home depot

Outpouring of support for Toronto city councillor who made daring citizen’s arrest

Jon Burnside helped perform a citizen’s arrest outside the Leaside Home Depot on Wednesday morning after witnessing two men trying to steal items from the retailer. And his phone has been ringing off the hook since, hearing from old and new acquaintances who were impressed by his actions. 

“I’ll say this, the thing that really shocked me was the outpouring of support, literally, people I hadn’t talked to in maybe 20 or 30 years,” Burnside said. “Certainly more people than had congratulated me on my victory when I became a councillor, or a councillor again, people out of the blue, people emailing, actually, a couple older people when I was knocking on doors in my neighbourhood just to reach out to people, some people walking by that didn’t even live in the neighbourhood somehow recognized me. I was shocked at the level of interest, and the positive response.”

With a spike in retail theft, and long-running safety concerns, Burnside said he thinks his actions struck a chord.

“I think that really goes to the fact that people are kind of upset what’s going on in the city, you know, the quality of life issues, the feeling that nothing’s being done,” he said. “And I guess they just appreciated someone trying to do something.”

Burnside, who represents Ward 16 Don Valley East, explained that he stopped by the Home Depot near Laird Drive and Eglinton Avenue East shortly before 9 a.m. and soon found himself in the midst of a dramatic confrontation.

What started as a routine morning errand for a thermostat quickly escalated into a scene straight out of an action film.

“It was about closing in on 9 a.m.,” Burnside said. “I was heading toward the exit doors when suddenly, alarms went off. Two individuals rushed out, their carts overflowing with DeWalt tools, still sporting security tags.”

jon burnside
City councillor Jon Burnside

As Burnside approached, he couldn’t ignore the suspicious circumstances.

“I called out to them, asking what they were doing,” he said. “That’s when a friend coincidentally yelled that they were stealing. Things escalated quickly, when the thieves turned aggressive, threatening me for recording them. I said, ‘You stole those’ and he [hurled] some expletives,” Burnside said, noting that he also smelled alcohol on the suspect’s breath.

The councillor said that he then grabbed the cart. This led to a sort of tug back and forth for the cart before the suspect uttered a death threat.

“It was sort of past the point of no return where I felt I had to … protect myself and make the attempt to make the arrest, which I did,” Burnside, who is a former Toronto police officer, said. He added that there was “a little bit of a confrontation.”

“He comes around toward me, obviously in a very aggressive manner, and now it was more about him and me, as opposed to the property,” Burnside explained. “And then a physical altercation broke out.”

Two other customers — Rob Hughes and an unnamed off-duty Toronto firefighter — stepped in to help Burnside subdue the suspect. One was an old high school friend of Burnside’s who happened to be shopping at the Home Depot at the time and called 911.

Toronto Police Service officers arrived about 15 minutes later and arrested the suspect, although police don’t have any information about the other suspect, who fled the scene. Reflecting on the aftermath, Burnside expressed surprise at the overwhelming support he received from the community.

Indeed, the incident at Home Depot highlights broader issues.

“It’s not just about stolen merchandise,” Burnside said. “It’s about the disrespect for others’ property and the safety of our communities.”

Despite the risks involved, Burnside remains resolute about taking action when necessary.

“I will say this: that definitely wasn’t one of my smartest decisions,” he said. “People said it’s because you’re a cop. Maybe. I don’t know. It’s just, as I say, you just kind of go, ‘enough of this stuff,’ right?

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO