In a world that often feels unsafe, the decision to carry pepper spray as self-defence can easily be seen as a sensible precaution since it only temporarily disables an attacker.
However, in Canada, pepper spray is classified as a prohibited weapon under the Firearms Act, which forms part of the Criminal Code of Canada. This means that owning and carrying pepper spray is only allowed under very specific (and strict!) conditions. One is the requirement to register for a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL).
If you're found carrying pepper spray without a PAL, you can face serious consequences, including fines, imprisonment, and a criminal record. The severity of the punishment you will receive depends on the circumstances of the offense and your criminal history.
While pepper spray may seem like a useful tool for self-defense, you have to follow the proper legal procedures and ensure that you’re using it safely and responsibly.
Is Pepper Spray Legal in Canada?
Because pepper spray is considered a prohibited weapon, Canadian law does not allow anyone to possess or carry pepper spray. Pepper spray may also not be produced or sold in Canada.
As mentioned above, there's an exception to this rule — if you obtain a PA from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. This option is only available in certain provinces, and you will have to pass a background check, finish a safety course, and meet other stringent criteria.
When we talk about pepper spray, we're casting a wide net. It includes:
The common pepper spray
Any other gas, liquid, spray, powder, or substance that can cause an injury, immobilise, or incapacitate a person.
Simply put, if it can harm or restrict someone's ability to move or react, it falls under the legal definition of pepper spray.
If you infringe upon these laws, it can lead to severe consequences, including:
A legal record.
The severity of the penalty often depends on the circumstances of the offense. For example, whether the pepper spray was used or intended for use in a crime. In addition, it will also depend on whether the Crown proceeds summarily or by indictment.
It's crucial to understand these risks before deciding to carry such items.
The main difference between bear spray and pepper spray lies in their intended use and concentration of the active ingredient, oleoresin capsicum.
Bear spray (also known as bear mace) is designed to project the chemical up to 10 meters so that the user can deter aggressive bears, while pepper spray is for personal defense against humans.
In Canada, bear spray is legal to own and possess. It's specifically sold for use in the wilderness, where you might cross paths with a bear while hiking or engaged in hunting activities. Pepper spray has a different legal status. It’s considered a prohibited weapon in Canada, meaning you can't buy it at your local store.
However, if you use bear spray with the purpose of harming another individual, it would be considered a prohibited weapon. This is illegal in Canada, and you could face charges for possession of a prohibited weapon under section 92 (1) of the Criminal Code. Other charges could include assault with a weapon.
Understanding these differences is crucial to avoid any legal complications.
Weapons Classification of Pepper Spray Under the Canadian Criminal Code
In the Canadian legal system, the classification and handling of weapons are regulated with a clear set of rules. For purposes of these rules, pepper spray is considered a weapon.
It is important that you familiarize yourself with these classifications and handle all weapons, including pepper spray, within the confines of the law.
Pepper spray is prohibited under the Firearms Act and falls under the category of prohibited weapons listed in the Canadian Criminal Code. This means it's illegal for you to own, make, sell, or even use it in Canada.
As already mentioned, possessing or carrying mace is a criminal offense in Canada. It is classified with the other types of possession offenses outlined in sections 88 to 91 of the Criminal Code.
The law takes a firm stand on the possession of pepper spray. If you are caught in possession of pepper spray, you can be charged with a criminal offense and could face a maximum 10-year prison sentence or a fine of up to $5,000. You will also end up with a criminal record that could negatively impact your future.
Section 88 – Possession of a Weapon for Dangerous Purposes
In Canada, the law is clear: if you're found with a weapon that could harm others or for any unlawful reasons, you're committing an offense. Pepper spray is seen as such a weapon. This means that if you are caught carrying pepper spray, you could be looking at criminal charges.
The extent of the punishment you might face depends on the gravity of your case. The Crown can choose to deal with it in two ways: summarily, which is less severe, or by indictment, which is more serious and could lead to harsher penalties.
In the most extreme cases, the penalty can be as big as ten years in prison. So, it's absolutely vital for you to understand the gravity of these laws and to steer clear of carrying items like pepper spray.
Section 89 – Carrying Weapon While Attending Public Meeting
Section 89(1) of the Criminal Code makes it an offense for any individual to carry, without lawful reason, a prohibited weapon, prohibited device, ammunition, or prohibited ammunition while attending or on the way to attend a public meeting.
Because pepper spray is a prohibited weapon, carrying it in public is illegal. This means if you're found with pepper spray at a public meeting or even on your way to one, you're breaking the law.
