Canadian criminal legislation is tough on weapons offences in accordance with increasing concerns over, and intolerance of gun violence in Canada. In an attempt to prevent and reduce assaults with a weapon as well as gun violence, the mandatory minimum sentencing for many offences involving firearms is substantial, particularly for offenders who are convicted of a second or multiple offences.
A Calgary police officer made headlines across Canada when it was reported that he had unlawfully purchased a shotgun without a possession and acquisition license and the gun was not stored in his home in a safe manner. The gun was discovered during a domestic incident that involved the accused officer. No charges were laid with respect to the domestic incident, but the incident led to the discovery of the shotgun for which charges were laid.
Possessing a firearm in Canada is a heavily regulated activity, with the regulations primarily set out in the Firearms Act (1995) in addition to the Criminal Code of Canada. The legality of firearms in Canada has been a hot topic throughout the last couple of decades as the updated list of prohibited firearms was set out in the Firearms Act, and even more so in 2002 when the gun registry was established.
With increasing gun violence in Canada, the government has come up with strict regulations and policies to curb the crime rate. Depending on the type and severity of the firearm or weapons offence, the sentence can range from a conditional or absolute discharge to life in jail. Hence, it’s important to understand the legal aspects of weapons possession (and use) in Canada.
According to Section 2 of the Criminal Code, a weapon is any object used, designed to be used, or intended to be used to threaten or intimidate a person, or to cause injury or death to a person. This broad definition may include household items such as butter knives if their purpose is to threaten, intimidate, or cause bodily harm or death to another person. Many objects qualify as a weapon but only if you intend to use it as such.
A carried weapon is one that moves with you, or one you have in your possession. Having a knife hidden in a pocket, for example, constitutes carrying a weapon because whenever you move, the weapon moves with you. However, actually moving is not required.
Carrying a Loaded Firearm involves carrying a loaded firearm on your person in a vehicle in a public place, on a public street, or in a prohibited area. This is considered different from carrying a concealed firearm, where the firearm is obscured from clear view. It is unlawful for a certain person to possess a “firearm.” This is similar to the weapons offense, the prosecutor need only show that you are considered a certain person based on a prior criminal conviction and that your possession of a firearm.
A “firearm” includes: any handgun, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, automatic or semi-automatic rifle, or any gun, device or instrument in the nature of a weapon from which may be fired or ejected any solid projectable ball, slug, pellet, missile or bullet, or any gas, vapor or other noxious thing, by means of a cartridge or shell or by the action of an explosive or the igniting of flammable or explosive substances.
Weapons or firearms offences carry different penalties, depending on the type and severity of the crime.
The Bill, titled the Penalties for the Criminal Possession of Firearms Act, would re-enact MMPs of three years’ imprisonment for a first offence of possession of a loaded, or easily loaded, restricted or prohibited firearm, and five years’ imprisonment for repeat offenders when convicted on indictment.
A person who uses a loaded firearm under the direct and immediate supervision of a person who is legally entitled to possess it, and is using it in a legal manner, would be exempt from the offence.
A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can raise the following arguments as a legal defense:
You carried a firearm for self defence – If you’ve got a reasonable and trustworthy belief that you could be at risk of imminent danger or bodily harm, you can carry your firearm with you for self-protection against the danger. The use of self-defense as an argument of defense is applicable in most criminal cases and can exonerate you from the charges.
There was unlawful search and seizure – If evidence is obtained without a valid search warrant, and no exception to the warrant requirement applies, the evidence may be subject to the exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule prevents illegally obtained evidence from being admitted in a court of law.
Carrying a concealed firearm – It’s not enough for you to simply carry a weapon to be convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. The prosecutor must also prove the “concealed” part. Concealment means that a person would ordinarily not be able to view the weapon if that person met you on the street, or in the ordinary course of an interaction. Having a weapon that is only partially concealed, or one that is concealed from only a particular angle, is usually not enough to be convicted of carrying a concealed weapon, though state laws do differ on this point.
The rules and requirements surrounding weapons and firearms(s) licensing, storage and transportation are complex. If you or someone you know has been charged with a weapons offence in Canada, don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll get through it by yourself. Only an experienced criminal defence lawyer can explain your rights, analyze your circumstances and put up a strategic defence in court. They can also assist in obtaining proper firearms licensing or permits.
If you or a loved one is accused of or charged with a criminal offence, a trusted criminal lawyer may be able to help you right away. Our team of gun crimes defense attorneys has been defending against all varieties of state and federal weapons charges for decades. We have extensive experience dealing with the Commonwealth’s special gun prosecution units, and we have the resources and skill to stand up for our clients’ rights.
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