Saturday, 24 March 2012

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Canadians have a common law right to defend themselves, their family, and their property. This includes using reasonable force to protect oneself from physical harm. But this right – surely a fundamental, natural right immune from government interference – is being eroded and is under attack.

Ian Thomson, a Port Colbourne, Ontario resident, defended his life with a handgun – only to be charged later with three Criminal Code offences. He goes on trial January 30th and 31st.


Thomson, a target shooter and former firearms instructor, was awakened to the sound of shouted profanity and breaking glass early one August morning. Three masked men had come onto his land with Molotov cocktails and were firebombing his home while he slept. The highly agitated and aggressive intruders ignited Thomson’s front porch and dog kennel. They appeared bent on murder.

Thomson responded by doing two things: he phoned emergency services, and he retrieved a legally registered and properly secured firearm. Thomson exited his burning home and discharged the firearm two or three times to drive off his attackers.

Twenty-two minutes after being contacted, the police arrived. In the interim, Thomson dowsed the fires that the masked intruders had ignited. He had clearly prevented his own murder, yet Crown attorneys charged him with careless use of a firearm, careless storage of a firearm, and pointing a firearm.

There are at least three reasons why these charges are morally indefensible.

First, Thomson had no other viable alternative courses of action. He could not have awaited police assistance inside a burning home. He could not have negotiated with the intruders. He could not have fled unarmed without exposing himself to a potentially lethal attack and permitting the continued destruction of his home. Thomson took the most reasonable course of action. And he conducted himself in a manner that injured no one and damaged nothing.

Second, the Criminal Code provisions under which Thomson was charged clearly state that no criminal act has been committed if someone uses, stores, or points a firearm with a “lawful excuse”. The Criminal Code does not define “lawful excuse”, leaving the courts to decide what qualifies on a case-by-case basis. Surely even the Crown Attorneys who charged Thomson recognize that “lawful excuse” must include preventing your own murder.

Third, there is no question or doubt that Canadians have the right to defend themselves from violent attack. Contrary to popular wisdom, the State does not andshould not have a monopoly on the use of force. When you have a reasonable apprehension that someone is about to cause physical harm to you, your family, or your property, you have legal authority to use as much physical force as reasonably required to repel the attacker.

What is considered reasonable can only be determined by the particular facts and circumstances you are facing. This includes the nature and seriousness of the attack, the relative size and strength of the attackers, the number of attackers, and when and where the attack is occurring. Further, a person undergoing an attack is not expected to measure with exactitude or nicety the power of his blows.


Now apply this to Ian Thomson. He was asleep at home alone. He was violently attacked by three masked men intent on burning his house down with him in it. He could have shot to kill, yet he chose a reasonable and morally acceptable course of action. He chose to deter and defend, and to cause no harm.

The Crown has dropped the careless use and pointing charges, but the fact that the charges were laid at all indicates that something has gone seriously awry. The charges effectively victimize Thomson. They imply that he should have remained idle while his life was threatened. This turns both common sense and our moral inclinations on their heads. Thomson was a victim, not a perpetrator. He suffered a violent attack only to face criminal sanction for defending himself. This shifts the moral blame to a victim who should not be expected to have done otherwise.

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