The case of a rural Dryden couple that spent 14 years challenging the now-repealed federal long-gun registry has finally ended.
Bruce Montague and his wife Donna have reached a settlement with the Civil Remedies for Illicit Activities office that will allow them to keep the home they built, which the province had aimed to seize in a civil case.
The gunsmith from Eaton-Rugby allowed his firearms licenses and acquisition certificates to expire in 2002-2003, knowingly contravening the gun registry law.
He then posted a protest sign on a rifle slung across his back at a 2004 gun show that read, “For Sale – Cooey Rifle .22 – Not Registered.”
Bruce was promptly arrested and charged with 53 firearms offences including unauthorized possession and careless storage of non-restricted firearms, explosives and restricted firearms. Donna faced three additional charges.
The Ontario Provincial Police seized nearly 200 firearms from the Montagues’ home, including weapons converted to fully-automatic fire, rifles with holes bored through the serial numbers, a “James Bond gun” and a homemade Uzi.
Many of the weapons were discovered in a vault and underground rifle range in the Montagues’ basement, which opened when a nail was placed into a hole in the wall.
The Kenora court where Bruce’s criminal trial took place in 2007 dismissed the constitutional challenge dimension to Bruce’s defence.
He was found guilty on 26 charges, sentenced to 18 months in prison and prohibited from possessing firearms for life.
“They took my livelihood away,” Bruce said.
“That’s supposed to fall under the rubric of cruel and unusual punishment, especially for someone who is protesting, when you’re violating the law through conscience. But this judge says, ‘we don’t appreciate people like yourself publicly and boldly violating the law like this.’ Well, that’s what it’s all about.”
The Superior Court of Canada rejected the Montagues’ appeal, through which Bruce had hoped to demonstrate Canadians have a constitutional right to bear arms that the long gun registry violated.
Bruce served seven months behind bars before he was released in 2011.
Before criminal proceedings against the couple had run their course, Ontario filed a civil preservation order against the Montagues’ home, vying to seize it as proceeds of crime.
Neither Bruce nor Donna had a criminal history and they had built their home before the long gun registry law was even introduced.
The Civil Remedies for Illicit Activities office sent the couple a letter requesting they pay the province $50,000 to continue lawful possession of their home and urged them sign a confidentiality agreement.
Bruce sent no reply, instead posting the letter online in protest.
“I don’t take well to gag orders,” said.
“That’s the only defence I’ve got is, the public needs to know what’s going on here.”
Ontario finally agreed to abandon the civil case without payment this week, putting the last spike into what began as an act of civil disobedience and ended up nearly taking everything from the Montague family.
“They dragged us through this for 11 years and they ended up just leaving it,” Bruce said.
“I’m so glad I never agreed to a gag order because the public needs to know the draconian lengths they’ll go through to pound someone into the ground, just because it’s publicly incorrect to own guns in this age. They’re making hay on this but they’re destroying peoples’ lives.”
Bruce abandoned his trained trade of electrical engineering 25 years ago and with no legal right to return to his work as a gunsmith, the 60-year-old feels he’s out of employment options.
Instead, he has applied himself to the “interesting job” of living off the grid, brewing his own biodiesel fuel for his vehicles and developing alternative energy to power his home.
“I have no intention of paying another red cent in income tax money for the rest of my life,” he said.
“My career is gone. I’m too old to start a new career. The only jobs that are viable for me is minimum wage work and my time is more valuable than that.”
Canada has agreed to return between eight and 10 of Montagues’ guns as well as some accessories to their daughter Katey, who has been an outspoken advocate of gun rights since her parents were arrested.
Bruce said he may not have done anything differently, although he wishes someone else had taken it on themselves to challenge the long gun registry. Despite everything he has been through, he urged others to speak out.
“We fought the law and the law won,” he lamented.
“A lot of people don’t do anything because they’re afraid. As more of these issues come up, more of the populous will be supportive and it will hit a breaking point where the public just won’t support it anymore.”