Understanding Bear Spray Laws in Canada

    When you are out exploring the Canadian wilderness, it is important to carry the tools necessary to protect yourself from dangerous encounters with wildlife. While hiking and camping in certain regions, carrying bear spray can be a critical tool to carry for your personal protection to avoid a bear attack.

    Carrying bear spray is legal and provides you with an important line of defence in the event that you encounter a bear by deploying a burst of pepper spray which irritates a bear’s eyes and causes them to retreat.

    Bear spray should only be used as a last resort and attempts should be made to get out of the bear’s way first. You should yell “Hey Bear” if the bear is coming towards you, and only use the bear spray if the bear is sufficiently close to you.

    wilderness preparation
    wilderness preparation

    What is Bear Spray?

    Bear spray is a bottle of liquid spray powder chemicals containing capsaicin which is designed to spray the substance approximately 10m into the direction of an approaching bear. Bear spray can be purchased at hardware stores such as Canadian Tire as well as wilderness survival stores.

    To be legal in Canada, the label must clearly show that it is intended for use on animals and the package volume cannot exceed 500 ml.

    How Does Bear Spray Work?

    Bear spray cans shoot the substance up to 10m and when a bear walks into the spray, the substance will irritate the eyes and skin of the bear so as to cause the bear to retreat. Bear spray is not harmful to the bear and the effect is temporary.

    How is Bear Spray Used?

    Bear spray is used by removing the safety tip on the can, point the nozzle away from you, and point the nozzle in the direction of the bear’s face. Use quick, one second bursts until the bear retreats and immediately leave the area. Be careful not to walk into the path of the spray.

    How to Use Bear Spray - Banff National Park (YouTube Video)

    Understanding Canadian Laws For Carrying Bear Spray for Protection

    Bear spray is legal and only sold for use in wilderness situations in which an individual is likely to encounter a bear. As a result, if a person was to carry bear spray or pepper spray in their pocket walking around in the city, they may be charged for carrying a concealed weapon under s. 90 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

    S. 90 (1) states:

    90 (1) Every person commits an offence who carries a weapon, a prohibited device or any prohibited ammunition concealed, unless the person is authorized under the Firearms Act to carry it concealed.

    (2) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1)

    (a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

    (b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

    It is also important that the original labels be kept on the product as the bear spray must say it is designed to be used on animals.

    bear spray bottle
    bear spray bottle

    Things To Look For When Buying Bear Spray

    When purchasing bear spray, check for:

    • The expiry date of the spray
    • Ensure it has a safety cap
    • Does it say bear spray or bear repellant?
    • The size and strength of the product

    When Should Bear Spray Be Used

    As mentioned, bear spray should only be used as a last resort and all opportunities should be given to allow the bear to retreat on its own or to escape from the situation. If you are camping, food must be stored in a locked container so that it does not attract wildlife.

    Legal Consequences One Might Face When Using The Wrong Spray

    If a person is carrying bear spray outside of a setting in which it would be reasonable for it to be used, he or she may be charged under 90 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada.

    S. 90 (1) states:

    90 (1) Every person commits an offence who carries a weapon, a prohibited device or any prohibited ammunition concealed, unless the person is authorized under the Firearms Act to carry it concealed.

    Marginal note: Punishment

    (2) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1)

    (a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

    (b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

    It is also important that the original labels be kept on the product as the spray must say it is intended for use on animals.

    Using Bear Spray for Self Defence Against Another Person

    If bear spray was used against another person or used for the purpose of harming another individual, it would be considered a prohibited weapon and it would be illegal in Canada to do so. This could include charges for possession of a prohibited weapon under s. 92 (1) of the Criminal Code. Other charges could include assault with a weapon. A prohibited weapon is defined as:

    1 Any device designed to be used for the purpose of injuring, immobilizing or otherwise incapacitating any person by the discharge therefrom of

    • (a) tear gas, Mace or other gas, or
    • (b) any liquid, spray, powder or other substance that is capable of injuring, immobilizing or otherwise incapacitating any person.

    The Difference Between Bear Spray and Pepper Spray

    Bear spray and pepper spray are essentially the same thing, but bear spray is designed to project the chemical up to 10 meters so that the person does not have to get in close proximity to the bear.

    Pepper spray is a prohibited weapon in Canada and cannot be purchased at retail stores. It is illegal to purchase and possess pepper spray.

    Bear Spray Law FAQs

    What will bear spray do to a human?

    Bear spray will have the same effects on a human as pepper spray. Like pepper spray, it irritates the eyes and throat and causes an individual to have difficulty seeing and breathing. The effect is temporary. Bear spray is designed in higher concentrations than regular pepper spray, so it will be more dangerous to health when used on a human.

    Is it legal to spray someone with bear spray?

    Bear spray would be considered a prohibited weapon when used against a human. It would be a criminal offence to use bear spray against a human. 

    What does bear spray feel like?

    Bear spray would cause an intense burning sensation on the skin, throat, and eyes.

    Is bear spray stronger than dog spray?

    Bear spray is designed in higher concentrations than dog spray, so it is stronger than dog spray.

    Conclusion

    Bear spray is a powerful and effective tool which every survivalist should have when travelling into the woods. However, it can cause legal challenges for individuals possessing it for purposes other than for protection against bears. 

    If you are facing charges related to the possession and use of bear spray, contact our team to learn more about how we can help. You can reach us at  (416-658-1818) or by contacting us

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