Credits: DAVE JOHNSON/ QMI Agency
All Canadians should be relieved that Ian Thomson of Port Colborne, Ont. was acquitted last week on trumped-up charges that he failed to store his firearms safely.
Thomson’s was as clear a case of self-defence as there could be. So Ontario prosecutors determination to put him behind bars can only be judged as an ideologically driven attempt to extinguish ordinary citizens’ right to protect themselves, their homes and loved ones from attack.
In late August 2010, Thomson was awakened by a pre-dawn commotion outside his rural home. When he looked out, he saw a group of masked men lobbing Molotov cocktails at his house and shouting death threats. Police later determined the attack was the result of a long-simmering property dispute between Thomson and a neighbour.
Thomson called 9-1-1 as one of the firebombs crashed through his kitchen window. Then the retired crane operator, who is also a trained firearms instructor and licensed handgun owner, retrieved a pistol and a revolver (both legally registered) from his gun safe.
He loaded both, left the more powerful pistol on his bed and went outside with the revolver, which he used to fire three warning shots — one into his lawn and two into the air. His attackers ran off.
When police arrived, Thomson’s pistol was still on his bed and his revolver was tucked in the waist band of his pajamas as he used a garden hose to put out a fire on his veranda.
Because of the ongoing property dispute, Thomson had installed security cameras around his property. So he was able to give the police video files of the attack.
You might think that would have been the end of it. Officers would give Thomson a pat on the back for the quick action that saved his home and possibly his life.
But when police saw that Thomson had used guns to deter his attackers, they charged him with pointing a firearm, careless use of a firearm and two counts of unsafe storage. Indeed, the charges against Thomson were issued even before his attackers were charged.
Realizing they were unlikely to make the pointing and careless use charges stick, Crown attorneys quickly dropped both. But they pursued the unsafe storage cases with fervour for more than two years. So now Thomson is out of pocket nearly $60,000 for legal fees.
The true tragedy is, he should never have been charged in the first place. Not only was he entirely justified in preserving his own life and home, neither statute nor case law in Canada makes it a crime to have your guns out of your gun safe when you are home — even if your house is not under attack.
The zeal of Crown attorneys in Thomson’s case goes way beyond prosecution. It is persecution, pure and simple.
As in the case of Toronto green grocer David Chen who was arrested in 2009 for forcibly detaining a shoplifter until police could arrive (i.e. performing a citizen’s arrest), this case shows that the professionals in the criminal justice system don’t like competition from regular folks. They see citizens who defend themselves as greater threats to public safety than the criminals themselves.
In Chen’s case, the Crown even made a deal with the criminal, Anthony Bennett, in return for his testimony against Chen.
Thomson’s acquittal does not completely restore citizens’ right to self-defence. It will take years to remove the mistrust of citizen action that has built up in the legal system.
But at least Ian Thomson is no longer being harassed and the rest of us are a bit freer, too.