On Feb. 4, at about 3 a.m., shots rang out on Highway 56. What has happened since reveals a divide over the use of lethal force in defence of home and property.
Peter Khill, 26, stands charged with second-degree murder after a confrontation with a man in his driveway in the middle of the night. Police say Jon Styres, 29, died of shotgun wounds after reportedly trying to steal a pickup truck from the house on Highway 56 in Binbrook, a historic village on the outskirts of Hamilton famous for its fall fair.
South of the border, where private firearms are more common, it is far from unusual for a person to take up arms to defend property. It is rare here, and Canadian authorities are far less forgiving when people use a weapon. But even in Canada, the issue of what citizens can or should do in such a case is controversial.
The Binbrook incident set off a sharp online exchange, with one side saying citizens must have the right to defend themselves and the other that they should leave law enforcement to the police. A petition calling on prosecutors to withdraw the charges against Mr. Khill had collected close to 13,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.
"Canadians must have a right to use as much force as needed to protect their families, children, life, limb and property without fear of prosecution," it said. "This may include deadly force."
A counter-petition had logged just over 1,000 signatures, according to its website, Justice for Jon Styres. "Please don't allow the charges to be dropped or Canada will start to become the U.S.A. and homeowners will start taking the law into their own hands," the site said. "Nobody has the right to kill anybody over possessions."
Overlaid on the dispute is the issue of race. Police said Mr. Styres came from Ohsweken, a village on the Six Nations reserve about a 20-minute drive from Binbrook. When Mr. Khill was brought to a Hamilton court for a bail hearing on Friday, Mr. Styres's group sat on one side of the courtroom, Mr. Khill's group on the other. The court reserved judgment on the bail issue until next Thursday.
Binbrook locals say the area has seen a rash of break-ins and car thefts perpetrated in many cases, some believe, by native people.
Cheryl Allen, who works behind the bar at a local diner, said she hasn't heard much sympathy for Mr. Styres. "Nobody has been upset about it, and that's sad," she said. More sympathy has been going to Mr. Khill. "Look how many people are patting him on the back and going, 'Good,'" she said.
Trevor Ruggi, the diner's proprietor, said a thief stole his motorcycle recently, but he thinks people should call police rather than reach for a gun. "At the end of the day, there is dead body because of a truck," he said.
City Councillor Brenda Johnson said crime is up lately and that "of course everyone is worried about their community," but the area is still relatively safe and she hadn't heard about race becoming an issue in the shooting debate. "Nobody has jumped the gun and stereotyped or anything." Better, she said, to focus on the tragedy of that night. "Two families have been shattered in an instant."
The house on Highway 56 where Mr. Khill lives is a bungalow with a new two-door garage attached. The Hamilton Spectator said he was an equipment expert with GE Power in Mississauga. He had been a student at Waterford District High School and a military reservist.
The paper, quoting Mr. Styres's cousin, said Mr. Styres was a cigarette machine operator at Grand River Enterprises, the Six Nations tobacco company.
The debate over the shooting comes in the aftermath of the trial of Toronto police officer James Forcillo in the shooting of Sammy Yatim on a streetcar in 2013. Constable Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder. Though the circumstances were different because, among other things, a police officer was involved, that case, too, raised the question of when the use of lethal force is justified. Constable Forcillo said he feared for his life when he confronted Mr. Yatim, who was acting erratically and refusing to drop the small knife he was holding.
A lawyer for Mr. Khill, Derek Martin, has said Mr. Khill, too, felt his life was in danger. "That's my understanding at this point. That [Khill] was protecting his property and protecting himself," he said after the charges were laid.
At the time, a police news release gave only a brief sketch of what might have happened. It said that shortly after 3 a.m. on Feb. 4, "a trespasser was observed on the property by a resident of the home. It was indicated that the individual … was attempting to steal a truck in the driveway. The resident, Peter Khill, while armed with a firearm confronted the man. During the confrontation the man attempting to steal the truck died as a result of gunshot related injuries."