After deadly attack, crossbow sellers should screen buyers, lawyer says
Retailers should screen crossbow buyers for court-ordered weapons prohibitions, an Ottawa lawyer says.
The comments come after three people were found dead Thursday in a Scarborough, Ont. house with injures from crossbow ‘bolts,’ or arrows. Thirty-five-year-old Brett Ryan faces three counts of first-degree murder in their deaths.
“When a weapons prohibition is ordered by courts, they give a long list of things, and they include crossbows on that list, always,” Solomon Friedman, a firearms law expert, explains. “It’s required by the wording of the Criminal Code.”
However, stores selling crossbows have no way of knowing about a court order. Unlike firearms, a licence isn’t needed to buy a crossbow.
In New Brunswick, the provincial chief firearms officer gives gun retailers lists of people who are under weapons prohibitions, Friedman says. It should be practical to scale that up to a searchable database, and open it to crossbow sellers, he says.
“I don’t think it would be a big deal to have a prohibited persons registry,” he argues. “It shouldn’t cost all that much money and shouldn’t take all that much time.”
Ryan had previously been charged with numerous offences related to robberies in the Greater Toronto Area. He was dubbed the “Fake Beard Bandit” after a disguise he wore.
Court documents reveal Ryan was charged in 2008 and convicted in 2009 of robbery and disguise with intent.
When he was sentenced in 2009, the judge imposed a lifetime weapons possession ban that covered both firearms and crossbows.
Under Canadian law, crossbows that are less than 50 centimeters long, or that can be fired with one hand, are prohibited. But crossbows longer than that, that need both hands to fire, aren’t regulated.
That means that crossbow owners don’t get the scrutiny that gun owners do.
Would-be gun owners have to submit a large amount of information – history of suicide attempts, treatment for addiction, history of relationship failure or job loss, history of domestic violence and contact information for current and former partners. Gun licence applicants are subject to criminal record checks, as well.
Here’s what the questionnaire looks like:
Crossbows got very little discussion when Canada’s gun control system was overhauled after the 1989 Montreal Massacre.
“They weren’t on our radar,” says John Dixon, senior policy adviser on gun control in then-Justice Minister Kim Campbell’s office when the laws were being designed.
“At that time, the use of crossbows was very rare. Their possession and use has been very marginal, compared to firearms.”
Crossbows have become popular in part because bow and crossbow hunters are often given much longer seasons than firearm hunters. Some modern crossbows have telescopic sights, and can be fired accurately at ranges up to about 50 metres. However, they can be slow to reload.
Three people were killed in a crossbow attack in Toronto’s east end on Thursday. Meanwhile, police say a suspicious package found downtown is linked to the crime. Ashley Carter and Christina Stevens report.
Homicides with crossbows are rare but not unknown in Canada. This list was compiled by the Canadian Press:
- In December 2010, 24-year-old Zhou Fang shot his father in the back with a crossbow then crushed his skull with a hammer, at a public library in Toronto’s east end.
- In July, a Mission, B.C., father was charged with attacking his son who was shot in the forearm with a crossbow.
- In November 2007, a 26-year-old man was charged with murder and attempted murder after his mother was killed and father was injured by a crossbow in St-Cesaire, Que.
- In October 2002, a dairy farmer was shot in the back and injured with a crossbow in St.-Bonaventure.
- In August 1998, a man asleep in his Hamilton home was shot in the head and injured by a man who fired a crossbow.
- In 1998, Edward Stuart Walker shot a pregnant Stephanie Celestine Thomas with a crossbow, then stabbed her 46 times in Central Saanich on Vancouver Island.
- In September 1994, Yvon Gosselin was driven to a gravel pit near Terrace, B.C., where he was killed with two bolts from a crossbow.
- In May 1995, a man armed with a crossbow entered the Winnipeg Convention Centre shortly before then-prime minister Jean Chretien arrived to deliver a speech. The suspect was arrested.
- In January 1993, B.C. Institute of Technology student Silvia Leung, 22, bled to death in the campus parking lot in Burnaby after being hit in the shoulder by a crossbow.
- In November 1991, Ottawa lawyer Patricia Allen was killed with a crossbow by her estranged husband Colin McGregor.
With files from David Shum