Case Comment: R. v. Gollan (2000)

Court decisions are a critical source of information about the proper interpretation of the laws and rules that govern so many of our actions. Our goal with comments on case law is to provide you with an accurate summary of the main issues in the case, and to comment on the case’s possible relevance. Keep in mind, however, that every case has unique facts and circumstances. Court decisions cannot be relied upon as legal advice because no two situations are exactly the same. Nonetheless, cases can provide valuable insights and taken together, they can offer guidelines for our conduct.

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Why This Case May Interest You

This case illustrates the importance of established standards in determining whether the conduct of individuals may be found to be negligent. In this case, a government regulation was a strong indication of the reasonable standard of care to be met. Similarly, standards that an organization establishes for itself will become the benchmark against which future conduct may be judged. Read on to learn more about how to find the right balance with your own policies and standards.

Summary of Facts

Mr. Gollan, a police officer, left a .22 rifle in an unlocked cabinet in his home. The gun was a present to his son from an uncle. Mr. Gollan was unaware that his son had bullets for the weapon. Mr. Gollan inadvertently failed to lock up the gun with his other guns. The son loaded the gun and left it lying on the living room floor. Tragically, while Mr. Gollan was out of the house, his son’s friend was killed in an accidental shooting.

The Issue

Do federal Regulations establish a reasonable standard of care regarding the ownership, handling and storage of a gun?

Decision

On an appeal from a conviction in British Columbia Provincial Court, Justice Beames upheld the original conviction of Mr. Gollan. The Crown was successfully able to prove that the accused stored the gun in a manner that was a “marked departure” from what a reasonable person would do. In determining the appropriate standard of care, the court was advised by a firearms safety instructor that new gun owners were taught to store their weapons in a secure place. If unable to store them in such a manner, they should be disassembled. The federal Regulations were consistent with this training and Justice Beames determined that the Regulations, which were well-known, were a strong indication of the standard of care that all gun owners must observe.

Comment

A lesson can be learned from this tragedy. The court found that the Regulations were a good indication of the required standard of care for the handling and storage of a gun. Failure to meet this publicized and well-known standard resulted in liability.

It is worth noting that for all private tribunals, which include most sport organizations, the policies, rules and procedures that are used to govern the affairs of the organization are similar to Regulations. These policies and procedures create a framework of acceptable conduct that is well-known to the members and sanctioned by the organization. Common examples of such standards include operational procedures and protocols, rules of conduct, decision-making powers and emergency response systems.

This sad case reminds us that once in place, these policies and practices will most certainly become the standard against which future conduct may be judged. A very real danger lurks.

For many organizations, these operational and procedural policies are designed to be an “ideal” target or are created, as an expression of organizational intent, for a “perfect world”. As well, policies are often borrowed from other organizations that have different cultures and different operating constraints. Once confirmed and approved by the organization, these policies and rules make a strong statement about the practice and conduct that the organization expects. Yet in too many instances, these policies reflect steps that should be taken rather than steps that can be performed.

Organizations should be careful if they are establishing a standard that cannot be met or enforced, because the courts may very well hold them to such unrealistic standards. Take a reality check – and review your policies and standards to ensure that they are reasonable, practical and workable for your organization and your circumstances. You may be held to these standards, so be sure that you can meet them consistently.

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