After eight years of Trudeau government, Canada has become a dramatically more dangerous place. After declining for decades, crime is again on the rise and Canadians don’t feel safe anymore walking down the street at night in many cities, or even in their own homes.
One obvious way to deter crime is to make it clear to criminals that there are laws and enforcement means in place that make it likely that they will be caught and severely punished. Another is the fear that their victims are going to defend themselves.
Any justice system grounded in morality and reason allows self-defence. In Canada, this right is, however, inconsistently applied due to the law’s complexity and imprecision.
There have been many cases over the past years when honest citizens who defended themselves against violent assailants were themselves charged and went on trial because they used force that was not deemed “reasonable in the circumstances” and “proportionate to the perceived threat.”
Moreover, the Criminal Code specifically makes it illegal to carry and use even non-lethal devices such as pepper spray as modes of defence against potential attackers. This makes women in particular even more defenceless and prone to fall victim to aggression and sexual violence.
Sections 34 of the Criminal Code states in what circumstances individuals can use force to defend themselves or others if force is being used or threatened against them or others. Section 35 recognizes certain circumstances where an individual is justified in using physical force against another person to protect his or her property from being entered, taken, damaged or destroyed.
According to Ontario lawyer Edward Burlew, who has been involved in self-defence cases involving the use of firearms, although the Criminal Code was amended in 2013 to clarify these self-defence sections, the law remains “imprecise.” “It has been dealt with on a very uneven basis. It has been primarily driven by the individual opinions and emotions of police and prosecutors.”
A recent case is that of a Manitoba man, Dakota Pratt, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2019 after being convicted of manslaughter in the death of a person who entered his house in the middle of the night and attacked him with a knife. The resident took the assailant’s weapon and stabbed him 13 times. The judge said he had a right to protect himself but went beyond what was necessary for self-defence.
Condemning a person to years in prison for having made the wrong assessment of a “perceived threat,” or having used too much force to defend themselves while in a state of panic after being violently attacked, is clearly a breach of the universal human right to self-defence. Such legal proceedings can destroy a person’s mental health, family life, and livelihood, even when they are not found guilty of an offence.
Victims of robbery are typically advised to call the police and avoid any confrontation with assailants while waiting for the police to arrive. In rural areas however, police stations are often far away and it can take a long time for the police to arrive at the scene of a crime. The threat that a victim may retaliate with force is a crucial way to deter crime.
Criminal Code regulations list pepper spray as a prohibited weapon. Section 92 of the Criminal Code makes it illegal to possess and carry pepper spray for self-defence and punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years.
Canadians should be able to defend themselves in circumstances where they are violently attacked or are victims of robbery in their own homes, without fear of criminal charges. Everybody, and women in particular, should be allowed to carry effective means of self-defence against aggressors and rapists.
A People’s Party government will:
(Updated August 2023)