It’s true that there were many smoking guns following the fire at Larry Sommerfield’s Thornhill home in 2010. But when the 91-year-old man needed one, of the figurative kind, in his civil suit against the RCMP for destroying those guns, the judge simply didn’t find one.
“The RCMP acted in good faith,” said justice Terence Wright in his oral judgment which ruled in favour of the defence in Sommerfield’s small claims case against the B.C. ministry of justice, the official representative for the provincial RCMP, Monday, March 23 at the Terrace court house. He added that after the fire in March of 2010, the officers took the 10 charred and burnt guns into their possession to secure them, and in fact had a duty to do so as there was no reasonable way for them to determine at the time whether or not they were a risk to the public.
Months after the March 2010 fire, Sommerfield, representing himself and after filing a complaint with the Terrace RCMP directly, sued the ministry in small claims court.
He spent over four years researching and building his case, in which he claimed the RCMP officers unduly confiscated his guns and that when he signed a release giving his permission for the RCMP to destroy the guns he was under duress and misled. The case took up four court days and heard testimony from four witnesses. The judge’s decision came just over five years after the fire.
The case in part hinged on whether or not that release signed by Sommerfield at hospital after the fire where he was being treated for serious burns to his arm, giving the officers permission to destroy the guns, was valid. Wright ruled that Sommerfield voluntarily signed a release allowing the officers to destroy the guns, and was not intimidated and misled into signing the release as he maintained.
Wright said that Sommerfield’s memory of the signing and when it took place was simply mistaken and that corroborative evidence tended to be consistent with the defence’s version of events.
Wright said he was “in no way suggesting the claimant is not telling the truth as he recalled to the court … mistaken about events, nothing more.”
Wright said in his ruling that Sommerfield was lucid and rational in an audio recording recorded at the hospital after the fire, submitted as evidence by the defense at the encouragement of the judge, who wanted to hear it in order to determine Sommerfield’s mental state.
“There is no evidence the plaintiff didn’t have full intellectual capacity,” said Wright.
As the claimant failed to prove the defence was liable, any question of money owed to Sommerfield was not an issue, said Wright.
This was not welcome news for Sommerfield, who said the case shook his trust in the RCMP who he believes made an error and tried to cover it up.
He called the decision “a joke” after the ruling and said that “judges can also be mistaken.”
“I didn’t realize that much emphasis would be put on that I signed the release,” he added, but said he didn’t think hiring a lawyer would have helped his cause. Sommerfield maintained afterwards that the release he signed used the term “firearm” and that “a gun that cannot shoot is not a firearm” – a familiar refrain heard from Sommerfield in court.
Sommerfield said he wouldn’t be appealing the ruling.
“I’m not going to bother,” he said, “for the four or five thousand dollars it could get me. I’ve had enough of it.”
Still, he seemed surprised the judge didn’t decide in his favour.
“I was expecting at least something,” he said. “I get nothing, but I don’t need the money.”
Mostly, he just wants his story to be told so that others can learn from his experience, he said, adding that he is going to “make a file [on the case] and put it in the library for others.”