Hamilton

Supreme Court to hear appeal in case of Peter Khill, acquitted in shooting ruled self-defence

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal in the case of Peter Khill, a Hamilton-area homeowner who was acquitted after shooting and killing an Indigenous man in his driveway.

The Hamilton-area homeowner was found not guilty in June 2018

Peter Khill was found not guilty of second-degree murder for shooting and killing Jon Styres in February 2016. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal in the case of Peter Khill, a Hamilton-area homeowner who was acquitted after shooting and killing an Indigenous man in his driveway.

Khill's lawyers filed an application to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that overturned their client's not-guilty verdict in the death of Jon Styres based on self-defence and ordered a new trial.

Michael Lacy and Jeff Manishen argued that the Appeal Court's decision "fundamentally" changed self-defence in Canada and leaves homeowners with little option but to call police and cower until they arrive.

On Thursday, the country's highest court released its decision, saying the application for leave to appeal from Khill's legal team had been granted.

Rhonda Johns, Styres's aunt, said the family was disappointed by the decision.

"We were pretty upset. Pretty angry that we have to go through this again," she said.

Lindsay Hill, Styres's partner and the the mother of his two children, echoed a similar sentiment, calling the decision "saddening."

"We are struck by the exceedingly long delay in obtaining justice, but my family and I will continue to move forward and prepare for the Supreme Court hearing," she wrote.

For their part, Khill's legal team released a brief statement saying he "appreciates the opportunity to have the important issues raised by the Court of Appeal's decision further considered by the Supreme Court of Canada."

Khill, who spent several years as a part-time reservist, did not deny he fired the two close-range shotgun blasts that killed Styres, a 29-year-old man from Six Nations of the Grand River, but he pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

He testified at his trial that he was following his military training when he was woken up at about 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016, and saw the lights on in his truck. Court was told he loaded a shotgun and stealthily approached the man who appeared to be stealing his vehicle.

Khill told the jury he fired in self-defence when he yelled, "Hey, hands up!" and Styres turned toward him with his hands moving up to "gun-height." Styres was unarmed.

The jury was tasked with determining whether Khill acted reasonably, given the circumstances.

Khill was found not guilty following a 12-day trial in June 2018.

The Crown appealed that verdict, and the Ontario Cout of Appeal released its unanimous decision in February, saying the trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Khill's conduct leading up to the moment the trigger was pulled and Styres was killed.

That failure "left the jury unequipped to grapple with what may have been a crucial question in the evaluation of the reasonableness of Mr. Khill's act," reads the 48-page decision.

The court overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. That is the decision the Supreme Court will review.

Family hopes for justice

Johns said she spoke with Styres's mother, Debbie Hill, who was frustrated by the news.

"I was disappointed to hear that the appeal is going to hear his side, knowing what his intent was right from the get-go," Johns said, "But there's still hope that our appeal will override that in the future.

We want justice so that it won't happen again to others."

Lindsay Hill also said she's confident the appeal court's decision will be upheld.

"The just result is to have a new and fair trial," she stated.

In their application to the Supreme Court, Khill's lawyers said what their client did in the leadup to the shooting should not change the fact he fired in self-defence.

The arguments, dated April 2020, say that if the Appeal Court's decision is left to stand, it "fundamentally changes the law of self-defence in Canada" and "improperly dilutes legal justification to a shell of its former self."

While one homeowner may flee from danger, another may find it reasonable to confront an intruder and arm himself in defence, they state.

"In the face of the Court of Appeal's interpretation of self-defence, the only reasonable thing to do is call the police, cower in the darkness under our beds and hope help arrives before the criminal invades our home and kills us and our loved ones."

Case closely followed by Indigenous leaders

The trial was closely watched by Indigenous community leaders because it raised similar legal issues to a controversial case in Saskatchewan involving the death of Colten Boushie, a Cree man shot and killed by Gerald Stanley on Stanley's farm in August 2016.

In that case, a not-guilty verdict was reached by a jury without any visibly Indigenous jurors, a decision that led to protests across the country and a pledge from federal ministers and the prime minister to change "systemic issues" in the justice system.

Unlike the Stanley verdict, the 12 people who decided Khill should be acquitted were screened for racial bias and asked whether the fact the accused was white and the victim Indigenous would affect how they viewed evidence.

The trial also heard that race didn't play a role in the shooting itself.

About the Author

Dan Taekema is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: daniel.taekema@cbc.ca

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