What are Canada’s Self Defence Laws?

You may be wondering what the self defence laws in Canada are. Read this blog to learn more about Canada’s self defence laws and how they could be used for your case. 

Self Defence is a commonly heard form of defence when accused of assault. As Canadians, we hear about self defence constantly in the media on television, in films, and in books. Since self defence in this context is mostly viewed from an American lens, you may be wondering what the self defence laws in Canada are. Read this blog to learn more about Canada’s self defence laws and how they could be used for your case. 

What is Self Defence?

Self defence is defined as the act of protecting and defending oneself (or one’s property/interests) typically through the use of physical force. Self defence is permitted as a reasonable defence against charges of a violent crime. According to the Canadian Criminal Code, self defence is having reasonable grounds that the act of force they have committed was a reasonable response to defending themselves or another person from the use or threat of force.  

What Constitutes a Reasonable Amount of Force?

Under section 34 of the Criminal Code individuals can defend themselves with reasonable force if they are being attacked or have a good reason to believe they are at risk of being attacked; however, reasonable force against another act of force can be difficult to determine. For example, if an individual was threatening to, or had, hit you in the face with their fist, it would not be considered reasonable force in self defence for you to shoot and kill them. Another example of unreasonable force would be to continue to hit or harm someone who has stopped their act of force (either from backing down or not being able to). The intent of the allowance of reasonable force is for individuals to be able to protect and remove themselves, their loved ones, and their property from unsafe conditions and the threat of harm. Here are some questions that may be asked and considered in a criminal case where the defendant is saying they were utilizing self defence. 

  • Did the attacker or defendant use a weapon?
  • Were there reasonable responses to the force or threat other than physical force?
  • Was the self-defence response relatively proportionate to the attacker’s?
  • What was the nature of the attacker’s threat or force? How imminent was the threat of safety?
  •  What were the personal demographics (age, gender, size, physical ability) of both attacker and responder?
  • Do the two parties know each other? Is there a history of precious altercations?
  • What was the responding person’s role in the altercation?
  • Was the threat or use of force lawful? For example, police using lawful force.

The answers to these questions can determine whether or not your use of force will be considered self-defence or assault. If a judge and jury determine that the use of force was unreasonable due to the nature of the attack (section 34 (2) Criminal Code), self defence can not be used as a defence against an assault or murder charge. 

What Self Defence is Considered Acceptable in Canada?

There are three forms of defence that are considered to be acceptable in Canada.

  • Defence of self
  • Defence of others
  • Defence of personal property

Within these areas, there are many types of events that can be considered a lawful reason for using self defence. This includes:

  • Physical assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Extremely threatening behavior
  • Kidnapping or abduction 
  • Domestic abuse
  • Trespassing
  • Robbery

Any attempt at these acts is also considered legal grounds for self-defence. Canadians are allowed, legally, to use force to protect themselves, others, and their property; however, how much force that can be used in a case of self defence is entirely dependent on the individual situation. A general rule to know is that self defence cannot continue once the threat is eliminated. If the attacker has backed down or is unconscious, it is no longer considered self defence to continue to use force upon that person. This is because under the Criminal Code, in order to be lawful self defence, the victim must believe they (or someone else, or their property) are under attack, actions taken must be in defence only, and the force used must be reasonable given the circumstances. 

Self defence can become particularly difficult to determine in a court of law if there is extensive injury sustained to the attacker. If the attacker is severely injured, will face permanent difficulties as a result of the injury, or were fatally wounded due to an act of self defence, a defendant can find more difficulty in being acquitted. There are many cases were serious injury and death of an attacker can be considered reasonable, anywhere from the attacker’s injury or death being out of the victim’s control or not an intended result, if the attacker would not back down and serious injury was the only response, or if there is the ability to prove that the victim attempted other responses before using force. 

Can You Use Self Defence for Your Case’s Defence?

Using self defence as a defence in a court of law is highly dependent on the individual factors within every case. If you have been charged with a criminal offence that was due to defending yourself, someone else, or your property, and you truly believe you were acting in self defence, you can likely use the defence of self defence. If you have been charged, the first thing you should do is contact an established criminal defence lawyer. Your lawyer will know whether the individual factors of your case will add up to being reasonable self defence. 

Brian McGlashan is an experienced criminal defence lawyer in Edmonton. He has specialization in assault charges and will be able to help you with your self defence case. If you have been charged with a criminal offence as a result of self defence, contact Brian! He will fight for you. 

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Brian McGlashan
Brian McGlashan, co-founder of McGlashan & Company was called to the Alberta Bar in 1995. Brian has appeared in all levels of Alberta Courts. Brian practices criminal law with a primary focus on Impaired Driving charges (DUI). Brian is a member of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association.

McGlashan & Company is an Edmonton Criminal Law Firm located just south of Edmonton’s historic Whyte Avenue.

Brian McGlashan has been defending DUI/Impaired Driving charges in Edmonton for over 20+ years.