Bruce and Donna Montague let their firearms licenses expire deliberately knowing they would be charged with an offence in order to challenge the constitutionality of the law in court.
They were protesting amendments made to the Criminal Code after Bill C-68 passed requiring rifle and shotgun owners to register firearms with the government. They felt this infringed their basic rights.
The Ontario courts rejected his constitutional arguments and the Supreme Court of Canada denied his appeal.
As a result, Bruce was convicted of 26 crimes involving firearms, while Donna was convicted of one offence. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison plus probation and served six months.
The convictions ranged from improper storage to filing off serial numbers but nothing dangerous or violent.
Bruce wasn’t just a gun owner. He was a well respected licensed gunsmith and firearms dealer that serviced guns for clients (including the OPP) from his home based business and now he’s prohibited from possessing firearms.
In addition to serving jail time, he lost his career.
The federal government applied under the Criminal Code to force the Montague’s to forfeit ownership of their firearms including his business catalogue valued over $100,000.
Now, the Ontario government has brought a civil action claiming forfeiture of the firearms and their home.
Derek From, Canadian Constitution Foundation, defines civil forfeiture as:
“laws that allow Canada’s provincial governments to seize and transfer ownership of property and money without compensation when that property or money is suspected either of being used to commit an unlawful act or of being acquired by committing an unlawful act.”
The province of Ontario alleges the guns and home are either “proceeds of unlawful activity” or “instruments of unlawful activity” which is defined in the Civil Remedies Act of 2001.
There are two important points about what the Ontario government did.
One, they sought the Montague’s property before any conviction or trial. The order was filed on September 14, 2005 and Bruce was sentenced on March 18, 2008.
Another peculiar action was an "Offer to Settle" asking Bruce and Donna to deposit $50,000 into a special purpose account in lieu of home forfeiture, and imposed a gag order reading:
“The Respondents agree that they will not disseminate, in any fashion, including through electronic media, the terms of this offer.”
The Montague’s saw this as extortion and didn’t comply.
Originally, civil forteiture legislation was meant to deter crime and compensate victims. However, many critics now say it looks more like a way for the government to benefit from taking away people’s possessions, which they can then sell for profit.
When the police raided the Montague’s home they took family heirlooms, books, computers, a video collection and other personal items asserting that the items were obtained with the proceeds of criminal behaviour.
While Bruce now has a criminal record due his civil disobedience, none of those charges were for violent or dangerous offences. Plus he was a licensed gunsmith and arms dealer.
It wasn’t enough for Bruce to pay his debt to society by serving jail time and having his business and career destroyed for acts of civil disobedience and peaceful protest.
Bruce and Donna have lost their life savings and now the government wants to take away their home.
You may not be a gun owner and may be against guns, or maybe you don’t care about gun rights – but the take away from Bruce and Donna Montague’s story is that if the government can take away their property, they can take away yours, too.