Ian Thomson says a judge in Welland acquitted him on Thursday of firearms-related charges in connection from a 2010 incident in which he fired three warning shots at a group of men who set his Ontario home ablaze with firebombs.
Some experts say the ruling by Justice Tory Colvin could have wide-ranging implications for self defence law in Canada.
Thomson described the two-and-a-half-year legal battle as a “horrible ordeal.”
“I firmly believe they wanted to make an example of me, and to put the fear into every Canadian firearm owner that you are not allowed to defend yourself with a firearm,” he said.
In August 2010, 54-year-old Thomson was sleeping in his Port Colborne, Ont., home when he awoke to the sound of Molotov cocktails exploding. Looking outside he saw part of his house and his porch ablaze, and four masked men outside. A former firearms instructor, he quickly unlocked his gun safe, loaded a .38 calibre revolver and stepped outside.
Thomson fired three warning shots, which caused the men to flee, before dousing the flames with a garden hose and calling 911.
When police arrived he was taken into custody, and his collection of firearms – assorted handguns worth over $10,000 – and ammunition were seized and impounded.
Soon thereafter, Crown attorneys charged Thomson with careless use of a firearm. These charges were later dropped, and he was charged with two counts of unsafe storage.
Canada’s leading firearms lawyer Ed Burlew represented Thomson, and said the decision is a significant victory for Canadian gun owners.
“We all have a fundamental right to protect out property and our families,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to defend yourself without fear of prosecution, and I think that’s well established now.”
Crown prosecutors argued Thomson had fallen afoul of safe storage regulations because, on the night of the incident, Thomson had a box of .38 Special ammunition in his bedside table. The judge ruled this was irrelevant, Burlew said, since Thomson’s guns were all securely locked away in a gun safe.
The four men who attacked Thomson were all sentenced to between two and four years incarceration.
Unless the Crown decides to appeal the case, Thomson’s collection of guns must be returned to him within 30 days.
Thomson said he came under intense pressure from police to enter a plea and accept a weapons prohibition, but refused due to his belief he was innocent.
“I would not cut a deal because I did not break the law,” he said. “And – to use a pun – I stuck to my guns.”
Thomson said he racked up about $60,000 in legal costs during the trial, but said much of that was donated by members of the National Firearms Association, the Canadian Sports Shooting Association (CSSA) and readers of the popular pro-firearms online message board CanadianGunNutz.com.
Many messages of support for Thomson were posted on the internet by gun owners following the decision.
“This case is extremely significant and Mr. Thomson's victory is a victory for common sense and freedom for all Canadians,” the CSSA said in a statement.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story, a previous version gave the wrong calibre of the gun used to fire warning shots