February 1st, 2011 – Lorne Gunter, National Post
Just when was Ian Thomson guilty of unsafe storage of a firearm? Mr. Thomson is the Port Colborne, Ont., man currently standing trial in a Welland, Ont. courtroom after he and his home were attacked by firebombers in August, 2010. (That’s correct, in the topsy-turvy world of Canadian criminal justice, Mr. Thomson and his home were the ones attacked and yet he is the one on trial.)
Having dropped other more serious charges — such as dangerous use of a firearm — because they concluded there was no reasonable chance of winning a conviction, Crown prosecutors have nonetheless bullied ahead with unsafe storage charges against Mr. Thomson.
One can only speculate on the Crown’s motives, but many prosecutors are so opposed to private citizens owning guns and, especially, using guns to defend themselves, their loved ones or property, that it is easy to believe prosecutors are running Mr. Thomson through the ringer in an attempt to discourage other homeowners from following his lead. They have conceded they cannot get a conviction against the retired crane operator and former firearms instructor for shooting at the three men who were trying to burn down his house with him in it, but perhaps they are hopeful their decision to drag Mr. Thomson through months of emotionally draining and expensive court proceedings will cause other homeowners to conclude armed self-defence isn’t worth the hassle.
But back to my original question: Just when was Ian Thomson guilty of unsafe storage?
Was it when three masked thugs began lobbing Molotov cocktails at his secluded rural home, while also shouting death threats in a pre-dawn assault? That’s when he ran to his locked gun safe, retrieved one of his legally registered pistols and loaded it with ammunition.
Or was he guilty of unsafe storage when one of the bombs set fire to his veranda and another broke through his kitchen window? That’s when he went outside and fired three times — once at the feet and twice over the heads of his attackers — in a successful attempt to ward them off.
Or was he guilty of unsafe storage when he then ran back into his home, got a second locked-up gun, loaded it and left it on his bed? Not knowing whether his attackers would return, he wanted to be sure he was prepared, so he decided to fortify his bedroom as his last line of defence. Was that unsafe in prosecutors’ opinion?
Perhaps prosecutors feel it was unsafe that Mr. Thomson — again, wary that his attackers might come back — tucked the first pistol in the waistband of his pajamas while he went outside and used a garden hose to the extinguish the fire on his porch and another that was burning his dogs’ kennel. Perhaps they believe he should have returned his weapons to their safe before turning on the hose. Let the house burn rather than violate Canada’s obsessive gun laws.
Prosecutors have concocted a theory that Mr. Thomson must have had his two pistols loaded and in his nightstand before the attack began because, to their minds, he never had enough time once the gasoline bombs began raining down to go to his safe, unlock it, remove his pistols, load and fire them.
Recall, though, Mr. Thomson is a former firearms trainer, experienced with the operation and handling of pistols. On Monday he and his lawyer used a video to demonstrate for the court that he was certainly capable of retrieving his guns from safe storage and loading them in the time available. (So much for the Crown’s theory.)
But even if we accept that the Crown’s version is not merely a desperate, hole-riddled stretch-of-the-imagination to justify its 17-month persecution of an innocent man, what would have been unsafe about keeping a gun in a bedside table in an area where police admit it can take 15 minutes or longer to respond to emergency calls?
The safe-storage provisions of the Criminal Code — passed at the same time the gun registry was made law — are so poorly drafted that they permit prosecutors to go after any gun owner who so much as takes his firearm out of its case to admire it. Few unsafe-storage charges stick; judges tend to throw them out. So they have largely become bludgeons prosecutors can use to intimidate lawful gun owners.
Just ask Ian Thomson.