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Self Defence Laws in Canada: Myth vs Reality

Although laws are in place to protect Canadians, they can sometimes be ambiguous and difficult to understand. This is especially true when it comes to self-defence, where the law is intentionally vague in how and when Canadians should use force to defend themselves. Coupled with incorrect depictions of self-defence in the media and popular entertainment, it can be all too easy for people to get the wrong idea about how to safely protect themselves from danger. 

In today’s post, What The Law examines the truth behind self-defence misconceptions and what Canadians need to understand about their right to defend themselves.

What is Self-Defence?

Self-defence is the act of protecting oneself against a real or perceived threat. This usually involves the defender using physical force to detain or stop an attacker from harming them. There are many events that might cause someone to defend themselves, each with their own unique circumstances. These include:

  • Attempted assault
  • Attempted rape or sexual abuse
  • Robbery
  • Kidnapping or Abduction
  • Trespassing
  • Extremely threatening behaviour

Though the right to defend oneself can appear straightforward at first, it must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Every year, a number of Canadians are charged with criminal offences such as assault or even manslaughter even though they might believe they were trying to defend themselves. This is due to not fully understanding the limits of their right to self-defence and gravely harming their attacker. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about self-defence which can land someone in difficult legal territory without the right support.

Myth #1: If Someone Steals My Belongings, I Can Fight Them

Reality: Theft or robbery are often the causes behind many self-defence claims. These can happen in public, inside businesses, or at home.

If the individual wants to retrieve their stolen items from a thief, they can attempt to detain them using non-aggressive measures that will not purposefully cause bodily harm. The police must then be called to resolve the situation. This is known as a citizen’s arrest. 

The difficulty with citizen’s arrests is that they can be difficult to justify and can go wrong very easily. For example, if an individual uses excessive force against a thief, such as striking or causing bodily harm, they may be charged with assault.

Trying to retrieve goods that have been stolen from you is considerably dangerous and should generally not be attempted. Instead of attempting to detain them, it is safer to remove yourself from the thief’s path and notify the police immediately. Identify as much information about them as possible (e.g. their vehicle license plate, their physical appearance etc.). Having security measures such as cameras or alarms on your property can help identify thieves and deter them from stealing in the first place.

Myth #2: I Can Use Weapons or Arms to Defend Myself

Reality: There are often reports of home or property owners using weapons to scare off trespassers, attackers, and robbers. In the United States, some states permit residents to use guns or weapons in order to protect themselves and their property in potentially deadly scenarios, this is commonly referred to as the ‘stand-your-ground’ law. Because much of our culture here in Canada is tied to the U.S., some people mistakenly assume Canadians share the same rights.

Unlike the U.S. however, gun laws are administrated and managed federally across the whole of Canada, with gunowners needing a licence to bear arms. Similarly, Canada has a much more restrictive approach to gun usage and does not follow the ‘stand-your-ground’ law.

The use of weapons or arms to defend oneself is still heavily debated in Canadian law. While some feel weapons do help protect individuals from attackers and can save lives, others feel that this carries substantial risk to others and can instead be used aggressively rather than defensively to endanger others. 

No matter what weapon is used in self-defence, it must only be used to defend oneself against a very severe and probable threat. This is not just exclusive to firearms and does apply to other forms of weapons such as knives or baseball bats.

If an individual has used a weapon or firearm in an attempt to defend themselves against their attacker, they must inform their defence lawyer as soon as possible. Not disclosing this now could significantly affect the outcome of their investigation and could lead to an assault, murder, or manslaughter charge.

Myth #3: If the Attacker Dies, it is Murder

Reality: Using lethal force to defend yourself is a very gray area in self-defence law that must be considered on an individual case basis. Although some people make the grave mistake of being overly aggressive while defending themselves and cause their attacker’s death, there are also incidents where the defender had no choice or the death happened due to other means (e.g health problems). 

While it is entirely possible for the accused to clear their name, demonstrating their innocence to the judge requires legal support from knowledgeable and experienced criminal defence lawyers. In cases where there are no witness, unfavourable circumstances, and limited evidence, it can be very challenging for a lone individual to prove they acted in entirely self-defensive methods without having a legal professional by their side. 

Get Legal Support from a Self-Defence Lawyer in Toronto & Ontario

If you or someone close to you has been implicated in a criminal offence by attempting to defend themselves against danger, you should seek professional legal support immediately.

At What The Law, our criminal defence lawyers are here to help fight for you, no matter the circumstances. Contact us today to learn more about our services, including on self-defence cases. 

Remember, you should never have to face the law alone – we are here to help you.

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