Can you bring a firearm when visiting Canada?

Visitors can enter Canada with firearms but they must abide by strict limitations. Some Americans don’t realize our country has much tougher gun laws when they cross the border. According to information from the Office of American Citizen Services, “an estimated 200 to 300 U.S. citizens each year … run into trouble for failing to declare their firearms. Vancouver is the single largest port of entry where this occurs, and it’s a good possibility many of these travelers are headed to Alaska.”

According to a news report, “Canadian border agents have seized more than 4,000 undeclared firearms that were smuggled into the country, the majority of them handguns,” from 2014 to 2020.

The seizures include restricted and prohibited semi-automatic rifles, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed, though it would not provide the number of arrests in those cases nor the number of firearms and their types.

The RCMP offers this advice to Americans: “As a general rule, you are not allowed to carry handguns for self-protection in Canada.”

When non-Canadians try to cross our borders with firearms, they must show they have a valid reason for wanting to take the weapon across the border. Those include hunting, target competitions, re-enactments or to have them repaired. They can also say that coming through Canada is the most direct route possible from point A to point B, or that they need the firearm as protection against wildlife in remote areas.

Leave prohibited weapons at home

Firearms in Canada are divided into three groups: Non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. “Visitors to Canada cannot under any circumstances, import prohibited firearms, prohibited devices or prohibited weapons,” CBSA documents read. That includes handguns with barrels equal to or less than 105 mm in length; handguns designed or adapted to discharge a 25 or 32 calibre cartridge; firearms adapted from a rifle or shotgun, whether by sawing, cutting or any other alteration; and automatic firearms, which shoot numerous bullets with a pull of the trigger.

No one is permitted to bring a prohibited firearm into Canada, even with a licence to have that class of firearm, RCMP documents state, adding that includes airsoft guns that meet the definition of a replica firearm.

“Replica firearms are those that resemble a real firearm with near precision but that cannot cause serious injury or death. Many of these have to be assessed case by case to determine if they are replicas. However, Canada Border Services Agency controls the importation of airsoft guns that are not replicas,” the RCMP states.

Restricted/non-restricted weapons are allowed, with conditions

Most handguns are categorized as restricted weapons, while non-restricted weapons include common long guns such as rifles and shotguns. These can be brought across the border, with conditions.

According to information from the CBSA, “When you enter Canada, you must declare all firearms and weapons … if you do not, they may be seized and you could face criminal charges. You need documents to prove that you are entitled to possess a firearm in Canada, and you must transport it safely.”

Canadians who want to import guns from another country must give a border services officer a valid reason for bringing the firearm into Canada and show that it is being stored properly for transportation.

“If you have not been truthful, or if the officer believes that you should not bring the firearm into Canada, the CBSA can detain it. If you did not declare the firearm, the CBSA will seize it, and you may face criminal charges,” the agency says.

According to information from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), all firearms must be unloaded and carried as checked baggage. They also must be packed in a locked, hard-sided container and declared to the air carrier at check-in.

“Firearms, firearm parts, real ammunition and cartridges are not permitted in carry-on baggage under any circumstances,” states the CATSA. For more details on how to transport these items in your checked baggage, it recommends contacting your air carrier or the Canada Firearms Program website.

Importing firearms from other countries

If you are a Canadian who wants to bring in a restricted weapon from the United States, you must be at least 18 years old and have a Possession and Acquisition Licence permitting you to have the class of firearm that you want to import. The firearm must also be verified, which confirms the identification and class of a firearm. According to RCMP documents, “this helps with classification, integrity, completeness and accuracy in the Canadian Firearms Information System database.”

The firearm must be registered with the Canadian Firearms Program and you must apply for an Authorization to Transport (ATT) in advance from the chief firearms officer of the province/territory where you will be bringing it into Canada

The RCMP suggests that buyers should verify if they need authorization from the country that is exporting the firearm. For more information, contact Global Affairs Canada, the authorities of the exporting country, or their embassy in Canada.

“Generally, you can import restricted firearms (handguns and some semi-automatic long guns) if you can demonstrate a need for having the firearms in Canada, for example to take part in an organized target-shooting event,” the RCMP states.

How about pellet guns?

Items such as pellet or BB guns may be considered non-restricted or restricted firearms if they meet the legal definition of a firearm. That means they have a muzzle velocity of more than 152.4 meters (500 ft.) per second and muzzle energy of more than 5.7 joules.

“Owners of such firearms have to meet all import, licence, registration and authorization requirements for non-restricted or restricted firearms,” states the CBSA.

If the muzzle velocity and muzzle energy are below those ratings, “the weapon may still, technically, be a firearm,” adds the CBSA. “However, owners of such weapons do not need a firearms licence, the weapons do not have to be registered, and owners do not need an authorization to transport such a weapon for importation purposes.”

What about replica firearms?

If a replica firearm looks like an illegal weapon, such as a grenade, it is not permitted in carry-on or checked bags on an airplane. “That includes replica explosives and replica illegal weapons,” a CATSA document explains. “Most people could easily mistake a replica weapon for a real weapon.”

But if replicas look like real firearms, they “are permitted in checked bags only in consultation with the air carrier,” states the authority.

If it is a toy weapon, such as a squirt gun or another item a child might play with, they can be transported in carry-on baggage. “Toy weapons … do not look like real weapons. (e.g., squirt guns, Transformer robots that form toy guns),” the CATSA states.

One final note: Gun-shaped belt buckles cannot be transported in carry-on baggage but they are permitted in checked baggage. “Replica weapon-liked belt buckles are prohibited, as they could be mistaken for a real gun,” explains the CATSA.

What are other prohibited weapons?

The CBSA provides this list of common names for weapons that are prohibited from entering Canada, noting “the list is not exhaustive.”

  • automatic knives such as switchblades
  • centrifugal knives such as flick knives or butterfly knives
  • gravity knives
  • mace or pepper spray designed for use on humans
  • nunchaku sticks
  • shuriken (throwing stars)
  • manrikigusari or kusari (fighting chains)
  • finger rings with blades or other sharp objects projecting from the surface
  • stun guns
  • crossbows designed for one-handed use
  • crossbows 500 mm or shorter
  • constant companion (belt-buckle knife)
  • push daggers
  • devices shorter than 30 cm concealing a knife blade (e.g. knife-comb)
  • spiked wristbands
  • blowguns
  • Kiyoga or Steel Cobra batons (spring batons)
  • spring-loaded rigid batons (triggered by a button or lever)
  • morning stars
  • brass knuckles

He didn’t declare his weapon stash

A Quebec man is facing numerous charges after the RCMP allegedly found enough parts to build 249 illegal handguns in hockey bags near the border with New York State, this news report states.

RCMP officers pulled over a pickup truck and trailer near a border crossing and found the gun parts. According to the story, all the items were manufactured by a firm in New York State that says its products are meant to “provide ways for our customer to participate in the build process, while expressing their right to bear arms.”

The retail value of the parts in the United States was at least $137,000, but would likely be many times more on the black market in Canada, the story states, adding that customs officials in Ontario have “repeatedly seized handguns sealed and submerged in the fuel tanks of rental cars.”

Let me assist you

The regulations governing the importation of firearms into Canada can be bewildering, and even the most law-abiding firearm enthusiasts may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. If you are in that situation, or for any other firearms matter, call me for a free consultation.

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