By Christopher di Armani
In 2003 Dryden, Ontario gunsmith Bruce Montague set out to get arrested for violating Canada's Firearms Act. His intention was to challenge the law's constitutionality in court.
He protested on Parliament Hill on January 1, 2003, placing a placard of defiance at the doors of Parliament. That summer he traveled across Canada with members of the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association and protested in every provincial capital, and at the Canadian Firearms Centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick.
Bruce and the others presented evidence of their clear, flagrant and continued violations of the Firearms Act to the Sergeant at Arms of each provincial parliament and to the Prime Minister's office in Ottawa. They were ignored.
On September 11, 2004 Bruce Montague was at the Dryden Gun Show purchasing a horse saddle for his then 12-year-old daughter Katey. Six Ontario Provincial Police officers surrounded him and after a brief discussion, dragged him outside. His young daughter cried as she watched her dad be hauled away. When his wife Donna arrived at the show to pick up Katey, she was arrested and charged as well. While Donna was released immediately, Bruce was held in jail for eleven days while the Ontario Provincial Police executed two search warrants on his home and property to locate his firearms.
When he was finally released, he was not required to post bond of any kind, despite his facing 53 charges of violating Canada's licensing and registration scheme.
A year later the Crown applied for and received a "Seizure Order" for the Montague family home and property. They did this under Ontario's Proceeds of Crime legislation, legislation written to combat drug dealers and organized crime.
At first glance this may appear to be no big deal, but for two reasons this event is incredibly chilling. First, the government showed no hesitation in using legislation designed for one purpose for a most draconian and different one. Second, the house seizure effectively killed the Montague's defense. Equity in their home and 160 acre property, which they own outright, could no longer be used to help finance their legal challenge.
Bruce Montague had pulled together a team of dedicated individuals to help coordinate his defense, and secondarily to help raise funds for the case. The seizure of his home forced him and his case management team to find other ways to finance the Charter Challenge. Katey, Bruce's daughter, found her own way to help raise awareness of the case using the video sharing service YouTube.com. ( http://youtube.com/KateysFirearmsFacts )
Fund-raising events were held at gun clubs across the country, mass mailing campaigns were mounted and the website ( http://www.BruceMontague.ca ) became a repository of information about the case. Every news article published anywhere was duplicated there, and a financial report was posted and updated monthly so people would know how much had been raised and how much more money is required to complete the Charter Challenge.
All of this work was designed to educate Canadians about the Montague case and to bring out the facts about Bruce, the charges he faced, in order to counteract the government's smear campaign against Bruce.
The Crown, from the very beginning, attempted to paint Bruce Montague as a menace to society. Press releases from the Dryden OPP detachment stressed how serious the charges were against Mr. Montague and made a big deal about the numbers and kinds of guns seized. Many of the charges centered around the government's desire to paint Bruce as a deranged and dangerous man. These charges contained the phrase "for a purpose dangerous to the public peace". The Crown stated repeatedly that they sought a lengthy prison term for this so-called dangerous offender, despite the fact he was released with no bail or bond.
Fortunately the Dryden community knew the Montague family well and never bought into the Crown's assertions. The Montague’s are a Christian family and attend worship services in Dryden every Sunday. They volunteer countless hours every month for charity work. Bruce and Katey are a strong part of the area's theater community, with Bruce being active in every facet of producing local theater plays.
On October 22, 2007 Montague finally got his day in court. The first stage was the Charter Challenge. Bruce believes the Firearms Act violates his Charter rights as guaranteed under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms and he was eager to have the opportunity to prove it.
On October 25, after a four-day hearing, Ontario Superior Court Justice John Wright reserved his judgment, saying he would hand down a ruling on the Constitutional issues before Bruce and Donna Montague's criminal trial, scheduled to begin in a few weeks.
On November 6, 2007 Justice Wright said in his ruling, in part:
"While Canadians have many rights, not all of them are fundamental rights which are guaranteed by the Charter. Even Blackstone noted that at Common Law the right to possess firearms was not an absolute right but an auxiliary right. ...
"It is clear that Parliament has always legislated to regulate that right and that this is not a fundamental right which is protected by the Charter."
