By Laurie Papineau
After 10 days and two scheduled Show Cause hearings, Bruce Montague was still waiting to find out if he would be released from jail on Tuesday.
The Dryden gunsmith and Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association (CUFOA) member was charged with a number of weapons related offences on Sept. 11 after openly refusing to register his firearms in an act of ongoing non-compliance with Bill C-68.
After a search warrant was executed on the family's property, Montague was facing four charges, including two counts of unauthorized possession of firearms and careless storage of a firearm; failure to use reasonable care with an explosive and unlawful possession of an explosive. His wife Donna was charged with unauthorized possession of a firearm and careless storage.
However, by the time Montague appeared at bail court for a Show Cause hearing in Dryden on Sept. 15, the number of weapons related charges against him had grown to at least half a dozen.
The hearing was halted when Montague decided against defending himself, but not until the Crown's first witness had provided details of what was found during the search of the family's home.
At least 55 firearms, numerous rounds of ammunition, and six sticks of dynamite in the family freezer were among the items OPP Det. Const. Randy Belluz said were seized from the home. This led the police officer to later describe Montague's character as "paranoid."
This comment angered supporters and family members who made note of the fact that it's not unusual for a gunsmith and firearms collector to possess these items, adding that the dynamite was used for clearing a beaver dam and many of the guns found at that time belonged to customers.
The Dryden man had dozens of supporters in court for the hearing, many who had little, if anything, to do with firearms. Most of them expressed relief that Montague would enlist professional help in his bid to get out of jail.
For a second attempt at the Show Cause hearing in Kenora on Sept. 20, the family had retained the services of Thornhill, ON lawyer Edward Burlew.
Burlew, an avid hunter, shooter and gun collector, has traveled all over Ontario in his 25 years of practice, and has handled a number of weapons related offences he calls "paper crimes."
"The majority of my clients are middle aged, hard working families who have had a break-in, fire or medical emergency at their homes, and end up with charges against them after the police come in and see a firearm," says Burlew. "This tells me that gun owners are at high risk of getting into trouble with the law."
After going over the details of Montague's case, the lawyer says what his client is facing is "paper non-compliance charges."
"Bruce has some very strong constitutional arguments on his side," he notes. "We're going to take this as far as we can."
Montague's team is hoping to prove that these charges under Bill C-68, constitute a violation of his rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Charter. That may mean a trip to the Supreme Court, but Burlew says his client is prepared for the battle.
Many supporters who made the trip to Kenora, hoping to watch that battle begin were disappointed when Crown attorney Peter Keen and Burlew came to an agreement involving Montague's release without ever stepping foot in the courtroom.
At the end of the day, the gunsmith agreed to divulge the location and safe entry of a secret room in the family home - a room not found during the initial 36-hour search.
On the evening of Sept. 20, a second search warrant was executed at the Montague's property, and pending the location of numerous firearms still believed to be in his possession, Montague was to be released in Sioux Lookout bail court on Sept. 21.
As of press time, however, the Crown was waiting for the police report on the second search and indicating that there may be "additional concerns."
In the meantime, several Dryden supporters have set up a fund called the 'Bruce Montague Scrap C-68 Fund' to help the family with legal expenses.
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