Firing warning shots OK in some cases, minister says

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson came under fire in question period after telling a House committee it's reasonable under some circumstances to fire warning shots.

Justice Minister says firing warning shots sometimes reasonable

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told a House committee Tuesday it's reasonable under some circumstances to fire warning shots, drawing fire of his own in question period Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson defended himself in the House of Commons Thursday after he said it's reasonable under some circumstances to fire warning shots at trespassers.

Testifying Tuesday at the House Justice committee about his bill on citizen's arrests, Nicholson said firing a warning shot is okay in some cases.

Conservative MP Brian Jean said he has some constituents who have seen people steal their recreational vehicles or other property, and fired warning shots at them.

"I know that currently the use of force to protect property in one’s possession is the current worry, but would a person be able to undertake self-defence by using a firearm?" Jean said to Nicholson Tuesday.

"People have used firearms, shot in the air or shot around the people. Would that be a reasonable use of defence in the circumstances?"

"I think it is," Nicholson replied.

"I mean, every case is decided on its own but the individual who — as people are for instance coming onto their property, stealing or destroying or trying to take possession of their property — the individual who wields, shows a firearm, again, it’s what is reasonable under the circumstances.

"If someone is trying to steal your notebook, you don’t have a right to shoot that person because that is obviously and patently unreasonable."

Bill C-26, the citizen's arrest bill, would authorize an owner or authorized person, like a store employee, to arrest a suspected criminal within a "reasonable amount of time" after committing an offence.

Under the proposed law, the authority to make a citizen's arrest would only apply if a police officer is not available to do the job.

But the bill would also reform "self-defence" and "defence-of-property" provisions in the Criminal Code.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Nicholson was promoting vigilante justice.

"What’s he going to say to the family of the little girl crossing the road down the street when somebody fires a warning shot at somebody entering their property? Does he not understand the danger of promoting vigilante justice in our society?" he said Thursday in question period.

Nicholson didn't back down.

"Why is it so difficult for the Liberals to figure out who the real victims are?" he said.

"If somebody is coming onto your property, [setting] fire to your car, breaking into your house, or attacking your family, Mr. Speaker, those are the bad guys."

The proposed legislation is being studied by the House Justice committee.

With files from The Canadian Press