Frontier, vigilante-style justice has no place in Canada – even in Alberta

Back a hundred or so years ago when our country was young and the west was opening up to expansion and the pioneering era of our history, our neighbours to the east in Saskatchewan and Manitoba attracted many eastern Europeans in large part, because of the prime agricultural land and they brought with them numerous customs, traditions and beliefs many of which are still evident today. At around the same time, Alberta tended to attract more Americans due in large part to the ideal conditions that exist here for cattle ranching and the horse industry. They came from places like Oklahoma, Texas or in the case of this community in particular, from Kansas where the Rimbey brothers originated. And as with the Europeans, the Americans also brought with them their own unique customs, traditions and beliefs, most of which are also still with us today, one of the most obvious being the extreme popularity of rodeos. Unfortunately, the early pioneers – specifically the Americans, also brought with them some rather undesirable characteristics, most notably the concept of the wild west, vigilante-style frontier justice, that is indicative of a country born out of a gun culture and on occasion, still manages to rear it’s ugly head.

Take the case of Tees-area farmer Brian Russell Knight.

In case you missed it, Knight is facing a number of serious charges stemming from an early morning incident that occurred on his farm on March 26 when he allegedly discouvered three men on his property trying to steal an all-terrain vehicle.

According to the RCMP, Knight took it upon himself to pursue the quad for about two kilometers before forcing it off the road with his car with both vehicles ending up in the ditch. From there, the suspect fled on foot at which time Knight jumped out of he car and fired two shotgun blasts hitting the suspect who continued to flee. A short time later and with the assistance of friends and neighbours, Knight physically caught the suspect and the pair returned to the scene of the collision.

While the suspect was sitting in the passenger side of an idling truck, the driver stepped outside for a moment at which time the suspect slid over to the driver’s side, stole the truck only to lose control about one hundred metres down the road where he was again caught and held until the police arrive.

As a result of the incident, Knight has been charged with seven criminal offenses including criminal negligence causing bodily harm, pointing a firearm, discharging a firearm, dangerous driving, possessing an unregistered firearm and assault.

And while the RCMP would not confirm it, speculation on a number of websites featuring feedback from the public suggests the suspect was severely beaten by Knight and others which could be the case considering the assault charge against Knight as well as the fact that the suspect had to be rushed to an Edmonton hospital by a STARS air ambulance.

Since news of the story has broken, thousands of people from across Alberta and Canada – even as far away as Nova Scotia, have sent e-mails and letter of support, signed petitions – including a few right here in Rimbey, or have even contributed money to a defense fund set up for Knight.

But at the end of the day, this certainly is not the wild western frontier it once was and like it or not, we have a justice and legal system that surrounds itself in two key concepts, the first being that we are all innocent until proven guilty and the second giving us all the right to due process – two things that Knight overlooked in his rush to dole out some vigilante-type justice.

And make no mistake, nobody is denying Knight the right to protect his family and property – as long as he stays on his property. But by chasing down the suspect nearly two kilometres away and firing a gun twice in the darkness, Knight crossed the line, took the law into his own hands and displayed a wanton disregard not only for the safety of the alleged quad thief, but also for anyone else who may have found themselves in the line of fire, and you certainly don’t have to look very far to see the results of those actions.

Forget the shooting gallery the British Columbia Lower Mainland has become due to gang-related activity involving a number of innocent victims being killed in the crossfire of their wars or even in Calgary, which is quickly becoming eerily similar. All one has to do is look a bit down the road to Hobbema where a young girl was critically injured due to a stray bullet fired in anger as part of the ongoing gang wars in that community. Thankfully, the young girl has since made a near full recovery, but she still has the bullet lodged inside her near the spine.

And let’s not forget one other important factor in the Knight case. He neither reacted to the threat of violence upon himself or his family, but rather, he chose his course of action to protect a quad – a machine with a value of little more than a few thousand dollars that was most likely insured.

Unfortunately for Knight, and much to the chagrin of his many supporters, he will pay the consequences for his actions despite the fact that the Stettler court house in which he made his first appearance on April 9 was filled to nearly double its normal seating capacity with people seeking the dropping of all charges or if need be, an acquittal.

But for two very good reasons, that’s not going to happen, no matter how many people sign petitions demanding otherwise.

First, we’ve come a long way since the frontier days. We’ve established systems of justice and law and we’ve also established a world-renowned national police force that we’ve entrusted to deal with matters such as the one Knight took upon himself, and the RCMP has served us magnificently throughout our history.

Secondly and most importantly, this is Canada – not the United States, and good Lord willing, it’ll always be that way.