When all else fails, charge gun owners with “unsafe storage” charges

It’s the default position for police forces across Canada when faced with law-abiding Canadians who own firearms.  Seize their firearms and charge the owner with “unsafe storage of firearms” charges.

It’s also the absurd method the Toronto Police Services (TPS) is currently using to deal with 76-year-old Henry Barnes, aka “Johnny Sombrero”.

Barnes has been an avid firearm collector his whole life.  He has no criminal record.  He legally owns all the firearms seized by the TPS.

“My dad gave me my first gun when I was seven years old, a .22, and the police have it right now,” Sombrero testified Friday.

Barnes was the head of the Black Diamond Riders motorcycle club, and even though he headed that group for decades, he has no criminal record. How could he?

He legally owns a large number of firearms.  He has a firearms license.  He’s passed all the background checks from the RCMP in order to get that license.  He stores his firearm collection according to the law.

So why was his apartment raided in January 2010 by dozens of police ?

That seems unclear.

Barnes had just undergone triple-bypass heart surgery, so he was already in a weakened condition.

Unless they were complete morons, the Toronto Police Services raid team would have known this.

That didn’t stop one of the TCP yahoos from tossing him to the ground and jumping on his chest, a move that broke his ribs.

Since he was “a dangerous, legally-licensed firearm owner”, he was held at gunpoint for about the next five hours as police tore his home apart and seized his possessions.


Well, for starters, innocent until proven guilty in a court of law seems to have lost favour in our society.  Firearm owners are obviously guilty of something, right?  They own guns!  Who cares about the background checks they’ve got to pass?  Certainly not our current crop of police.

But why such casual use of “safe storage” charges?  It’s kind of the “catch-all” or default police and prosecutors use when they can’t find anything actually illegal to charge someone with.

I’ve seen it so many times across Canada that I’ve lost count.  The latest disgusting case that comes to mind prior to Henry Barnes would be Port Colborne resident Ian Thomson who, after defending his very life with a fiream against three masked thugs who were trying to burn his house down with him inside it, has been charged with “unsafe storage” and “dangerous use of a firearm.”

This is beyond absurd.  If an inmate inside a maximum security prison can use a concealed weapon to kill another inmate according the the Supreme Court of Canada (R. v. Kerr, [2004] 2 S.C.R. 371, 2004 SCC 44), then why can’t a man with no criminal record and legally owned firearms defend his life against three men actively trying to murder him?

Why should that man face any criminal charges at all?

He shouldn’t.

It makes absolutely no sense to any rational, thinking human being, but our police and crown prosecutors don’t seem willing to use rational thought or common sense much these days.  Our society as a whole suffers as a result.

The problem in these cases, the “unsafe storage” cases, is this:

The term “storage” has never been legally defined by a judge in a court of law. Allan Carlos of Whitehorse went to the Supreme Court in 2002 to get that very question answered.  The Supreme Court refused to answer it, preferring instead to simply say “guilty on all counts” but never ever addressing the critical grounds of why he was being found guilty.

The current regulations use terms like “reasonable” and “secure“, but there is no specification of what those terms really mean.  Who gets to define “reasonable” or “secure“?  Clearly not law-abiding firearm owners like Henry Barnes, aka “Johnny Sombrero”.  He’d already met all the conditions spelled out in law as best he could.

It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of the prosecution’s case.

It’s also a ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars, police resources, and court time.


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