Washington Post – Nora Loreto

On the night of Feb. 4, 2016, Peter Khill woke up to sounds coming from his driveway. He went to the window and saw someone in his pickup truck, a 2001 GMC.

He walked outside, toward the truck, and fatally shot the man inside from behind and at close range. Khill said he thought Jon Styres had a gun. He didn’t. On June 27, a jury acquitted Khill of second-degree murder, deciding he had acted in self-defense.

The story sounds like it could come from an American town where so-called “stand your ground” laws give landowners the right to protect private property, even if someone dies as a result of an altercation.

But it wasn’t in the United States. It was in a suburban driveway in Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton, a city with more than 550,000 people, is about 30 miles southwest of Toronto.

Styres was from Oshweken, a community in the Six Nations of the Grand River, a First Nations reserve close to Hamilton. Khill, a former army reservist, referenced his military training as part of why he ran out to confront Styres.

Khill’s acquittal is the third high-profile murder acquittal in Canada this year. In each case, the victim was Indigenous and the alleged perpetrator was white. On February 22, a jury found Raymond Cormier not guilty of second-degree murder in the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, whose body was found wrapped in a duvet at the bottom of the Red River of the North, which passes through Winnipeg.

Two weeks before Cormier was acquitted, Gerald Stanley was also acquitted of second-degree murder. Stanley, a Saskatchewan farmer, allegedly shot and killed Colten Boushie in August 2016, after seeing Boushie and four others from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in an SUV on his property. Stanley argued that his gun accidentally discharged as he confronted Boushie and his friends, and the jury agreed. Stanley’s acquittal set off waves of protest and anger, notably because the jury appeared to be comprised of only white jurors.

In the United States, Florida’s stand-your-ground law rose to international prominence when George Zimmerman was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of African American teenager Trayvon Martin. The Tampa Bay Times investigated how “stand your ground” is applied and found a significant racial impact: 73 percent of alleged perpetrators were not penalized when the victim was black. That number drops to 59 percent when the victim was white. The Urban Institute found an even greater discrepancy when it pulled from FBI data from across the United States: White-on-black homicide was 281 percent more likely to be labeled justified than a white-on-white homicide.

More than half of American states have some kind of shoot-first law.

Canada’s love affair with guns is far less explicit, which makes it more difficult to see. There are no constitutional amendments or laws that protect one’s right to gun ownership. But in 2013, Prime Minister Stephen Harper changed the criminal code to allow property owners to use “reasonable force” to protect private property. Since 2013, there have been very few court cases to test what reasonable force means. Self-defense remains a fluid concept open to interpretation.

In 2016, just 3 percent of all violent crimes in Canada were committed with a firearm. Acquittals are rare: 4 percent of violent crimes in 2015 resulted in an acquittal. Both Stanley and Khill are statistically very lucky, if you consider their cases from individual points of view. But they fit into a broader reality: that racist stereotypes are used to justify violence. These acquittals are not one-off coincidences; they are tied to a settler-state mentality that continues to form Canadian identity.

After celebrating the 151st birthday of Canada on July 1, Canadians have yet another reason to feel shame and to reflect: How can we confront the colonial practices that have caused so much destruction and harm on this territory? At the very least, it starts by refusing to put property’s value ahead of human life.