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Karen Selick

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The Canadian Man Charged for Defending Himself

Posted: 01/04/2013 5:48 pm

When Ian Thomson moved into his home in rural Port Colborne, Ontario, he quickly learned that he had the proverbial "neighbour from hell," a man with a long criminal record and considerable jail time in his past. Thomson had to call the police on numerous occasions when articles of his property went missing and death threats were made against him. To ensure his safety, he installed several surveillance cameras around his house.

One morning in August, 2010 Thomson awoke to find intruders firebombing his house. To see portions of the surveillance videos, click here.

For more details on the attack, here's what I wrote about this case in the Calgary Herald:

As an experienced firearms instructor, Thomson knew what he had to do. He got his gun out of the safe where it was stored and scared the men off his property by firing over their heads.

Thomson was initially charged with four offences, but two of those (careless use of a firearm and pointing a firearm) were dropped by the Crown when it became obvious that his self-defence argument would succeed. The remaining charges, of unsafe storage of his firearm and ammunition, went to trial. A decision was rendered by Justice Colvin on January 3, 2013. Thomson was found not guilty.

However, his problems may not yet be over. The Crown apparently said even before the decision was rendered that if Thomson were not convicted, the Crown would appeal. It seems the Crown wants Thomson to go to jail for storing his gun and his ammunition in the manner necessary to save his life.

Meanwhile, the four intruders recently pleaded guilty under s. 433 of the Criminal Code ("Arson -- disregard to human life"), an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Two of them got sentences of two years. A third man got sentenced to three years. The fourth man -- the one who can be heard in the surveillance video shouting, "Are you prepared to die?" was sentenced to two years on top of the 29 months he has already spent in jail.

Is it just me, or do those sentences seem wildly disproportionate (i.e. far too lenient) when compared to the Crown's insistence that the victim himself should go to jail for the allegedly unsafe storage of his ammo?

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  • What does this new bill on the gun registry do?

    We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • What exactly is the registry?

    It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.

  • Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?

    No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.

  • What are long guns?

    There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.

  • How many guns are we talking about?

    As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.

  • Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?

    The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.

  • Who wants to keep it?

    Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.

  • When will the registry cease to exist?

    The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.

  • Why does the government want to destroy the records?

    The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.

  • How much does the registry cost?

    The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.

 

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