A farmer whose unsecured guns were stolen from his unlocked home during a major local crime spree has been granted a conditional discharge.
Eight of the nine guns stolen from the home are still missing, and Judge John Combs described the case as an example of the need for the scrapped long-gun registry.
"People always questioned why we would need a long-gun registry in this country," Combs remarked in Brandon provincial court on Thursday.
"This is an example where a long-gun registry would be of tremendous assistance to police in tracking down these guns."
The Liberal government created the registry in 1995. It was controversial — hunters opposed it and police supported it, and it brought soaring costs. The Conservative government introduced legislation to scrap it, and it ended in 2012.
Murray James Richardson, 60, pleaded guilty on Thursday to a single count of unsafe storage of a .22-calibre rifle, but in total nine of his guns were stolen.
One has since been found by police, but the remaining eight remain missing.
Crown attorney Brett Rach said Richardson was away from his RM of Cornwallis home when police were called there for a break-in on Dec. 25, 2016.
Richardson was in Moose Jaw, Sask., visiting family at the time, but his brother informed police they would likely find numerous guns on the property.
Police figured the intruders entered the house through an unlocked back door.
In the furnace room, they found an empty cabinet where Richardson told police he’d kept eight firearms. He admitted the cabinet was left unlocked and the guns didn’t have trigger locks and weren’t stored properly.
A shotgun that was improperly stored in a workshop, which Richardson used to shoot vermin on his farm, was also gone.
The break-in was part of a larger rural Westman theft ring that also included separate break-ins to three pickup trucks that also contained guns.
Four men have been charged in relation to the ring, and police recovered five guns.
Richardson was able to provide police with some serial numbers, and it was confirmed that one of his guns was among those recovered.
Rach said that some of Richardson’s guns didn’t have serial numbers or were too old to have them.
Rach acknowledged that Richardson had tried to do the right thing by admitting the guns weren’t properly secured and by cooperating with police, but it was a little late.
"The message has to be sent that you have to do the right thing first," Rach said.
Defence lawyer Patrick Sullivan asked that Richardson receive a conditional discharge that would allow his client to maintain a clean record.
Sullivan said that his client was in "similar circumstances" to a few other gun owners along the same road whose homes were also broken into.
The court needs to be careful about the message it sends to gun owners, Sullivan argued. If they fear being charged, they won’t make a report when their firearms are stolen.
Rach cautioned that failing to report stolen guns is an offence in itself.
Richardson’s guns are forfeit if they turn up. The Crown, however, declined to ask that the farmer be banned from having guns.