Former Reservist Found Not Guilty in Fatal Shooting of Unarmed Man

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

After six hours of deliberations, a Hamilton jury found Peter Khill (“Khill”), a former Canadian Forces reservist, not guilty in the fatal shooting of Jon Styres (“Styres”), an unarmed First Nations man from Ohsweken, Ontario.

WHAT HAPPENED?

In the early morning hours of February 4, 2016, Khill and his girlfriend were woken up by two loud, banging noises. When he looked outside, Khill saw that the lights were on in his 2001 GMC pickup truck.

Khill proceeded to grab a 12 gauge shotgun from his bedroom closet. He loaded it with two shells and ran outside in a t-shirt and boxers to confront Styres, who was trying to steal his truck. He came up behind Styres, who was leaning over the passenger-side seat, and shouted “Hey, hands up!”. Styres reacted by turning toward Khill with his hands sweeping forward in a motion that allegedly led Khill to believe that he had a gun. This provoked Khill to fire two close-range shots that killed Styres.

The Superior Court of Ontario was told that Styres did not have a gun that night and was only carrying a knife in his pocket.

The Crown prosecutor told the court that Khill was not acting in self-defence and that he “took the law into his own hands”. Khill could have stayed safe in his home and called the police when he realized his truck was broken into. Furthermore, the Crown lawyer argued that Khill’s action in shouting instructions caused Styres to jump in surprise, which caused Khill to feel frightened and open fire in response.

Assistant Crown attorney, Steve O’Brien, argued that Khill only followed the parts of his training that allowed him to slyly approach and kill an enemy. O’Brien stated that Khill “completely ignored, that civilian life is not a war zone, that soldiers must take time to genuinely assess the situation. There is not one law for ex-soldiers and one law for everybody else.”

Khill pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder. His lawyer argued that his actions were justified on the basis of self-defence as Khill feared for his life and believed that Styres had a gun. It was argued that Khill was only acting in accordance with his military training and experience. Khill’s lawyer, Jeff Manishen, stated:

This young man who lived to defend his country wanted to continue to defend his own life. That young man should be found not guilty.

JURY SELECTION

This trial raises some of the same legal issues that were raised during the controversial trial of Gerald Stanley (“Stanley”) who was accused of killing Colten Boushie (“Boushie”).

In the Stanley case, an all-white jury in Saskatchewan acquitted Stanley of second-degree murder in the death of Boushie, an Indigenous man. Many critics suggested that the all-white jury had reached the wrong verdict. Furthermore, some believed that the defence used their peremptory challenges to dismiss any potential jurors who appeared to be Indigenous. Peremptory challenges are given in equal number to both the defence and the prosecutor to allow them to disqualify any juror, without reason.

In the Khill case, the jury was screened for possible racial bias. Each candidate was asked a challenge for cause question: “Would your ability to judge the evidence in this case without bias, prejudice or partiality, be affected by the fact that the deceased victim is an Indigenous person and the person charged with this crime is a white person?”. Each of the 12 jurors responded “no”.

It was reported that none of the jury members were Indigenous, however, the jury did include at least one non-white individual.

Mere weeks after the Stanley verdict, the government introduced legislation to eliminate peremptory challenges (Bill C-75). We have previously blogged about this new Bill, which has passed second reading.

Khill’s lawyer stated that getting rid of peremptory challenges is “wrong-headed” and that bias can be avoided through the use of challenge for cause questions, such as the one used in the Khill trial. He went on to suggest that the federal government should review Bill C-75 and re-consider the elimination of peremptory challenges.

We will continue to provide updates regarding the status of Bill C-75 as information becomes available. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges laid against you or your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP at 905-404-1947 or online. Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights. For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour phone service. We are available when you need us most.