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Ottawa Citizen - No charges in fatal stabbing during break-in

(2011-09-28)

By Robert Sibley And Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen

An Arnprior man is the latest to join a lengthening list of Canadian homeowners who've found themselves facing prosecution-or persecution, as critics claim- for defending themselves against threatening intruders.

The highly publicized case of Nathan Woods, a retired military officer, concluded in his favour Tuesday. The OPP, in consultation with the Crown Attorney's Office, decided not to lay criminal charges against him. The decision came more than two weeks after Woods and his son confronted a man trying to break into their home at 44 Edward St. North. in Arnprior, about 70 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. During the altercation the intruder, Corey Blaskie, 41, was fatally stabbed.

Blaskie broke into the Woods' home shortly after midnight on Sunday, Sept. 11, triggering a security alarm in the house, according to a statement released Tuesday by the lawyers representing the Woods family. While Woods' wife called 911, "the intruder confronted the homeowners and an altercation ensued."

"Fearing for their safety, the residents of the home defended themselves against a violent and unprovoked attack," said lawyers Michael Edelson and Solomon Friedman.

"During this attack, the life of Nathan Woods was repeatedly at stake as he struggled with the intruder. The intruder was dressed in black and was wearing slash-proof policestyle gloves. In the course of that life and death struggle, the intruder was stabbed." The Woods family "immediately" applied first aid in an ultimately futile effort to save the man's life until paramedics and police arrived "several minutes later."

The Woods family "co-operated completely" with the police, the lawyers said, emphasizing that OPP investigators carried out "a lengthy and thorough homicide investigation" and, in the end, determined that "no charges should be laid" against Nathan Woods or his family.

Family members weren't available for comment Tuesday, but neighbours said they were relieved to hear that Nathan Woods will not be charged. "If you can't come into your own home, lock your doors and feel safe we've got nothing," Jeremy James, who lives next door.

"Once he (an intruder) steps foot in your house, to me that's fair game," said Dwight Miles, another neighbour, pointing out that the Woods family had installed a security system and flood lights only after their home had been broken into several times. "That's my feeling on it. He (the homeowner) should not have to pay to defend himself."

The Woods family can probably consider themselves lucky. Recent years have seen other law-abiding citizens put through a legal wringer after finding themselves in similar circumstances. The situation has prompted some legal experts to call for changes to the Criminal Code that would clarify the law on self-defence.

Under Section 34 of the Criminal Code, you're "justified in repelling force by force if the force used is no more than is necessary" to defend yourself. Section 35 says you're justified in using force if "on reasonable grounds" you have the "reasonable apprehension" that you might be killed or grievously harmed. And, under Section 37, you can defend yourself and others from assault if you use "no more force than is necessary to prevent the assault or the repetition of it."

The question is, of course, what constitutes reasonable and necessary force. Critics think recent cases show the police and prosecutors are being overzealous, and, thus, undermining the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves and their property.

"You're expected to be absolutely safe in your home, you may not expect to be safe in a gas station or store, but in your home, that's something that's a given," Dahn Batchelor, a Mississauga-based criminologist said recently in commenting on homeowners' self-defence rights.

Earlier this year, before the federal election, the publicity generated by the number of citizens who had been charged after defending their homes or businesses prompted the federal government to introduce changes to the Criminal Code that would clarify self-defence laws.

"Canadians who have been the victim of a crime should not be revictimized by the criminal justice system," Stephen Harper said at the time, following a high-profile visit with Dave Chen, a Toronto grocer who was eventually acquitted on charges that he'd tackled and unlawfully confined a shoplifter who'd repeatedly stolen from his store.

So far, though, the courts seem to be siding with citizens more often than not. Indeed, a recent court decision may well provide police and prosecutors with a litmus test for determining future cases.

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently acquitted a man on a fouryear-old manslaughter charge in which he'd been found guilty of using unwarranted force to defend himself against an intruder.

Steven Forde was charged in June 2006 after he confronted another man, Clive McNabb, in his apartment. The two men were drug dealers and had a long history of violence. In this particular encounter, McNabb hit Forde's common-law partner, who, as it happened, was McNabb's ex-wife, and then pulled a knife on Forde. Forde had his own knife and fatally stabbed McNabb. At the trial, the Crown successfully argued that Forde could have fled the apartment, therefore, his use of deadly force wasn't justified.

In mid-September, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned the conviction, ruling that people have the right to defend themselves in their homes and fleeing the premises is never a requirement. "In my view 'retreat' was not a proper factor for the jury to consider," said appeal Judge J.A. LaForme.

That was the situation facing Nathan Woods and his family, according to their lawyers. "The Woods family acted in self-defence to preserve their own lives. They conducted themselves appropriately, lawfully and responsibly."

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