The shooting death this week of a young man in a rural area near Biggar, Sask., and the subsequent murder charge, has created an intense online debate. Police have released little about the deadly encounter. According to the RCMP, a vehicle with five people drove onto a farm, there was an argument, and then a man inside the vehicle was shot and killed. A man associated with the property is now charged with second-degree murder.
While the debate over what happened rages online, a question that will soon be before the courts has emerged.
‘When there doesn’t appear to be any reasonable alternative, lethal force is no doubt permitted.’– Brian Pfefferle
Do people have a right to protect their property? The short answer is yes, according to a criminal defense lawyer in Saskatoon.
“Individuals have a right to lawfully possess property without interference,” said Saskatoon criminal defense lawyer Brian Pfefferle.
The long answer is a little more complicated.
Courts weigh a number of factors
It’s all about the context, said Pfefferle. The courts, when dealing with a case of someone attempting to defend their property, will look at a number of factors.
“Are these people known to them, or not known to them? Is there a history of violence between them or no history at all? Do the people appear armed or not armed?”
“The word that is most important in all of this is reasonable,” he said
The courts, according to Pfefferle, will look at all the circumstances to determine whether a landowner who defends his or her property has taken actions that any other reasonable person would.
“When there doesn’t appear to be any reasonable alternative, lethal force is no doubt permitted,” said Pfefferle.
Recent Saskatoon case nets no criminal charge
In fact, Saskatoon has seen a recent case where lethal force was used and it did not result in criminal charges.
On March 11, Saskatoon police were called to a house on Preston Ave. S.
Officers found a man badly injured and he was pronounced dead in the hospital shortly after. A woman was taken into custody but later released.
It was determined that the man forced his way into the woman’s suite and “placed her in a position where she was forced to defend herself and her children,” a media release from the Saskatoon Police Service said.
The Crown found that there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction for any death-related offenses.
Pfefferle said he doesn’t envy any person who feels they are under threat and is forced to make a decision about what actions are reasonable. That said, he believes Canada’s law strikes a good balance.
“As a citizen I’m comforted to know that we constantly consider the value judgements we make as a society in terms of setting laws that both protect people and their individual rights but also ensure that we don’t become a land that is governed by vigilantism.”