What Canadian law says about self-defence

Stand your ground laws in the United States generate a lot of negative press, possibly because the phrase implies that people should become vigilantes rather than flee the scene and call the police.

In Canada, though, the laws around self-defence are surprisingly similar to stand your ground legislation.

“Generally, when it comes to your own home, there is no law that would suggest that you have to ‘retreat’ somewhere else when faced with someone breaking into your home,” said Michael Lacy, a lawyer and partner at Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP in Toronto who practises primarily in the area of criminal law.

“The short answer … (is) that in many ways our Criminal Code self-defence provisions are not that different from other self-defence provisions in other countries, including the ‘stand your ground’ type of self-defence provision in (places like) Montana.”

Related story: Stand your ground

The relevant legislation for self-defence is Section 34 (1) of Canada’s Criminal Code, which says:

“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.”

The word “reasonable” is key and depends on circumstances such as the nature of the threat, if someone is threatening to use a weapon, and the size, age and physical strength of the person making the threat.

“The question, when it comes to defence of property, is whether it would be ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances to use deadly force to evict a trespasser or someone who is stealing your property. Most cases would suggest that it is not,” Lacy said.

“On the other hand, if a person is on your property and you believe that they are there and represent a threat to either you or your family or to someone else, what might be ‘reasonable’ will be different and will be governed by 34(1).”

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