A Saskatchewan man was acquitted on numerous weapons charges after a judge ruled the RCMP wrongfully searched his home.
Judge M.T. Beaton, Saskatchewan Associate Chief Judge, excluded evidence of 31 firearms seized by police at the home of Perry K. Thomson Sr. saying they violated his rights under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.
“I find that officers breached Mr. Thomson’s s. 8 rights when they entered his residence as the circumstances did not establish a necessity, reasonably and objectively considered, to address an imminent threat to the safety of the public or police,” Judge Beaton said in his written statement Oct. 15. “The search, which was not brief, involved entry into many rooms of his private residence.”
Judge Beaton said the officers had a right - after the initial 911 call - to conduct a safety search.
“However, once the officers had ascertained that no one was in the house with weapons, and that no one needed assistance, I find that there was no further immediate threat to safety.”
A neighbour called police after shots fired
The court heard that at about 4:49 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2018, RCMP received a call from Thomson’s neighbour saying she heard shooting at his residence on Carry the Kettle First Nation.
At 4:55 p.m. the officer obtained more information from the complainant and her daughter who said she observed the incident. The officer was told that Aiden Thomson had fired his rifle into the air once and that he wasn’t really threatening anyone but was yelling, “hurry up and clean up” and that he was now back inside the house without a firearm. The neighbour wanted the RCMP to check out the situation because there were children in the area.
Three RCMP officers came to the assistance of the responding officer. They took carbines, hard body armor, and a breach kit used to get inside a house in exigent circumstances. The four officers met at the entrance of Carry the Kettle First Nation to formulate a plan. They had a map of the area around the accused’s residence. Although the area was rural, there were other homes nearby. Police also knew that the accused and his family were hunters and that he had a firearm’s license.
Police arrived at Thomson’s home at about 5:40 p.m. and parked two police vehicles in a strategic fashion and pointed their firearms at the front door while one officer called out on a loudspeaker for Aiden Thomson and others to come out of the house.
Only one man came out, who wasn’t Aiden Thomson.
“He paced in front of the house, flailing his arms, and yelling at police that they were going to shoot him in front of his children,” the court heard. He confirmed to police that Aiden Thomson had left the house and there were children inside.
The police detained the man and put him in the back of a police cruiser at about 5:52 p.m. The officers then approached the home and were met by three young children.
“The children were not crying and appeared fine,” the court heard.
The children told the officers that Aiden Thomson had left the house and that there were firearms inside. While officers searched the house the children told another officer that Aiden Thomson had fired a shot once in the air near the trampoline because the children weren’t cleaning as they had been instructed.
While searching the house police found a 270 Winchester in plain view in an open closet in Aiden Thomson’s bedroom. It had ammunition in a sleeve on the stock. In the living room police found three firearms in soft cases laying on a pool table, an unlocked gun safe, and a firearm leaning against that gun safe.
As part of their search the officers opened the soft gun cases and the gun safe. They said the search of the gun safe was necessary for public and police safety to ensure the residents of the house, or anyone who may have access to the property, couldn’t obtain possession of the firearms in the safe.
The RCMP made a decision to seize the firearms without a warrant. The RCMP testified that they had insufficient resources to secure the residence and obtain a search warrant. They said there were about six people outside who weren’t happy with the RCMP presence and the officers were concerned the crowd would grow. The officers were also concerned that the accused - who was believed to be difficult - was on his way home. The RCMP said they seized the guns because the accused had shown that his manner of storing guns created safety concerns for the public and for occupants of his residence.
At about 6:42 p.m. Aiden Thomson was arrested and he was cooperative. Then the accused returned but he was upset, refused to interact with police, went inside the residence and locked the door. The RCMP left the scene with two prisoners and 31 firearms at 6:57 p.m.
None of the 31 firearms had activated safeties, trigger locks or cable locks. Some of the guns were stored with ammunition in soft gun cases. A .410 shotgun smelled of gunpowder suggesting recent use. During a trial, Aiden Thomson testified that he shot the firearm in the backyard on the date in question to scare away stray dogs.
Crown Prosecutor Andrew Campbell argued that the RCMP had authority to conduct a safety search of Thomson’s residence without a warrant.
Defence lawyer Sharon Fox argued there weren’t exigent circumstances in this case that would legally support a search of Thomson’s residence and that the officers had the time to obtain a search warrant prior to entering.
Judge Beaton said he didn’t believe the officers even had grounds to obtain a warrant.
“Any charges relating to firearms are serious,” said Judge Beaton. “However, this is a case of an irresponsible gun owner, as opposed to being a case of an individual who possesses a firearm for violent purposes.”