Self-defence is not vigilantism. Get over it.
by Matt Gurney
There have been many high-profile news stories over the last several years that have featured Canadians using a firearm against a criminal assault. And while most of us will never need to do the same, it’s at least theoretically possible enough for it to be an issue of public concern. The law must contain provisions for scenarios that are plausible, even if they are not likely on a day-to-day basis.
The Conservatives have pledged to address the concerns of Canadians by revisiting and revamping Canada’s complex and convoluted laws concerning self-defence. In meetings on Wednesday concerning the proposed Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act, Attorney-General Rob Nicholson was asked by a Tory MP if firing a warning shot during a confrontation was a legitimate act of self-defence, or, as the Crown sometimes contends, unlawful discharge of a firearm. “I think it is [legitimate self-defence],” the Attorney-General replied.
Cue much outrage from Liberal interim leader Bob Rae. Firing a warning shot isn’t self defence, says he. It’s encouraging Canadians to be vigilantes!
The issue of firing a warning shot is surprisingly (and needlessly) complex. Canadians are permitted to use reasonable force to protect themselves, including lethal force, if necessary. The courts are even decent enough to provide some leeway for citizens who are attacked — it has long been recognized that a citizen who is afraid for their life might not make the best decisions, and might use more force than is strictly necessary because they are terrified by the threat (perceived or actual) to their lives. In short, you can’t be expected to make perfect, rational decisions while under attack.
But the issue of whether a warning shot constitutes self-defence is unclear. Firing into the air or ground is not force used to “repel” an attack and is therefore arguably not self-defence in a technical sense. But most Canadians — including the Attorney-General, apparently — would no doubt agree that firing a warning shot is not only legitimate self-defence, but is preferable to shooting a person. It adds a final step a citizen can take before having to make the terrible decision to cause injury, perhaps death, to another human being. The Attorney-General is entirely right to support including warning shots under the scope of lawful self-defence, and the law should be clarified to make that point clear (though it must be equally clear that someone firing a warning shot needs to be cognizant of the danger a stray bullet or blast of pellets can pose — every Canadian gun owner would agree that’s only common sense).
But Bob Rae is having none of it. He couldn’t “imagine what the minister of justice is thinking at the moment,” he told reporters. “Not everybody is William Tell,” he said, referring to the legendary marksman. “We don’t want to encourage vigilante responses from people.” Firing a gun over someone’s head, Mr. Rae somewhat unnecessarily pointed out, is dangerous.
No doubt. But it’s not vigilantism. Self-defence never is. And I can’t imagine what the Liberal leader was thinking when he suggested otherwise.
No, wait, sorry. I can. Mr. Rae was channeling the belief common among Canada’s leftists that self-defence is by itself illegitimate. It was a member of Mr. Rae’s own party, Allan Rock, who originally said that defending the public was the job of the police, not the citizen … even when the police aren’t there and might still be a long time coming. While the Liberals and other progressives might grudingly concede, when pressed, that sometimes, self-defence can’t be avoided, they prefer to pretend that Canada works differently than that. Citizens can either run and hide from an attacker (or surrender and hope for the best) or the police can arrest the attacker. Anything else is, they believe (even if they won’t say it) vigilantism.
Nonsense. Canadians have a long-standing right to protect themselves, their loved ones and their homes, using whatever force, and whatever weapons, are reasonable and necessary. Anyone under attack should of course call for help from the police, but if the police are not there, and action is necessary, then Canadians legally can, and morally should, take action. If firing a warning shot lets them protect themselves without having to kill someone else, that’s something every Canadian, regardless of political affiliation, should encourage.
Mr. Rae’s comments show plainly why Canada so desperately needs to revamp its self-defence laws. The line between what is legitimate self-defence and vigilantism must be drawn so clearly that not even grandstanding politicians can fail to see the difference.
Original source: National Post