George Zimmerman

Could George Zimmerman gotten aways with what he did in Canada? It’s an interesting question to ask as it underlines not only what is different about our societal values, but what our laws say we are allowed to do in the face of danger.


We’ve all either followed, or heard about in passing, the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. We’ve all heard the story by now. The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman which took place on the night of February 26, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. Martin was a 17-year-old African American high school student. George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed-race Hispanic, was the neighbourhood watch coordinator for the gated community where Martin was temporarily staying and where the shooting took place. Following an earlier call from Zimmerman, police arrived within two minutes of a gunshot during a scuffle, in which Zimmerman had fatally shot Martin.

The trial raised many questions of race and law in the United States, especially when Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges earlier this month. So what would happen if the same thing occurred in Canada?

Self-Defence Laws

Much has been made about the Stand Your Ground laws in which you’re not expected to back down in the face of danger, and can protect yourself with deadly force if necessary. What the defence contended, and what the jury agreed upon, was that Zimmerman was acting in self-defence.

While the racial elements of the case are less of an issue in Canada, confusion around what constitutes legal self-defence has been a problem. The law on these matters had not changed since 1892. It’s why the Conservatives brought in legislation that took effect in March to clarify when, and to what extent, citizens can use force to protect themselves, others and property.

The Citizen’s Arrest and Self-defence Act amended the self-defence sections of the Criminal Code, which were so confusing that judges had trouble explaining them to juries, leading to appeals.

The new simplified “defence of the person” has three key elements:

  • a person reasonably believes that force is being used against them or another person or is threatened;
  • that the act of self-defence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person;
  • and that their act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

This is contrary to the way the American discussion is going. Whereas studies in the United States show that Stand Your Ground laws lead to more violence and have not real effect on reducing crime, the Canadian government is working to protect the rights of people who lawfully try to protect themselves and their property. What Canada is seeking to do is strike a better balance.

For instance, when Joe Singleton of Taber hit a thief with the blunt end of a hatchet in 2010 when a burglar suddenly tried to drive off after ransacking his home, he was charged with assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm, offences that carry up to 10 years in prison. Cases like this highlight the desperate need for the courts to change their approach to defending those who were simply defending themselves.

In the future it will still be up to the Crown whether to lay charges, and in the courts’ hands whether to convict and how to determine if reasonable force was used.

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If you’ve been charged with assault, even in the event that you’ve been defending yourself, it’s important you retain the counsel of a qualified legal representative. Call us now.

Posted on July 29th, 2013