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Can I Use a Firearm for Self Defence in Canada?

Updated: Jan 31


a woman defending herself with a firearm

In Canada, the use of firearms for self defence is prohibited. The use of firearms in self-defence is legally justifiable only when there is an imminent threat to life. But, this is challenging to prove in court. In cases involving firearms, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of the firearm exceeded the boundaries of reasonable self-defence.


  • If you use a gun for self-defense and you're charged with a serious crime such as assault or murder, you have the option to claim self-defense in court. Whether this defense is successful depends on the specific circumstances.

  • You could still be guilty of illegal firearm possession if you didn't have a gun license or used a banned gun.

  • In Canada, carrying tools solely for self-defense is illegal. But, using an everyday item like a flashlight for self-defense is legal if it's initially carried for a different purpose.


Want to know what you can defend yourself with? Keep reading to find out the best alternatives for self defense tools on the market and learn more about defending yourself with a firearm in Canada.


Can I Posses A Firearm To Defend Myself? Gun Laws Explained

First off: To use a handgun in self-defense legally, you must face an immediate and credible threat to life or suffer severe bodily harm. The use of a firearm must be a last resort. Plus if you have the right to own a handgun, safe storage and transportation are mandatory. Violating these principles can lead to criminal charges.


The law is clear that firearms cannot be used for the defense of property alone. Carrying a firearm for self defense is illegal. In fact, carrying any weapon or tool for the purposes of self defense is illegal. Our self-defense laws are strange.


But then the self defense laws get more intricate ...


Did You Use Reasonable Force With The Firearm?

Canadian law mandates that any force in self-defense must be:


  1. Necessary and proportionate to the threat faced. In other words - if you shoot someone who has broken into your home, but they attacked you with a knife, say, then the court may have to take into account whether you used "excessive" force on that intruder considering they only had a knife.

  2. Your Belief That Your Life Was In Danger: They will also consider whether you deemed your life in immediate danger such as imminent life-threatening situations.


"Duty to Retreat" Principle

In Canada, there's an emphasis on avoiding violence and retreating from potential conflicts when safely possible.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during an interview on the Crooked Media podcast in LA, stated that in Canada, firearm owners do not have the right to use their weapons for self-defense. This statement was made while he was participating in the Summit of the Americas.


“We have a culture where the difference is guns can be used for hunting or for sport shooting in Canada and there’s lots of gun owners and they’re mostly law respecting and law abiding.”


“But you can’t use a gun for self-protection in Canada, that’s not a right that you have, in the constitution or anywhere else.”


In addition, there is the complexity of gun licensing requirements ...


Gun Licensing Requirements

To legally possess a firearm, you must obtain a government-issued license, either a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) or a Possession Only License (POL). Eligibility includes completing a safety course, having no criminal record, and no history of mental illness.


All firearms in Canada must be officially registered, including details of the firearm, owner and intended use. Certain individuals, such as those with mental health issues, violent crime convictions, or domestic abuse records, are barred from owning firearms.


While firearms acquisition certificates are necessary for owning hunting rifles and shotguns, using these for self-defence is subject to stringent legal scrutiny. The law permits self-defence but mandates that the use of a firearm in such a scenario must be reasonable and proportional to the perceived threat. Now, let's explore some non-firearm alternatives that can be used for self-defense, starting with Dog Spray.


7 Alternatives to Firearms for Self-Defense


sabre self defense spray



sabre self defense spray



sabre self defense spray


While it's against the law in Canada to carry bear spray for use on people, dog and coyote spray is a permissible alternative for defense against dogs, wildlife, and other (ahem) animals. This type of spray, including versions specifically for dogs and coyotes, is typically available in small canisters with a key ring attachment, allowing you to easily attach it to your keychain or bag. You can read our full guide on whether you can use bear spray for self defense in Canada here.




With a sneaky hidden compartment, this stainless-steel bottle is your sidekick defense tool and also allows you to stash cash, cards, keys and those little treasures you want hidden away. And here's the kicker: it's a fully functional water bottle. Check prices on Amazon. 


steel water bottle



Personal alarms emit a piercing 125-decibel noise and a flashing strobe light when activated, effectively drawing attention and disorienting potential attackers. Ideal for joggers, seniors, teens, women and night workers, these alarms are a reliable tool for anyone who might feel vulnerable. Compact in size, they fit easily into a bag or pocket. Here are some personal safety alarms we recommend:


shes birdie keychain



self defense keychain


self defense keychain



self defense keychain



safety keychain



safety keychain


Self-defense keychains occupy a gray area in Canadian law. While carrying any item exclusively for self-defense is illegal, as it's classified as a prohibited weapon, keychains are legally permissible if their primary purpose is something else, like holding keys. In situations where a keychain with self-defense features is used defensively during an unexpected attack, this use might be defendable in court.


tactical flashlight



tactical flashlight

Your every day flashlight can serve as a self-defense tool, capable of blinding and disorienting an attacker when shone in their eyes. Being a legal item to carry in Canada, unlike various other self-defense tools, you can conveniently keep a flashlight with you in your bag at all times without legal concerns.




tactical pen amazon


tactical self defense pen

If you’re trapped in a car, you can break glass with a Tactical Pen. And remember, in Canada, it's illegal to carry it solely as a weapon, so it's on you because it's a pen, right? This handy little tool typically features a sharp or pointed end perfect for glass-breaking emergencies. And yes, it's sharp enough for self-defense if things get dicey. So when picking one, choose a pen that's mightier in more ways than one – for writing, window-smashing, or even giving an unwelcome intruder a surprise jab.




apple airtag

While the primary function of Apple’s AirTag is for tracking belongings, it also serves a useful role in your personal safety. Placing one in your bag or on your keychain allows friends and family to keep an eye on your location through the Find My app, which can be reassuring when you're out for a jog or commuting in the evening.


Keep in mind, in Canada, you can't carry any tool with the sole intention of using it for self-defense. However, if you're carrying an item like a flashlight for another purpose and end up using it as a weapon in a confrontation, then you're acting within the law. For example, if you have a flashlight with you for lighting the way at night, and you use it to defend yourself during an attack, this would be considered legal since the flashlight was not carried with the intention of self-defense.


Can I Use A Firearm For Self Defence? Gun Control Laws

Canada's gun control laws, especially the 1977 Criminal Law Amendment Act, tightly regulate firearms. Automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns and rifles are prohibited for general public use. Handguns require a registration certificate and are restricted to specific groups like police, security personnel, gun club members, collectors, and individuals demonstrating a need for self-protection.


Key Points:

  • Prohibition of Certain Weapons: Automatic firearms, sawed-off shotguns, and rifles are generally prohibited.

  • Handguns: Owning a handgun requires a registration certificate, reserved for specific groups like police, security personnel, and gun collectors.

  • Acquisition Certificates: Necessary for hunting rifles and shotguns, these certificates are a prerequisite for legal ownership.


The Firearms Act

In Part One, section 28 of the Firearms Act, circumstances in which an individual needs restricted firearms or prohibited handguns to protect the life of that individual or of other individuals are where:


  • (a) the life of that individual, or other individuals, is in imminent danger from one or more other individuals;

  • (b) police protection is not sufficient in the circumstances; and

  • (c) the possession of a restricted firearm or prohibited handgun can reasonably be justified for protecting the individual or other individuals from death or grievous bodily harm.


Even though using a firearm in self-defense may be legal if your life is under threat, historically, in case law this has been very tricky for people to prove. If it is found that a firearm was used with malicious intent, making the act illegal, the consequences are quite severe.


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