Self-Defence: What’s Acceptable Under Canadian Law?

Many Canadians are unsure of what they can do in terms of self-defence, and what goes against the law. If you retaliate against an attacker, will you be charged with assault, or does it fall within your rights to defend yourself?

In 2012, Canada introduced new legislation called the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act. Regarding the new amendments, one Superior Court Justice wrote that claims of self-defence will be more successful under this new act. That being said, not all cases of self-defence will be justified in the eyes of the law. The ruling is dependent upon the specific circumstances of the incident. 

If you are threatened by another individual, what can you do that’s within your rights? These matters pertain to self-defence law, which can be a bit difficult to navigate.

To help clarify this issue, we’ve compiled some information about self-defence under Canadian law:

Attacks in Your Home

If you are being attacked, you are entitled to defend yourself and your property. If someone is attempting to enter your home or steal your car, you have a right to take action. But the line gets a bit blurrier from there—how far can you go to defend your belongings before the court considers it an act of assault or manslaughter? 

Canadians can use force to protect their belongings and themselves. An individual is justified in taking action to prevent someone from breaking into their home. However, they must cease using force once the attacker backs down. Furthermore, they must not use more force than is necessary. 

Fear of an Attack

In some cases, an individual may threaten you or make violent gestures without actually attacking. What are your options for self-defence in these situations?

When defending yourself, the new Act specifies three core defence elements:

  • The victim must perceive that they are under attack.
  • If they take action, it must be for a defensive reason.
  • The force used must be reasonable given the circumstances of the attack or perceived attack.

These factors help judges determine whether one has acted in self-defence or if they had malicious intentions.

If an individual attempts to protect a different person from an attacker, the same core defence elements apply. They must perceive that the third party is being threatened, take defensive action, and only use force that’s proportionate and reasonable in that situation.  

Grey Area

Who’s to say whether a victim retaliated with proportionate force, or if they intended to take the attacker’s life? That discretion is left up to a judge.

One factor that’s considered is the extent of bodily harm that the attacker endures. What actions does the victim take to retaliate? Did they:

  • Injure
  • Cause permanent damage
  • Or fatally wound the attacker?

Judges may be more reluctant to acquit someone of charges if their actions caused the death of the attacker. However, it will depend on the specific situation, and whether the victim attempted to back down or flee before using fatal force. Evidence that the victim did not intend to cause the death of the attacker may prove that they acted in self-defence.

Most rulings regarding self-defence in Canada are made on a case-by-case basis. If you have any further questions, we encourage you to contact us. Brodsky Amy & Gould is a criminal law firm in Winnipeg. Call us today for legal guidance.