Firebombs left ‘no choice,’ homeowner tells gun trial
by Adrian Humphreys
WELLAND — Ian Thomson was jolted awake at 6: 37 a.m. by the sound of explosions; outside his secluded farmhouse, three masked men were hurling fire bombs at his house while one bellowed: “Are you ready to die?”
Mr. Thomson was not.
A former firearms instructor, he instead called out a warning, took one of his several pistols, marched outside in his underwear and fired one shot into the ground and two into the trees in the direction of the men, who scurried away.
He then called 911 and waited more than 10 minutes for police while using a garden hose to douse flames lapping up his front veranda, his .38calibre snub-nose stuffed into his sagging underwear.
The officers did not bring him salvation, however. Mr. Thomson was soon arrested and charged with four gun offenses.
On Monday, after becoming the focus of a national debate over the right of Canadians to defend themselves and the government’s attitude toward gun ownership, Mr. Thomson finally had his date in court.The most serious charges against him – dangerous use of a firearm and pointing a firearm – were quietly dropped by prosecutors in March, when Niagara Crown Attorney Tyler Shuster announced at a preliminary hearing that there was no viable prosecution.
“In Canada, a set of complex rules dictate when and how a person can defend themselves against threats from others. At a trial where self defence is raised, the Crown is required to disprove the defence beyond reasonable doubt,” Mr. Shuster said at the time.
Under the law, someone is justified in using force to repel an unprovoked and unlawful attack when the victim has a reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm. Courts, in previous cases, have settled that a victim under attack cannot be expected to fully reflect on the risk and weigh the exact measure of how much force might be justified.
The Crown cautioned: “This assessment applies to the particular circumstances of this case. Because each case is unique, with widely diverse and sometimes contradictory evidence, no broad policy statement is intended with respect to the use of firearms in the defence of one’s home.”
Prosecutors continue to press two charges of careless storage of a firearm against Mr. Thomson, to which Mr. Thomson pleaded not guilty on Monday.
That the shooting charges were dropped was not surprising. Even a police officer who responded to Mr. Thomson’s home on the outskirts of Port Colborne the morning of the incident on Aug. 22, 2010, was shocked at the violent attack on the house. There was little doubt of danger.
Shown video of the incident, caught on a system of 12 surveillance cameras around Mr. Thomson’s property, the officer saw the prowling masked men; saw them lobbing Molotov cocktails at the windows and doors of the home and at the kennel containing his dogs, one of which was slightly burned. She heard the profanities and threats.
“It was quite astonishing,” Niagara Regional Police Constable Darlene Miller testified.
The attack appears linked to a dispute with a neighbour that had been simmering for several years. When the neighbour’s chickens started coming onto Mr. Thomson’s property, he warned his neighbours and then shot and killed a rooster, court heard.
Even with the reduced charges, Mr. Thomson’s case remains a flashpoint.
More than a dozen supporters were at court; some were friends, others strangers drawn by their interest in gun laws, including representatives of the National Firearms Association.
Flyers were distributed featuring a photograph of Mr. Thomson with the slogan: “We all have an unalienable right to protect our lives,” and calling on the government to enact clear “castle laws” granting citizens the right to protect from trespass and attack while inside their homes.
“This is a perfect example of how a law-abiding person who has been threatened and is under attack and tries to defend himself is being victimized again by these laws that are unjustified,” said Charles Zach, a field officer with the firearms association, outside of court.
“Police are instructed to charge everything they can when it comes to guns,” said the association’s Paul Lepinoy.
The Crown alleges Mr. Thomson had two loaded handguns in his bedside table before the attack.
“In my opinion,” Sergeant Richard Brouwer testified, “the weapons would have had to be readily available to Mr. Thomson,” to get to the door and fire them so quickly.
Mr. Thomson, casually dressed in blue jeans and a golf shirt, took to the stand. He spoke quietly, occasionally stroking his grey Tom Selleck style moustache.
He testified he ran to his locked gun safe to get the weapon to defend himself. He was loading the gun when another firebomb came through his kitchen window.
“At that point, I had no choice,” he said. After his attackers appeared to flee he put out a fire with a hose and went back inside for a second gun, loaded it and put it on the bed.
“I didn’t know how many criminals were out there and whether they were coming back,” he said. “My bedroom was going to be my last line of defence.”
Court watched a video of Mr. Thomson re-enacting his actions during the attack. It took him just 38 seconds to get and load his .38-calibre gun.
Four men were charged with arson following the firebombing. They have not yet faced trial. Last month, a neighbour was charged for harassing Mr. Thomson. That case has similarly not yet gone to court.
Mr. Thomson’s trial continues Tuesday when he will be cross-examined by assistant Crown attorney Robert Mahler.
Source: National Post