The prosecution for such offenses is typically handled summarily, which means it's a less severe process but still carries significant consequences. The penalties can range from a fine to imprisonment for up to two years, or in some cases, both.
Section 90 – Carrying Concealed Weapon
Carrying a concealed weapon is a serious crime in Canada, and pepper spray falls under this category. Even though it might seem harmless, if you're carrying it hidden — meaning it's not visible without searching your belongings — it's still considered a weapon.
Under the Criminal Code, carrying any weapon without authorization from the Firearms Act is illegal. The penalty can be quite severe if you're caught with concealed pepper spray. You could face anything from fines to up to five years in prison, depending on how the Crown proceeds.
Section 91(2) – Unauthorized Possession of Prohibited Weapon or Restricted Weapon
In Canada, mace — a form of tear gas — is considered a prohibited weapon. You could face severe repercussions if you have it without the right license. If you're caught with mace and don't have a valid permit, you'll be prosecuted under section 91(2) of the Criminal Code. This section states that unauthorized possession of a prohibited or restricted weapon could land you up to five years in prison.
It's crucial to understand that even if you've bought mace legally, you must still use it within the law's bounds. For instance, if you're carrying mace while intoxicated or using it on someone without their consent, you're committing an offense. Also, it's illegal to have mace in certain places like schools, bars, and other public areas where children might be present.
Exceptions for Possession or Carrying of Pepper Spray
There is one exception to the pepper spray legislation in Canada. According to Canada's Pest Control Product Act, sprays designed for use on pests are legal in Canada. The term "pest" includes an animal that is injurious, noxious, and troublesome. However, pepper spray does not fit under this exception.
Based on this definition, bear spray fits easily into the category of pest-control products, which are legal in Canada. Even so, if you are caught with bear spray in an area not associated with bears or wildlife, you can still be charged with the criminal offense of possessing or carrying a weapon.
It's always a good idea to check your local regulations before you buy, carry, or use any kind of pepper spray product. In fact, by getting a handle on the laws and rules around bear spray in Canada and making sure you use your mace responsibly, you can protect yourself from potential legal issues.
What To Do If You’ve Been Charged with a Weapons Offense
If you have been charged with a weapons offense in Canada, it is important to take the situation seriously and seek legal advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The penalties for weapons offenses in Canada are severe, and a conviction can have a significant impact on your future.
If you, or someone you know, have been charged with a criminal offense for carrying pepper spray or any other criminal offense, obtaining legal representation is vital. The team at Pyzer Criminal Lawyers, Ontario specialize in weapons charges and can provide you with expert defense to protect your rights. We can help you understand the charges, the potential consequences, and we have many years of experience formulating the best strategies for your defense.
Is it legal to bring pepper spray into Canada from the United States?
No, it is illegal to bring pepper spray into Canada from the United States. Pepper spray is listed as a prohibited weapon under the Criminal Code. If you're caught at the Canadian border with pepper spray, there could be serious consequences. These might include penalties, potentially even jail time, and a criminal record. If found guilty, you could be facing an indictable offense with potential jail time of up to 10 years.
Is homemade pepper spray legal?
Pepper spray falls under subsection B of the Firearm Act, categorizing it as an illegal weapon. That means manufacturing, selling, or using any kind of spray that aligns with this definition is considered a criminal offense — even homemade pepper spray.
What happens if you pepper spray someone?
When pepper spray is used on someone, it can cause physical injuries and create immediate and potent effects including:
Immediate and intense burning pain in the eyes
The consequences of using pepper spray on someone else, even in self-defense, can be severe. If caught, you could face legal consequences, including fines or imprisonment. This is because pepper spray is on the list of prohibited weapons, and using it against someone else would be classified as assault under the Criminal Code.
What self-defense weapons are legal in Canada?
In Canada, the law around self-defense tools is quite strict. The possession and use of many items typically considered as self-defense tools are prohibited due to their classification as weapons. Even though the justice minister of Alberta made a request to the federal government to ask for changes to the Criminal Code to allow people to carry pepper spray for self-defense, the request was denied.
However, there are other options available to you for security and protection. Some of the self-defense items that you can legally carry in Canada include dog sprays, personal safety alarms, self-defense keychains, safety whistles, and flashlights.
It's important to note that while these items are legal, their use must be appropriate and proportional to the threat faced. Misuse can still lead to criminal charges.
Legal Review By:
Criminal Defence Lawyer (B.A., L.L.B.)
Jonathan Pyzer, B.A., L.L.B, distinguished McGill University and University of Western Ontario alumnus, is a dedicated criminal defence lawyer throughout Ontario. Co-founder of Kostman & Pyzer, Barristers, he focuses on defending individual rights.