Client acted in self-defence during armed confrontation, judge rules

A trip home from the grocery store led the client into a racially-charged armed confrontation, and to his arrest. Fortunately, the ordeal eventually ended with the client being acquitted of all charges at trial.

The client faced charges of assault with a weapon and possessing a weapon for a purpose dangerous to the public peace. He was walking a shopping cart full of groceries home, along with his girlfriend. The client wasn’t looking for trouble, but he carried a knife in his pocket because of some bad experiences he had had in his old neighbourhood, and because some recent knee surgery had left him walking with a limp and rather defenceless.

Trouble found him. A local man, who became the complainant in this matter, was waiting at a bus stop with his kids. As the client passed by, the complainant stared the client down. The client wondered aloud, to his girlfriend, what the complainant was looking at. The complainant then initiated the confrontation by demanding to know what the client had just said, and shouted a racial slur at him (the complainant, who denied shouting a racial slur at trial, was white, and the client was of mixed European and African descent). Things happened fast after that.

Understandably, the client halted his progress reaction to the slur, and angry words were then exchanged by both sides. The complainant suddenly came toward the client. The client reacted by drawing his knife in the hopes of warding off the attack. It worked. The two men came to stand nose-to-nose as further aggressive words were exchanged. The client’s girlfriend tried to calm down the complainant’s children. When he felt it was safe to do so, the client disengaged from the situation and continued the journey home with his girlfriend.

Mr. MacDonald submitted to the Court that because the client only kept the knife at his side as the two men squared-off, and did only what was necessary to ward off an attack, he acted in accordance with the law on self defence and could not be found guilty. The client was in the ideal position to cut or stab the man if wanted to, but refrained from doing so. The complainant tried to tell a different story in his testimony, one of the client coming at him with the knife and sticking the blade against his side, but cross-examination exposed this as a fabrication which differed substantially from the complainant’s original statement to police. Mr. MacDonald also argued that the client had no obligation to simply put his head down keep walking after being subjected to a racial slur, and that a hostile reaction should be expected by any bigot who utters such slurs.

The client’s and the complainant’s subsequent actions also spoke volumes about who the true aggressor was. As the client and his girlfriend turned to head home, the complainant quickly went to his nearby house and retrieved a baseball bat. Accounts differed as to what the complainant did next (ranging from the complainant noisily batting at the ground as he tried to chase down the client and his girlfriend, to the complainant simply walking out into the street with a view to further confrontation) but the complainant admitted that a third party onlooker saw the need to come out and disarm him of the bat.

The police were called by a passerby who witnessed part of the confrontation. The complainant managed to give his story to the police first. The client was arrested by police a little later, while on the way to his mother’s place.

The client was found not guilty of both charges. The complainant was never charged or prosecuted for his actions. This case stands as an example of how an innocent party to a confrontation can easily end up as the accused, and thereafter endure arrest, detention, and a months-long wait for trial. Sometimes you have to pay a price for standing up for yourself, even if you are right.

A note of caution: While this client was acquitted of possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose, a claim of self-defence will not always constitute a legal defence to this charge. The findings of the judge in this case were based on an application of the law to the particular facts. While possessing certain kinds of weapons is not illegal in itself, there are a multitude of circumstances in which possessing a weapon will indeed constitute a criminal offence. It is impossible to address all of those circumstances here, but it suffices to advise that a weapon will often put you into more legal and physical jeopardy than it’s worth.