The Legalities Of Self-Defence: When Is It Justified?

Understanding the Legal Boundaries of Self-Defence

The legal boundaries of self-defence are described in Section 34 of the Criminal Code:

(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.

These are the core legal boundaries that must be considered when establishing whether or not self-defence can be used as a legal defence. There are various factors that will be considered in assessing whether or not the use of force was justified under the circumstances. We will explore these factors as we continue to analyze self-defence law:

What Constitutes Self-Defence Under Canadian Law?

The Reasonable Force Requirement

For an act of violence to be considered a self-defence act, there must be reasonable grounds for the act to be committed. One of the most important standards in a self-defence claim is reasonable force; in the factors described in Section 34 of the Criminal Code, this is described as:

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

Once a threat has been mitigated, it’s your duty to stop using force; if you continued to attack the person you were defending yourself from beyond what was reasonably necessary, you might not meet this requirement. Proportionality is also important; shooting someone who was threatening you with their fists may not be considered a proportional and reasonable response. 

Imminent Threat of Force

For an act to qualify as self-defence, there must be a reasonable belief that force would be used against you. This does not mean that the perceived threat needed to be actively using force against you, or even that you need to know they had a weapon; a reasonable suspicion can be enough to meet this requirement. 

Justified Use of Force in Self-Defence Scenarios

Defending Against Unlawful Assault

Self-defence claims can only be used when defending yourself or others against unlawful assault; there needs to be some threat of bodily harm. Self-defence claims cannot, however, be used to protect yourself from bodily harm caused by law enforcement, which is considered lawful.

Protecting Others From Harm

Though the Criminal Code describes these laws as self-defence, they are applicable when defending others from harm. The person being threatened does not even need to be known to you personally for self-defence laws to apply; if you are protecting anyone from bodily harm by using force, it may fall under the scope of self-defence. 

Defending Your Property or Residence

Self-defence may apply when you are defending your property. Section 35 of the Criminal Code states:

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 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, or 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.

What constitutes reasonable force may differ when defending property, given the requirement of proportionality. There are also circumstances where both property and personal safety are at risk; self-defence can be quite complex. 

Potential Consequences of Unjustified Use of Force

Criminal Charges

When the use of force isn’t justified as self-defence, you may face criminal charges for acting unlawfully. Should you use physical force or lethal force, you can be charged with assault, battery, or even manslaughter or murder, depending on the circumstances. Damage to a person’s personal property can also result in civil liability for damages. 

Navigating the Complex Legal Landscape of Self-Defence

The legal landscape surrounding any self-defence claim is incredibly complex; failure to meet the standards of self-defence can lead to being convicted of a serious criminal offence. A criminal defence lawyer is the best way to prove that you acted in self-defence.

For a free consultation, contact us today.