It’s hard to imagine how terrifying it must have been for the man who entered his home in Red Deer, Alberta, on Aug. 9 to be confronted by a violent intruder. A struggle ensued as the housebreaker attacked the homeowner with a baseball bat. While under attack, the homeowner managed to get his shotgun and fatally shot his assailant. The homeowner was taken to hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries. After a short investigation, the RCMP and Crown determined that no charges would be laid against the homeowner.
In recent years, a number of cases have occurred where homeowners were criminally charged after having used firearms against intruders. Prosecutors have had a difficult time getting convictions in these cases, however.
Ian Thomson of Port Colborne, Ont., was charged in 2010 for firing shots in response to men who were attempting to firebomb his home. Thomson was acquitted in 2013.
Saskatchewan farmer Gerald Stanley was acquitted by a jury after having been charged for fatally shooting Coulten Boushie in 2016.
Eddie Maurice in Alberta was charged after wounding a trespasser on his rural property with a ricochet from a warning shot in 2018. Charges were dropped six months later.
In 2019, Cameron Gardiner of Collingwood, Ont., faced charges for fatally shooting two home invaders. Charges were dropped in late 2020.
In the Red Deer incident, it was pleasantly surprising to see the justice system recognize the right to self-defence using a firearm. While the use of a firearm may very well have been what saved that homeowner’s life, police forces and prosecutors in Canada are rarely forgiving of homeowners who use lethal force in defending their person and property. Are we seeing a shift in attitudes when it comes to self-defence?
While jury trials aren’t common in Canada, they are often requested in cases of self-defence. Juries are often sympathetic toward people who have been charged with committing a crime while defending themselves. When deliberating, jurors have to ask themselves what they would have done had they been in the defendant’s shoes. Often they conclude that they would have done the same thing, and an acquittal follows. The letter of the law means little when a person fears for his or her safety and well-being.
Rural crime rates are considerably higher than urban ones, particularly in the Prairies. Police response times for calls in rural regions can often take up to an hour. Rural properties often store expensive equipment and tools. This makes rural homes a natural target for opportunistic thieves. Homeowners are often left to choose between the constant loss of property or defending it themselves.
When encountering invaders, homeowners have no way to tell if they are facing a threat to their personal safety or simply a threat to their property. Defensively picking up a firearm in such circumstances makes sense, and most rural homeowners own one. For someone who feels in danger and is caught in the split-second decision of whether or not to shoot, that person isn’t likely going to take time to think about the legality of the decision.
While we do have the right to defend ourselves and our property in Canada, the law is weak. The process becomes the punishment, as homeowners can be subjected to years of stress defending themselves in court. Even when charges are dropped or the homeowners are acquitted, as is often the case, they can be left with a tremendous legal bill and countless hours lost. If people are so rarely convicted in cases of home defence yet charges are so often laid, clearly there is a flaw in the laws.
While it’s great to see police and prosecutors choosing not to lay charges in these cases, the law needs to be changed if we want to properly address the issue. Canada has no form of a “stand your ground” law or “castle doctrine.” We need to enshrine laws that protect the rights of homeowners to defend themselves and their property against intruders without question. We need to make it crystal clear that a homeowner should only be charged in the most extreme cases of overreach in defensive actions. The state can’t always be there to protect us, thus it is unreasonable to set up any barriers to being able to protect ourselves.
Using a firearm or any other kind of lethal force against an intruder is the last thing that most homeowners would ever want to do. “Stand your ground” laws don’t mean that a person can shoot somebody who has entered a property to ask for directions, or attack somebody with a baseball bat for knocking on the door to sell Girl Guide cookies. What those laws do mean is that homeowners need not worry about their legal well-being when making a decision to protect themselves, their property, or their family against intruders.
Such laws in Canada would mean we would no longer be cluttering our courts with self-defence cases that don’t lead to convictions, or using the system to punish people for the crime of protecting themselves. It’s time for the laws to reflect what the courts have already determined over and over again in their acquittals of homeowners charged for using force to defend themselves or their property.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.