Now the government wants his house too: Bruce Montague lost his challenge of Canada’s criminal forfeiture laws
by Joseph Brean
A northwestern Ontario gunsmith who protested Canada’s firearms licensing regime by letting his own permit slip, leading to a police raid on his family’s log cabin, has lost his challenge of Canada’s criminal forfeiture laws — and now he might also lose the house.
Bruce Montague, 55, has already served more than half a year in jail, after a jury convicted him on 26 firearms charges, including removing serial numbers, lacking a licence, and altering automatic weapons.
In a ruling Tuesday, the Ontario Court of Appeal further ruled against Mr. Montague’s challenge of the Criminal Code’s automatic forfeiture provisions, under which a judge had ordered most of his “arsenal” — 200 items including dynamite, submachine guns, sawn off shotguns, assault rifles with over capacity magazine, silencers, night vision goggles and bullet proof vests — should become the property of Ontario.
The appeal court even increased the number of items that must be forfeited, seizing his ammunition.
“I broke the law, I did it on purpose. What I was challenging was the law wasn’t valid in the first place,” said Mr. Montague in an interview Tuesday night. He said he will likely appeal, as “it’s hard to turn and walk away from [a value of] over $100,000.” He said he is “penniless,” but that there was a more basic principle at stake than money.
“Don’t we all have equal rights to our life, and should we not have equal opportunity to defend that life?” he said. “I’m not advocating anarchy. I’m not wanting to prepare for insurrection. I’m a real rules-oriented type of guy, and that’s why I got so incensed at these gun laws that seemed intentionally devised to disarm the good people of this country.”
Marni Soupcoff, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which represented Mr. Montague in court, said the ruling is “a significant loss for Canadian property rights, the rule of law, and a hard-working, principled family bullied by the federal government.
“Bruce did his time for his victimless crime, but it seems the government won’t be satisfied until he’s lost everything he’s worked for.’’
Separately, the province is also seeking to seize his home — a log cabin he built himself near Dryden, Ont. — on the grounds that it is the proceeds or instrument of unlawful activity, but that case has not yet been heard.
Lawyers for the province speculated about marijuana cultivation in their civil forfeiture claim, based on literature found and a secret heated room.
“I’m amazed at some of these stories they concoct. I don’t even use the stuff. There was none of that going on,” Mr. Montague said, and he mocked their obsessive focus on his secret underground storage room. “There’s nothing illegal about having a secure area.”
In their defence to that claim, the Montagues argue the seized items “were at one time legal and properly within [the Montagues’] power and control. They were never used for any criminal or nefarious purpose…”
Mr. Montague, who operated Monty’s Gunsmithing, has long been an outspoken activist for gunowners rights. For example, he once stripped to his underwear when asked to go through a metal detector at court. As he put it at his criminal trial, “All the firearms were legally my property,” he said. “I have a right to that property for the rest of my life.”
His initial protest a decade ago was in solidarity with the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association, which arose over government plans to create a gun registry.
Mr. Montague let his firearms acquisition certificate expire in 2003, and Mrs. Montague’s followed the next year. The raid was in September, 2004, when Mr. Montague was arrested at a Dryden gun show, and spent 10 days in jail, until he pointed police to the cache of firearms “and related devices,” many kept in an hidden underground storage room, accessed by pushing a nail into a knot of pine board wall. There were also boxes of military books, including current operational manuals.
The house even has a shooting tunnel hidden behind a cupboard, allowing the testing of firearms without being seen from outside, and a lathe the Crown believed was for making silencers.
‘Bruce did his time for his victimless crime, but it seems the government won’t be satisfied until he’s lost everything’
Mr. Montague was sentenced to 18 months in jail, of which he served seven, 90 days served in community, and a year’s probation. Mrs. Montague got a suspended sentence, and six months probation.
“The evidence at trial established that Mr. Montague believed himself to be preparing to defend himself, and others, in the event of a war,” according to an earlier ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal, dismissing his appeal of his sentence.
In Tuesday’s ruling, the court said that the harsh forfeiture, which amounts to Mr. Montague’s life savings, was “proportionate to the number of weapons involved. In this case, the weapons did not get into the hands of more dangerous individuals. However, [Mr. Montague] had sawed the identifying numbers off of some of the firearms and he had made others into automatic weapons. The situation could have been much more dangerous had these weapons found their way into the hands of criminals who were prepared to use them,” the court ruled.
Ms. Soupcoff said the province earlier offered Mr. Montague a settlement of a $50,000 payment, on condition of signing and a gag order, which he refused.
Original web source: National Post