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Friday, September 19, 2014

Ontario Court of Appeal orders new trial in careless use of rifle case with possible significance to farmers

The Ontario Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial in a careless use of firearms case that may have implications for farmers.  A resident of a rural area near St. Thomas, Ontario led a wandering dog across the road to another property and then fired a gun to scare the dog off.  Witnesses heard the shot and notified police; a charge was laid for careless use of a firearm.  At trial, the Court convicted the resident on the basis that the location of the shot, beside the road and in close proximity to neighbouring inhabited properties, was inherently dangerous, particularly given that the purpose of the shot was to scare the dog.  The conviction was upheld by the summary conviction appeal judge.

On further appeal, the Court of Appeal set aside the conviction, ruling that the trial judge and the summary conviction appeal judge both erred in concluding that firing a shot in the rural environment, whatever the manner in which the shot was fired, necessarily amounted to a careless use of the firearm.  Firing a shot in that manner did not necessarily amount to a marked departure from the conduct of a reasonable person (which is the test for a finding of careless use).  The Court noted that the generality of the findings of the trial judge could have a broader significance relating to permissible farm practices, and granted leave to appeal on this basis (before allowing the appeal outright).

The conviction could not be sustained because there was no finding by the Court as to the manner in which the rifle in question was used or as to the trajectory of the projectile.  The Court suggested that there may have been any number of ways in which the shot could have been fired that might have posed no risk to others.  This was a shot fired in a rural area, not a shot fired in a shopping mall where the shot would automatically be inherently dangerous.  A new trial was necessary.

Read the decision at: R. v. Batty.