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Is Pepper Spray Legal in Canada?

Updated: 12 hours ago

pepper spray hitting bear

Is pepper spray legal in Canada? This question often arises among Canadians looking for effective self-defense options. In Canada, pepper spray intended for use on humans is considered a prohibited weapon and is therefore illegal.

I know, right? Our self defense laws are something of a joke.

I'm going to explain in the simplest (least boring) terms the legal framework surrounding pepper spray and give you some pepper spray options too (just in case).

Is Pepper Spray Legal In Canada?

In Canada, the use of pepper spray that's intended for use on humans is illegal. Classified as a prohibited weapon under the Canadian Criminal Code, it is not permissible for personal self-defense against other individuals. This law reflects Canada's strict stance on weapons and personal safety, aiming to reduce harm and prevent misuse that could exacerbate conflicts.

But, products like bear spray, which are formulated for use against wildlife and clearly labeled for such purposes, are legal. Bear spray must only be used in genuine self-defense situations against animals.

Top 5 Pepper Sprays For Animal Defense

While self-defense sprays intended for use against humans are prohibited in Canada, there are alternatives legally available that are designed specifically for defense against animals. These sprays are a vital tool for those in areas prone to wildlife encounters or for specific professional use cases.

Here, we explore the top pepper sprays available on Amazon that meet these criteria, ensuring you stay protected within the bounds of the law ... that is, using them only (ahem) animals.

sabre self defense spray

pepper spray

sabre self defense spray

sabre self defense spray

pepper spray

Is it Legal to Have Pepper Spray in Canada?

In Canada, pepper spray is classified as a prohibited weapon because it is intended for use in self-defense. Under Canadian law, civilians are not permitted to carry or possess pepper spray. Being caught with pepper spray can lead to criminal charges and result in significant legal consequences.

Is Bear Spray Stronger Than Pepper Spray?

Bear spray and pepper spray differ significantly in their formulation and intended use. Bear spray is specifically designed to be more potent, covering a wider area and effective from a greater distance.

Typically, bear spray can be deployed from 20 to 40 feet away, with the exact range influenced by the brand, can size, and environmental conditions. This range makes it a better deterrent in situations involving wildlife compared to the more localized effect of pepper spray.

What Does Bear Spray Do To Human Skin?

Bear spray contains a highly concentrated form of capsaicin, the same chemical that gives hot peppers their heat. For comparison, while a habanero pepper may reach up to 300,000 Scoville heat units—a scale that measures spiciness—bear spray can hit around 2 million Scoville units. When it comes into contact with human skin, bear spray causes an intense burning sensation, similar to a severe sunburn.

Despite its status as a generally safe and necessary defense tool when used appropriately, there are potential complications associated with pepper spray exposure, particularly from overexposure. These can include severe burns, loss of vision, and the exacerbation of pre-existing health conditions.

What is The Best Counter To Pepper Spray?

There are several methods to alleviate the effects of pepper spray, but using water and detergent is the most effective treatment for removing the irritant from the skin.

Why Is Pepper Spray Illegal In Canada?

If you are found with pepper spray in Canada, you could be charged with a criminal offense and face significant penalties. These can include a prison sentence of up to 10 years, fines reaching $5,000, and a criminal record that could harm your future job prospects.

Moreover, importing pepper spray into Canada from the United States or other countries is illegal. Canadian customs officers are authorized to seize any mace, pepper spray, or tear gas in a traveler's possession and may criminally prosecute the individual if they suspect the spray was intended for criminal use.

However, there is an exception for law enforcement officials and government employees, who can legally carry pepper spray for work purposes if they have the necessary permits.

What are the Offences & Consequences of Pepper Spray Possession?

Intent matters: You cannot carry pepper spray for the purposes of using it against another human. Offences for possessing pepper spray are detailed in Sections 88-91 of Canada's Criminal Code:

  • Possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes (Section 88)

  • Carrying a weapon while attending a public meeting (Section 89)

  • Carrying a concealed weapon (Section 90)

  • Unauthorized possession of a prohibited weapon or restricted weapon (Section 91(2))

Anyone found guilty of offenses outlined in Sections 88, 90, and 91(2) of the Criminal Code for possessing pepper spray—or any other weapon—faces criminal penalties. This could include being convicted of an indictable offense and possibly facing imprisonment.

