Canada Self Defence Laws: Your Rights and Responsibilities

PUBLISHED ON May 14, 2022

Canada’s self-defence laws can be difficult to understand. While the law may seem clear about what self-defence is and that people may use reasonable force when defending themselves, what constitutes “reasonable force” can prove challenging.

What follows is for general informational purposes only. It is not offered as legal advice and should not be taken as such. For legal advice, you should contact an experienced criminal lawyer like Brian Ross today.  

Canada Self Defence Laws:

The Criminal Code of Canada states the following:

34 (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if

(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;

(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and

(c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

As you can see, the word “reasonable” appears throughout s. 34. To determine whether the act is reasonable in the circumstances, the Court considers the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including but not limited to:

34 (2):

(a) the nature of the force or threat;

(b) the extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;

(c) the person’s role in the incident;

(d) whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;

(e) the size, age, gender and physical capabilities of the parties to the incident;

(f) the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat;

(f.1) any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident;

(g) the nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force; and

(h) whether the act committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.

Defence of Property?

The Criminal Code provides for the defence of property in s. 35.

35 (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if

(a) they either believe on reasonable grounds that they are in peaceable possession of property or are acting under the authority of, or lawfully assisting, a person whom they believe on reasonable grounds is in peaceable possession of the property;

(b) they believe on reasonable grounds that another person

   (i) is about to enter, is entering or has entered the property without being entitled by law to do so,

   (ii) is about to take the property, is doing so or has just done so, or

   (iii) is about to damage or destroy the property, or make it inoperative, or is doing so;

(c) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of

   (i) preventing the other person from entering the property, removing that person from the property, or

   (ii) preventing the other person from taking, damaging or destroying the property or from making it inoperative, or retaking the property from that person; and

(d) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

There are exceptions though that are too complex to be covered here.  Some factors that the Court will consider include:

  • The nature of the threat and the proportionate amount of force to defend against it. For example, if someone threatened a homeowner with a weapon, physical force may be a reasonable response.
  • How imminent the threat to safety was and if there was time to implement a less drastic solution. Was there time to flee or get the police involved before entering a physical altercation?
  • If there were alternatives to using physical force.
  • Whether either party used a weapon or not. The attacker brandishing a gun increases the threat level and thus the reasonable amount of proportionate force.
  • The relative difference in strength and size between the attacker and their victim.

Are You Facing Charges where you may have acted in self-defence?

Call Brian Ross criminal lawyer today to begin mounting your defence. He will help you navigate the complexities of Canadian self-defence law.

Call us at (416) 658-5855 to see how you stand regarding Canada’s self-defence laws.


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Brian Ross is a founding partner at Canada’s largest criminal Law firm, Rusonik, O’Connor, Robbins, Ross & Angelini, LLP. Prior to founding this firm, Brian was a partner at Pinkofskys, a leading law firm famous for its vigorous defence of its clients.

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