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Op-Ed: What self-defence rights? Toronto man stabs burglar, gets charged

By Paul Wallis     Sep 1, 2012 in Crime
Toronto - A Toronto resident has been charged with aggravated assault after stabbing an intruder. The law in this case is very blurry, and a lot of heat is being generated by the argument about the rights of people to defend themselves.
The burglar has admitted unlawful entry. The legal tangle starts with what followed when the residents found him.
The Toronto Star report indicates that this case isn’t quite as open and shut as it might seem:
Johnson “gained access by unknown means” to the Walsh residence, and once inside, “one of the victims armed himself for safety,” Crown attorney David Fisher said, reading from an agreed statement of facts.
A “struggle ensued,” and Johnson received a stab wound to his chest and lacerations to his hand and leg, Fisher said.
Johnson’s lawyer, Jason Forget, told court his client almost died from his injuries.
Johnson also stated that he attempted to explain his presence, and described the accused as “crazy”. He says he received initial wounds on the hand followed by a second attack in which he was stabbed in “the chest or leg”.
The resident accused of aggravated assault claims he acted in self-defence.
Messy law
The debate over the charges is the real issue. Have a look at this mess as a legal situation:
The defendant’s lawyer, quite rightly points out that his client was acting in accordance with a quite believable apprehension about the situation’s possibilities:
“We give people like this medals, not criminal records,” Brown said in an interview this week. The intruder “may have been armed or may have been violent or had accomplices. My client acted appropriately, under the circumstances.”
Fair point. There could be no way of the accused knowing whether the intruder was armed. Many domestic robberies do involve weapons and assaults on residents.
Under these circumstances the court is expected to decide whether “excessive” force was used. This is a virtual impossibility in terms of legal principles. If you’re under the impression that your life may be at risk, what’s a “reasonable” amount of force? What are the alternatives?
Was ringing the police a reasonable or safe option? Were the residents worried about making noise which attracted attention from the intruder/intruders? Could the resident assume that the intruder was harmless?
The fact remains that the intruder received a serious injury. The law gets even more untidy at this point:
Any injury which would actually debilitate a potentially dangerous intruder could be construed as serious and a basis for criminal charges of aggravated assault. Reality tends to get in the way of any One Size Fits All approach:
Some intruders aren’t exactly easy to stop with a punch on the nose.
Some may be using drugs that make them very aggressive, like ice or very unpredictable, like crack.
If an intruder is armed, anyone trying to apprehend or disable a potentially threatening intruder would have to use a lot of force, and therefore incur a penalty, under this argument.
So a resident obliged to use a lot of force would effectively have to prove their innocence, based on whatever circumstances apply. The requirement to prove that the force wasn’t excessive is an own goal for the law in these cases. The exact opposite of the assumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Since when are burglars sacred?
The global community, which has now been putting up with burglary as a universal free lunch at its expense for decades, might not be so sympathetic to “charge the resident” under these circumstances. These are the people who also force them to buy expensive security systems and add that extra bit of paranoia we all appreciate so much in this happy world.
(These security system sales people are just as intrusive as any burglar. They’re disgusting and obnoxious. I had some people trying to sell me security stuff. They came up with a hypothetical “what if someone broke in” scenario. I said that’d be their bad luck. They then said something about getting “stabbed where you can’t walk again”.
After a few more equally pleasant examples they were risking their own lives with that sort of sleazy, child-psychology sales crap. I was getting very annoyed, as well as insulted. They eventually got the message and went back to hell, but it took a while to convince them their pathetic sales spiel wasn’t working. It was obviously a standard pitch. Not impressive, and indicative of a culture which is exploiting crime commercially.)
Nor is the law exactly making people feel safe. The mere fact that burglars sometimes get arrested and jailed is no compensation for loss, possible personal risk or breach of home security. It’s no compensation for feeling under constant threat from the criminal culture this idiot society promotes in media and in fact. The law is also obviously no deterrent at all to career criminals.
Why is the law assuming that burglars, home invaders, rapists and other scumbags are somehow Safe For Baby on principle? How is anyone supposed to know what’s an “appropriate” level of force? It’s quite impossible.
Frankly, my own reaction wouldn’t be any different to that of the accused. Too bad for the burglar, but I’m not a social worker. I wouldn’t wait around to see if it was a nice burglar or not. I can’t say I would give a damn about any sort of law under those circumstances.
Now the question-
If it’s a choice between legal theory and survival when someone breaks in, do people have any options?
Suggestion for the law and order nuts- Grow up. This isn’t Disneyland. If you’re so damn fired up about law and order, be thankful more people don’t get the message and start breaking the laws simply because nobody else seems to take them seriously.
You want law and order, let’s see some justice and realism. People are sick of being treated like idiots for obeying the law. The same legal system which has made life a holiday camp for organised crime, gangs and slavers is in no logical position to start convicting the public for trying to defend itself.
Whatever the outcome of this case, let’s see some sanity. What’s the reasonable interpretation of a break-in? A risk, perhaps a serious one. About time that got a mention in the statutes, too.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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