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B.C. man used Bobcat as 'weapon' while chasing away homeless people, judge says

A skid-steer loader Bobcat is seen in this undated image. (Shutterstock) A skid-steer loader Bobcat is seen in this undated image. (Shutterstock)
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A B.C. man has been convicted of assault with a weapon after using a skid-steer Bobcat to chase two homeless people from his lawn, injuring one of them in the process.

Justice Jeremy Guild's decision was heard in Vernon provincial court earlier this month in the wake of an incident that unfolded two summers ago, when a couple stopped in the shade of a tree near William John Mcrae's home to avoid getting heat stroke. 

Guild convicted Mcrae of assault with a weapon and dangerous operation of a conveyance, saying the situation was "an unfortunate case of an otherwise law abiding citizen making assumptions about two vulnerable people."

The court heard the man and woman were riding their bikes along a multi-use public path towards Kin Beach on Okanagan Lake on Aug. 22, 2022.

"They were going for one last visit to the beach before leaving Vernon to get away from the drug subculture, and to deal with their substance use disorder," Guild wrote. "The couple (was) hoping to have a pleasant few hours before continuing with their recovery plans."

According to Guild, the pair had "all of their possessions in the world" with them on their bikes.

Environment Canada's historical data for that day showed the high temperature reached 32.6 C. As the woman was susceptible to heat stroke, the two decided to stop for a break under the shade of a tree.

As it happened, that tree was in front of Mcrae's property, the court heard. When Mcrae and his wife spotted the couple on what they believed was their property, they called bylaw officers. Bylaw officers advised the Mcraes to call the police, Guild wrote, but they did not.

'Intimidate and strike fear'

Mcrae went outside and asked the pair to leave. They started to move, Guild's decision says, even though they believed they were on public property and not doing anything wrong.

"Mr. Mcrae could not understand or properly hear what they said. He says he did not speak to them any more, but went to and turned on a sprinkler with the intent of soaking (them), as they were not moving fast enough for him," Guild wrote. "Mr. Mcrae thought that the couple may have been asleep, but saw they had started moving as a result of being soaked."

Even then, Guild said, the couple "did not move quickly enough for Mr. Mcrae," so he went and got his skid-steer Bobcat, which he uses for his landscaping business, and "put on the largest bucket he had to intimidate and strike fear into" the couple.

The court heard Mcrae then drove the Bobcat towards the pair, even as they were trying to gather their belongings.

"Mr. Mcrae banged the large metal bucket on the ground and then drove and scooped up their packs and bicycles," Guild wrote. "Mr. Mcrae pushed the couple's worldly possessions over 100 feet on the asphalt path."

Even though the couple tried to stop Mcrae, he ignored them, Guild said. A witness to the incident tried to intervene and, after having a conversation with him, Mcrae apparently "'twitched' the bucket" of the Bobcat, grazing the witness.

Bobcat 'a weapon'

During the commotion, the man angrily cut down some of Mcrae's flowers, an act which Guild described as "understandable" given Mcrae's "cruelty." In retaliation, the court heard, Mcrae drove the Bobcat back to the couple's belongings, "intent on destroying their bikes."

He drove past the man, who was still in the flower bed in that moment, but Mcrae didn't know where his partner was, Guild wrote. The court heard Mcrae then "spun the Bobcat more than once" with his focus on destroying the couple's property. It was while he was damaging their bikes that Mcrae hit the woman, Guild explained.

"He knew that a Bobcat could seriously harm or kill people who were near it when being operated … he did not care, and took a risk," Guild's decision said, adding he hit the woman while in the process of destroying her property. "As a result, she was injured and fell to the ground. The Bobcat was a weapon, and Mr. Mcrae assaulted her with it."

Mcrae himself testified he chose the largest bucket he had for his Bobcat in order to intimidate and scare the couple, which Guild said furthered the argument the Bobcat was used as a weapon.

'Prejudice and assumptions'

On multiple occasions, Guild wrote Mcrae's actions were based on "assumptions" about the couple. Mcrae told the court he'd had multiple experiences with people "trespassing and loitering" on his property, leading to his frustrations. As well, the victim was 33 years old when the incident happened, which Guild said was a contributing factor.

"I have no doubt that Mr. Mcrae would not have done what he did to an elderly or other person suffering from heat stroke," Guild wrote.

"I am sure he would have asked if they needed help, and provided it. He did not do so because of bias, prejudice and assumptions: precisely what (the victim) said she had suffered from her entire life."

Mcrae is scheduled to appear in court on June 14 for sentencing.  

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