Bruce and Donna Montague have successfully reached a settlement with Ontario’s Civil Remedies for Illicit Activities (CRIA) office and the Honourable Mr. Justice Shaw of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has dismissed the civil forfeiture application against the Montagues’ home. This brings to an end the Montagues’ nearly 15 year legal battle. (See timeline at the end of this release).
Bruce and Donna live in a rural area near Kenora, Ontario. Bruce was a licensed gunsmith and firearms dealer who ran his business from a shop in the basement of his home. Bruce and Donna began to publicly and peacefully protest Bill C-68 when the federal government introduced it in 1995. They viewed it as an attack on the rights of law-abiding firearms owners.
Yet after years of activism with no results, the Montagues decided to put their convictions to the test. In 2002, Bruce deliberately let his firearms license expire. Donna did the same shortly after. There is no question that they would have been permitted to renew these licences, yet they deliberately chose not to do so as a conscious act of peaceful civil disobedience. Their goal was to force a challenge of the constitutionality of Canada’s firearms laws in court.
As expected, Bruce and Donna were arrested in 2004 and were charged with various for Criminal Code firearms offences. Bruce did not dispute the fact that he had broken the law. As he told the media in 2014, “I broke the law, I did it on purpose. What I was challenging was the law wasn’t valid in the first place.”
At the end of their criminal proceedings, Bruce was convicted of 26 firearms offences—none for being a threat to the public peace. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison with a lifetime ban on possessing firearms. Donna was convicted of a single possession offence and sentenced to six months probation. This was not the result the Montagues had hoped for, but it was a risk they knew they were taking and was not entirely unexpected.
What they had not expected, was that the Ontario government would initiate a separate legal proceeding against them (a civil forfeiture application) in order to seize their home, which they had built and in which they had lived and operated their business.
Ontario’s civil forfeiture application was puzzling. Civil forfeiture laws are intended to strip criminals of ill-gotten gains and provide compensation to those harmed by criminal activity. Yet Bruce and Donna had not profited from their civil disobedience – quite the opposite, it cost them their livelihood – and they had not harmed anyone.
Adding insult to injury, the CRIA office sent Bruce and Donna a ludicrous offer to settle the civil forfeiture action out-of- court. The offer stipulated that the CRIA office would permit the Montagues keep their home if they paid $50,000 to the Ontario government and agreed never to talk about it publicly.
Bruce and Donna rejected this offer – tantamount to extortion with a gag order – outright. That is when the Canadian Constitution Foundation stepped in. With the CCF’s help, the Montagues were able to negotiate a mutually-acceptable settlement with the Government of Ontario, one that recognized their rights as property owners and was consistent with the constitutional principles of fundamental justice.
The Montagues will get to keep their family home. They will not have to pay $50,000. And they can speak freely about the settlement and all of their experiences over their nearly 15 years of legal battles, including their dealings with Ontario’s CRIA office. CCF lawyer, Derek From, began representing Bruce and Donna in 2013. Explaining why the Montagues’ case is important for all property owners in Ontario—not just firearms owners—Derek said:
“Bruce and Donna already lost their business and their life savings. Their reputations were devastated. They were saddled with criminal records. And Bruce lost his career. In our view, it was unquestionably excessive and cruel that the government of Ontario would attempt to punish the Montagues a second time by making them homeless. That would have been completely out of proportion, especially for paperwork crimes of civil disobedience that resulted in harm to no one.”