What's The Difference Between Mace™ & Pepper Spray?

Although people often use the terms "pepper spray" and "Mace™" interchangeably, they're not identical.

Pepper spray broadly refers to a range of products known as oleoresin capsicum (OC) sprays. All OC sprays share the active ingredient capsaicin, which causes eye irritation, burning sensations, pain, and temporary blindness.

In contrast, Mace™ is actually a brand name, originating in the 1960s in the United States. Initially, Mace™ included tear gas among other ingredients. Nowadays, many Mace™ products contain oleoresin capsicum, making them a type of pepper spray. Mace™ also produces products with different active ingredients, so it doesn't refer to a single category of self-defense sprays.

What is a Prohibited Weapon?

The Criminal Code of Canada outlines an extensive list of prohibited weapons. A weapon is defined as anything intended to cause death or injury, or to threaten or intimidate any person.

The list of prohibited weapons is comprehensive and includes not only firearms but also items commonly used in hunting (such as crossbows, which require a license) and self-defense items like pepper spray.

While it might be surprising to see items like pepper spray classified as prohibited weapons, other items on the list, such as rocket launchers and automatic weapons, are more expected.

Pepper Spray Classification

According to Section 88 of the Criminal Code, pepper spray is considered a prohibited weapon. It includes any device designed to cause injury, immobilize, or incapacitate by discharging gas (like tear gas or mace) or any liquid, spray, powder, or other substance.

The Criminal Code also mandates that anyone possessing any type of firearm in public, transporting them, or storing them without reasonable precautions can be charged with an offence.

Handling Pepper Spray Offences in Canada

Pepper spray and mace offences are taken seriously by Canadian courts. Possessing pepper spray for self-defense is not always sufficient to avoid charges.

Federal Regulations

Under federal regulations, pepper spray can only be sold to someone with a valid Firearms Acquisition Certificate or Authorization to Carry. It can be used for self-defense, but using it for non-defensive purposes is a criminal offence with severe penalties.

Concealed Weapon Offence

Pepper spray is also considered a concealed weapon, which can result in substantial penalties.

Even legally purchased pepper spray must be used responsibly and remain in the possession of the authorized owner. Unauthorized use or possession can lead to severe penalties, especially if aggravating factors are present or the individual has a prior criminal record.

Relevant Criminal Code Sections:

  • Section 88: Possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes

  • Section 89: Carrying a weapon while attending a public meeting

  • Section 90: Carrying a concealed weapon

  • Section 91(2): Unauthorized possession of a prohibited or restricted weapon

What Are The Penalties?

Penalties for pepper spray offences can include up to 10 years in prison, fines up to $5,000, and a lifelong criminal record affecting employment, travel, education, and immigration status.

Bringing Pepper Spray into Canada

Carrying pepper spray on a plane or attempting to bring it into Canada is a criminal offence. Customs officials will confiscate it, and you may face prosecution if it's believed to be intended for criminal use.

Final Thoughts: Is Pepper Spray Legal In Canada?

The legality of pepper spray in Canada is clear: it is classified as a prohibited weapon when intended for use against humans and is therefore illegal for personal self-defense purposes. This strict regulation stems from a commitment to public safety and the prevention of misuse that could escalate violent situations.

Canadian self-defense laws are highly restrictive, primarily designed to minimize violence by tightly controlling the use of items like pepper spray, which are classified as prohibited weapons.

This approach stems from a broader legal philosophy aimed at preventing escalations in public confrontations and ensuring public safety through regulation rather than self-administration of defense.

What are your thoughts about pepper spray usage? You can find out more in my guide Can You Use Bear Spray For Self-Defense In Canada?

Let me know in the comments below what you'd like to learn about next!

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