Civil disobedience is a time-honoured practice when individuals disagree with the laws of the land. Ghandi and Martin Luther King both practiced it, and in doing so, changed their worlds. But we must also remember it cost them their lives.
Here in Canada, members of the Canadian Unregistered Firearms Owners Association (CUFOA) have been publicly demonstrating against the Firearms Act for over eighteen months. Various CUFOA members were arrested from time to time, but the government always dropped the charges. They apparently had no stomach for seeing the Firearms Act challenged in court.
On Saturday, September 11, 2004, all that changed.
Bruce Montague, a CUFOA member and one of the more vocal opponents of the Firearms Act, was arrested while attending a Dryden, Ontario, gun show with his daughter.
That he was arrested is not overly surprising. The Area Firearms Officer knows all about Bruce and does not like him or his flaunting the law so flagrantly.
What is surprising is the way this case has been handled. After all, Bruce had been openly asking the government to charge him for ages. He would have gladly taken Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers on a tour of his home and showed them where the unregistered firearms were.
Instead they dragged Bruce away to jail, left his 12-year old daughter Katie alone in the Dryden gun show. Donna Montague, Bruce's wife, only found out about the arrest because a friendly vendor called Donna to let her know what had happened, and that Katie was with him. The OPP apparently couldn't be bothered to let anyone know they had abandoned the 12-year old child after arresting her father.
When Donna arrived at the gun show with her 17-year old son Mike, she was understandably distraught. Her husband was apparently in jail and her daughter had been left to fend for herself after watching her father be taken away by police.
Outside the gun show Donna was approached by two members of the OPP. One officer was known to Donna (she was, until about a year ago, a cell guard for the OPP), the other identified himself as a member of the OPP Drug Squad. They informed Donna that Katie was inside and quite upset and that Donna should get her and bring her out. After that the needed Donna to accompany them to the OPP station to "sort out some paperwork".
Donna went inside for her daughter, brought the upset child out to the car and tried calming her down. She then drove to the OPP station as directed, with the two officers following her closely.
Once inside the building, Donna was informed she was also under arrest for violating the Firearms Act section 91(1).
They demanded that her son and daughter leave the room while they questioned her. She refused. She requested her son remain in the room with her, that she was not about to be questioned without a witness. The officers relented and allowed Mike to stay, but sent Katie to wait in the hall outside.
It was at that point the OPP officers informed her they had a search warrant for the family home, valid for 48 hours. Despite asking for a copy of the search warrant she was not given a copy. She was told only, "No, you can't. It's not here."
When she was finally released from police custody approximately 2-3 hours later, she was told she could not go home, that if she stepped foot on the property she would be arrested and charged with obstructing justice.
Donna couldn't believe her ears. When she asked if she could go pick up some clothes for the children, she was told flatly, "No."
Fortunately Donna and Bruce are well-respected members of their community. Friends from church took the now-homeless family in and helped them get through the first few days of their ordeal.
When the police informed her 36 hours later that she was finally "allowed" back into her home, she didn't want to go alone. Her pastor and another family friend went with Donna and her children as they warily entered the family home.
She was amazed at the lack of damage to her home. She expected far worse. Apart from some holes in the bedroom wall, a broken freezer plug and a broken shelf in the refrigerator, things appeared pretty much intact. She has not yet done a thorough inventory for missing items or damage, as her primary concern at this point is her husband's well-being.
Bruce Montague is no terrorist. He is not a violent man. He is not a flight risk. In fact he has prayed for his "day in court" for quite some time.
Yet the government is treating him as though he had committed a heinous crime instead of the "paper" crime of not having a firearms license. He sits, as of this writing, in the Kenora Remand Center, where his wife can see him only through thick glass and speak to him through a telephone.
His bail hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 20, 2004, at 10am at the Kenora Courthouse. The government will probably spend over a million dollars to prosecute Bruce Montague. The cost for Bruce's lawyer to deal with the bail hearing alone is $5,000 plus travel and accommodation expenses. The actual trial expenses have not yet been estimated.
While those who break into our homes and steal our property are released on a "Promise To Appear", Bruce Montague, political prisoner, sits in a jail cell. The Crown Prosecutor is adamant that Bruce should remain in jail until his trial. He believes Bruce is somehow a "danger to society".
How did our nation's sense of right and wrong, of justice, got bent so completely out of whack?
Is standing up to the government over an atrocious law such an awful crime? Is abandoning a 12-year old child as police haul her father away in handcuffs now acceptable?
Apparently, in today's Canada, it is.
Bruce's wife and other supporters have established a legal defense fund for him. Please send donations to:Bruce Montague Scrap C-68 Fund
RR 2 Site 230, Box 20
Dryden, Ontario, P8N 2Y5
Christopher di Armani can be contacted at christopher@diArmani.com or at www.diarmani.com.