04/05/2013 05:34 EDT | Updated 06/05/2013 05:12 EDT

Couple's 'citizen's arrest' was nothing of the kind, prosecutor says

A trial began this week for a Caledon, Ont., couple facing multiple criminal charges for making a citizen's arrest of two thieves that the prosecutor says went way too far.

Sylvain and Olga Lahaie are accused of extortion, assault and firearms offences relating to the manner in which they detained two men who had stolen stainless steel pipe stored on their rural property almost five years ago.

The Crown says the Lahaies caught two young men, Jamie Reid and Paul Taylor, in the act of stealing. The men had stolen pipe on two previous occasions to sell for scrap.

Crown Attorney Mark Poland told the jury hearing the case that the couple pointed a gun at the two men, bound their hands and feet with zip-ties and put nylon bags over their heads. Poland said the Lahaies then demanded $10,000 or they would call police.

The men's parents at first agreed to make the payment, according to the prosecution, but subsequently changed their minds and decided police should be called instead.

CBC's Ron Charles says the Lahaies are expected to dispute the prosecution's version of events.

One thing that isn't in doubt is that the whole incident didn't turn out well for the Lahaies.

"It poisoned our lives. We're totally wiped out financially by this whole affair," said Sylvain Lahaie. "It destroyed my business; it destroyed my wife's career. It's been very difficult."

The men who stole from the Lahaies pleaded guilty to theft and were given conditional discharges and probation — meaning no jail time and no criminal record if they successfully complete their probation.

The Lahaies, if they're convicted, may not be as fortunate.

"As things currently stand, a citizen that does [make a] citizen's arrest, even though there's a lot of common law and common sense that backs us up on that, I think you're exposing yourself to basically the will of the criminals you're arresting," Sylvain Lahaie complains.

Citizen's arrest law changed

When Toronto shopowner David Chen was charged in 2009 with unlawful confinement for detaining a man who had previously shoplifted from him, the public outcry helped to persuade the Harper government to change the laws governing citizen's arrests.

Chen had captured the shoplifter an hour after he'd stolen plants from his store. That was a problem because the law as it stood then allowed people to make a citizen's arrest only if the perpetrator was caught in the act.

The new Citizen's Arrest and Self-Defence Act, which came into force last month, allows people to stop alleged criminals "within a reasonable time" and not just while they're committing the crime.

But Crown attorney Poland said the Lahaies don't qualify for a number of reasons, including that they didn't call the police for five hours.

"Mr. and Mrs. Lahaie had only one choice," he told the jury Friday in his opening remarks. "Doing what is a matter of law, to deliver those men to the police forthwith, without delay."

The trial is scheduled for the next two weeks.