Self defence focus of appeal in shooting death of Ontario Indigenous man

TORONTO — The legalities of self-defence and what constitutes “reasonable” actions are the focus of the Crown’s appeal of a Hamilton-area homeowner’s acquittal in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Indigenous man in 2016.

Peter Khill, of Binbrook was found not guilty in 2018 of second-degree murder in the death of Jon Styres of the Six Nations of the Grand River in southern Ontario.

Khill testified at trial that his training as a military reservist — he served from 2007 to 2011 — kicked in when he heard a noise outside his home in the early morning hours on Feb. 4, 2016, then grabbed his shotgun and loaded it. Court heard Khill left his house quietly, did not call 911 or turn on the outside lights, and snuck up on Styres.

He said he saw a shadowy figure leaning into his truck, then the man made a move with his hands _ which is when Khill shot him twice.

Prosecutor Susan Reid said Monday at the Court of Appeal for Ontario that the key question in the Crown’s case is, “Did the respondent act reasonably in lawful self-defence?”

She said the provisions of self-defence discuss what a “reasonable” person would do in the same situation, and Khill did not act reasonably.

The trial judge made four errors, Reid said, including when he directed the jury to consider Khill’s military training as a factor in his self-defence.

“The military training is not a relevant characteristic for a reasonable person,” said Reid. “It is relevant in the accused’s subjective belief and for how he behaved, but not a characteristic for a reasonable person.”

The lower court heard Styres, 29, was shot in the chest and through the back of his arm and into his chest. He died minutes later.

The Crown said the lower court judge essentially created a “reasonable reservist,” rather than a reasonable person.

“That is not what the self-defence provisions were intended to address,” Reid said. “That is creating too subjective a standard.”

Khill’s lawyer argued in court documents that the judge did not make a mistake, and the military training could not have made a difference in the verdict.

“There was no difference between the reasonable actions of a member of the military and the reasonable person in these circumstances _ both would have reasonably fired to preserve their own or others’ safety,” Khill’s legal team stated in court documents.

Khill sat in court on Monday with his wife and friends, while friends and family of Styres packed the other side of the courtroom, most wearing orange shirts with the slogan, “Every child matters.”

Khill’s acquittal set off outrage among the Six Nations community, which subsequently banned him for life.

Six Nations Chief Ava Hill said at the time the court’s decision left the Indigenous community with no faith in the justice system.

The trial echoed a high-profile case in Saskatchewan where a white farmer, Gerald Stanley, was acquitted in the 2016 shooting death of a young Indigenous man, Colten Boushie.

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