Sympathetic judge jails N.S. man who shot son: 'I truly feel terrible for you'

HALIFAX -- Michael Paul Dockrill accidentally shot and killed his son with a rifle the young man had given him for protection during a 2011 drug robbery.

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On Friday, he cried softly as he was sentenced to four years in prison by a judge who was sympathetic but clear-eyed about where the blame lies.

"I truly feel terrible for you," Justice Josh Arnold said as he concluded his three-hour sentencing in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

"You changed your world forever on June 12, 2011, when you fired that shot. Hopefully, in the future drug dealers and the families with whom they live will be less likely to take the law into their own hands and arm themselves with guns."

Dockrill hugged emotional relatives moments before sheriffs placed him in handcuffs and escorted him out of the Halifax courtroom in front of his remaining son and daughter.

Arnold's decision upholds the minimum mandatory sentence for gun crimes. Dockrill was convicted in April of criminal negligence causing death for shooting his son 20-year-old son, Jason.

Court heard that the young man had been living with his father and dealing drugs out of their basement when he was warned that someone was threatening to steal marijuana and money from the home.

Arnold said Jason had given his father a .30-.30 Winchester rifle for protection, weeks before Dockrill was awakened to someone standing over him in bed and threatening to rob him.

Court heard that Jason Dockrill was in the basement with a friend when intruders kicked down the door and cocked a gun before one of them went into the basement and asked for the money.

One witness said the intruder hit Jason Dockrill in the head with a gun, causing it to go off before he fled the house.

In a profanity-laced statement Dockrill gave to police, he said he grabbed the loaded gun and fired as someone scrambled out the front door, claiming his eyes may have been shut as he pulled the trigger and mistakenly felled his son with a bullet that entered the top of his shoulder.

"Michael Dockrill was acting as an outlaw," Arnold said. "Instead of contacting the authorities to deal with a possible home invasion, Jason Dockrill and Michael Dockrill loaded up for an armed vigilante conflict."

Arnold dismissed the defence's argument that the minimum sentence violated Dockrill's Charter rights, citing several other criminal negligence cases involving firearms that upheld the four-year term.

Brian Church, Dockrill's lawyer, argued that he should not face the mandatory minimum sentence because he's already living "in a prison of grief."

He declined to comment as he left court, while Dockrill opted not to address the court.

Crown attorney Rick Woodburn, who was seeking a five- to seven-year sentence, said outside court that it was wrong to refer to the matter as an accidental shooting, as Dockrill intended to shoot someone.

"He meant to kill a home invader and, in turn, killed his son. That's tragic," he said. "When somebody has a drug operation going on inside a house and they want to protect it, arming yourself and shooting invaders is not self-defence and is not an accident."

The mandatory minimum sentence of four years for gun crimes was enacted as part of the former Harper government's 2008 criminal justice reforms.

The Crown had argued that Dockrill mishandled a loaded weapon, and the mandatory minimum sentence sends a message that care needs to be taken when using a firearm.

The judge agreed.

"This tragedy is precisely why Canada has such stringent gun laws," he said. "In this case, Michael Dockrill fired an instrument specifically designed for killing...His regret is that in shooting blindly, he killed his son and not a home invader."



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