While he also wrote that,
"Canadians have an undoubted right of self defence, and that they have a right to use firearms for self defence in appropriate circumstances"
he still ruled that Canadians have no Constitutional right to own firearms for self-defense.
Justice Wright, in a carefully worded judgment, struck down Montague's Charter Challenge and ensured the Montague’s' criminal trial would move forward.
On November 13, 2007 jury selection began for the criminal trial. Empanelling the jury was more difficult than expected. Dozens of prospective jurors said they could not be impartial, and that they admired Bruce Montague for the stand he has taken against the Firearms Act. Since the prospective jurors felt Montague had done nothing wrong, they would not be able to convict him.
As a result, over thirty prospective jurors were excused from jury duty because of their strong views on the Firearms Act and their approval of Bruce Montague's civil disobedience.
It is unfortunate that these individuals were unwilling to stand for jury duty. Had they chosen to stay on the jury and to judge both the law and the accused (jury nullification) as is their right, it would have made an interesting verdict. However, musing in this direction is just that, a fantasy best left for another day.
While originally slated for two weeks, the criminal trial lasted twice that long. During that time the Crown changing the wording of Montague's charges three times. The last change, ordered by Justice Wright himself, came on Monday, December 3, after the defense had already rested and could no longer present any evidence.
It is more than a little mind-boggling how a man can defend himself when the charges against him change constantly during the course of his trial. When the final change comes after he can no longer enter any defense at all is beyond comprehension. Throughout the trial Justice Wright refused to allow evidence of Bruce's civil disobedience, and in his charge to the jury, explained that Bruce's civil disobedience was not a valid defense to the charges he faced.
Despite that bizarre series of changes, the case was handed to the jury for deliberation and Bruce and Donna Montague, along with defense lawyer Douglas Christie, tried to be patient as they waited for the jury's verdict.
The jury took only two days to return a verdict. The results, while not what Bruce Montague had prayed for, were much better than he expected. The jury refused to convict Bruce on any of charges that said he was a "danger to public peace". He was convicted of not having a license, not having registration certificates for his firearms, and for "defacing a serial number".
Six charges were given a directed verdict of not guilty including careless storage, three dealing with a loaded gun and another for an explosive substance not reasonably stored. The judge ordered the directed verdict because the Crown had failed to present any evidence in relation to those charges.
He was convicted, however, on all charges under sections 91(1) and 92(1), possessing non-restricted and restricted firearms "without being the holder of a license under which he may possess them".
The jury's decision is interesting for many reasons. The Crown, having spent over three years building a case on how dangerous Mr. Montague is, failed to convince the jury of their position. Indeed, the judge ordered directed verdicts of not guilty on many of those charges, stating the Crown had not proven their case.
That Montague was convicted for failing to have a license to possess his firearms is good, as this is the only way Bruce's constitutional challenge can move forward in the Canadian legal system. Had he been found not guilty on all counts, he would no longer have what in our legal system is called "standing". The only way Montague could appeal Justice Wright's decision in the constitutional trial was for him to be convicted of at least one charge.
Bruce and Donna Montague will be sentenced in Kenora, Ontario on March 17, 2008. Justice Wright has ordered a pre-sentence report be completed by a probation officer before that date.
After more than three years Bruce Montague's path through Canada's legal system has finally completed its first step.
But that is all it is, the very first step. They now face a series of very costly appeals. The work continues, both inside the courtroom and on the streets, where the Montague family continues to raise funds for their defense.
As for Bruce, it's on to the next step.
He and lawyer Doug Christie will now appeal the Charter ruling and his criminal convictions to Ontario's Supreme Court.
If you want more information about the current state of the Montague case or if you can donate funds to help defend Canadians' inherent right to own and use firearms for self-defense, please visit http://www.BruceMontague.ca.
Christopher di Armani is a freelance writer and filmmaker who resides in Lytton, BC, Canada, with his wife Lynda and their two dogs, Koda and Tuco. Christopher can be contacted at christopher(at)diArmani.com or http://www.diArmani.com.
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It is NOT an official mouth-piece for Bruce
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