdomen or putting a knee on his chest or back, would likely be a justifiable use of force. On the other hand, it would be difficult to justify pepper-spraying or pistol-whipping someone or kicking them in the face because for not putting their hands behind their back when told to do so. Each case has to be looked at in terms of what was reasonable in the circumstances.

If the officer felt that his firearm was being interfered with and at imminent risk in the course of a struggle with a member of the public – for example, during an arrest where the person was resisting or perceived to be resisting arrest, and had reached for or put his hand on the officer’s firearm – then the officer would be justified in bring the situation under immediate control. That might reasonably entail tripping the person to the ground then punching him in the abdomen while admonishing him to stop resisting, especially if that was consistent with his training and justified by his understanding of the law and the situation as it presented itself: see R v Jacobson, BC Provincial Court, 2015 BCPC 291 (CanLII).

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