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Fatal gun mishaps legally thorny

Charges to be thoroughly weighed

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/6/2013 (1540 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is considered a grey area of law, where the difference between a prosecution and a free pass is usually open to much interpretation and debate.

And that is why it will likely be some time -- perhaps even months -- before a decision is reached on whether a tragic Manitoba camping accident will end up in the courts.

Jacob Russell Wright was fatally shot at a campground this past weekend.


Jacob Russell Wright was fatally shot at a campground this past weekend.

Steinbach teen Jacob Russell Wright, 17, was shot and killed early Sunday when a fellow camper apparently mistook him for a bear outside their tent. The pair, along with two other friends, were camping at Namay Falls, near the mouth of the Bloodvein River about 250 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

No charges have been laid against the 22-year-old shooter, also from Steinbach. And both recent history and criminal law suggest this will be anything but an open-and-shut case.

RCMP say there is no suggestion this was a deliberate act, noting all of the campers were "very distraught" when police finally reached their location later Sunday.

That would mean the most likely charge would be one of criminal negligence. But to prove such an offence, one must show the accused is guilty of "a wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons" either through commission or omission of an act.

And that's where this case may get particularly thorny. If, as RCMP suggest, the person who pulled the trigger felt his safety was being immediately threatened by a bear, it may be tough to argue he broke the law as stated. Preservation of one's own life would be a fairly powerful -- and persuasive -- position to take if the case could be made by a defence lawyer.

Of course, the flip side of that is any trained hunter knows you shouldn't shoot what you can't see, for fear of this exact type of circumstance. That may ultimately prove to be the Crown's most logical entry point into a prosecution, saying blindly firing a deadly weapon is most definitely negligent behaviour.

RCMP Cpl. Line Karpish acknowledged the dichotomy in comments to the media on Monday.

"It is certainly a very sad reminder of the great responsibility that comes with handling firearms," she said of the fatal shooting. Karpish then admitted it's not that unusual for people to be mistaken for wildlife and shot accidentally.

"These people were out in the middle of nowhere, and there are bears out there and cougars. There may be other types of wildlife that may pose a threat," she said.

Justice sources told the Free Press on Tuesday many factors will be considered, including the age and experience of the campers, their specific setup in the woods and the frequency of wildlife in the area.

Even the views of the victim's grieving family would likely play a role, albeit not a definitive one. But there have been cases over the years where a family lobbied either for, or against, a charge. And those are difficult sentiments to overlook.

This file will most definitely run up the proverbial "chain of command" within the prosecutions branch, with multiple senior staffers being asked to use their experience to form an opinion about the likelihood of a conviction.

Such a review wouldn't occur until RCMP have completed all aspects of their probe, including detailed videotaped interviews with all the campers.

Read more by Mike McIntyre.


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Updated on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 7:32 AM CDT: adds sidebar

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