The Supreme Court of Canada is set to release its decision today on whether a Hamilton-area homeowner initially acquitted after shooting and killing an Indigenous man in 2016 should face a new trial.
The top court’s judgment Thursday involving Peter Khill will come more than five years after the death of Jon Styres, 29, who was from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario.
Khill was found not guilty of second-degree murder following a 12-day trial in June 2018 in which he argued he acted in self-defence.
The Crown appealed the verdict, leading to a unanimous ruling from the Ontario Court of Appeal that said the trial judge failed to instruct the jury to consider Khill’s conduct before he pulled the trigger and Styres was killed around 3 a.m. ET on Feb. 4, 2016.
Khill, who spent several years as a part-time military reservist, testified during his trial that he woke up to see the lights on in his truck in his home’s driveway.
He told court his training kicked in and he loaded a shotgun, left the house and stealthily approached a man who appeared to be trying to steal his vehicle.
Khill told the jury he yelled, “Hey, hands up,” and, when Styres turned toward him with his hands moving up to “gun height,” he fired in self-defence. Khill did not deny firing the two, close-range shotgun blasts that killed Styres, but pleaded not guilty.
Styres was unarmed.
Trial judge’s instruction in question
The jury was given the task of determining whether Khill acted reasonably, given the circumstances, and found him not guilty.
Following the Crown’s appeal, Ontario’s Appeal Court overturned the not guilty verdict and ordered a new trial.
The Appeal Court, in its 48-page decision, said the trial judge’s instruction “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.”
Khill’s lawyers responded by appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing what their client did leading up to the shooting should not change the fact he fired in self-defence.
“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,” they stated.
The arguments, dated April 2020, said the Appeal Court’s decision, if left to stand, “fundamentally changes the law of self-defence in Canada.”
Indigenous leaders following case
Khill’s trial was closely followed by Indigenous communities and leaders as it raised similar legal issues to the controversial case in Saskatchewan involving the death of Colten Boushie.
Boushie, a Cree man, was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley on Stanley’s farm in August 2016. A not guilty verdict was reached by a jury with no visibly Indigenous members.
The decision led to protests across Canada 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 was Indigenous would affect how they viewed evidence.
The trial also heard that race didn’t play a role in the shooting itself.