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 based on self-defence and ordered a new trial.
Michael Lacy and Jeff Manishen argued 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.
Khill, who spent several years as a part-time reservist, did not deny he fired the two, close-range shotgun blasts that killed Jon Styres from Six Nations of the Grand River, but pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
He testified he was following his military training when he was woken up around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, 2016 and saw the lights on in his truck. Court heard 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 or not 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 Ontario’s 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.
It overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. That is the decision the Supreme Court will review.
Family hopes for justice
At the time the new trial was ordered Lindsay Hill, Styres’s partner and the mother of his two children, said the appeal court’s decision left her feeling as though a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
“I now still have some hope that Jon can get the justice he deserves.”
In their application to the Supreme Court, Khill’s lawyers said what their client did in the lead up 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 protest 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 race didn’t play a role in the shooting itself.