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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Comments

  • Just the Facts, Ma’am

    What is described in this article is, in fact, “Castle Doctrine”…which is the absence of a duty to retreat, whilst in peaceable possession of a dwelling house.

    When you read “Canada needs Castle Doctrine!!!!”, the writer simply doesn’t understand what it means.

    Castle Doctrine is “Stand Your Ground”…but, only as it relates to a dwelling house. Everywhere else, we do have a duty to retreat.

    • Harold

      A property owner does not have to retreat unless there is a law compelling the property owner to do so. Please show me a Canadian law that compels a property owner to retreat into the dwelling house. I’m sure that you would not say such a thing if you hadn’t seen this Law for yourself and know where you found it. Retreat is often suggested as a safe option for self defense or to confirm the perpetrators true intent because intent is one half of the law and intent has to be proven in Court if one is charged to do so. (Duty) If you step five paces back and the Perp takes five paces forward you have every reason to believe that you are in danger and you can defend yourself with force; you are standing the ground which is yours. Apparently you have discovered a law compelling the property owner to retreat whereby a violation of that said law would bring about charges laid against the Property owner. I have not seen said law in constitutional law or legislation, but in similar circumstance perhaps you know of a case law. The criminal code says – possessed property – and it does not say “dwelling house” and retreat can mean two steps backwards from your aggressor while standing at your fence line. Moreover, the castle doctrine is not a law that you evoke – it is a doctrine of circumstance, a doctrine of conscience. If the doctrine does not bide with the circumstance, the doctrine is meaningless – it is not a law whereas a law does hold meaning. The “castle” doctrine existed long before the USA or Canada ever did. (Roman republic) The doctrine is a conscience that rightfully and justly separates the criminal from the property owner and you then create the laws that support that human consciousness. Land mines can support the castle doctrine if the laws are created to permit the use; the doctrine is not a law.

  • Just the Facts, Ma’am

    What is described in this article is, in fact, “Castle Doctrine”…which is the absence of a duty to retreat, whilst in peaceable possession of a dwelling house.

    When you read the oft-made online comment “Canada needs Castle Doctrine!!!!”, the writer simply doesn’t understand what it means.

    Castle Doctrine is “Stand Your Ground”…but, only as it relates to a dwelling house. Everywhere else, we do have a duty to retreat.

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