What is a firearm offence?

While it is legal for properly licensed adult Canadians to own certain types of firearms, there are limits on how they are purchased, used, stored and handled. These rules are set out in the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, with a variety of charges possible for those who don’t heed the regulations. The Acts governing firearms are ever-changing, which is why you should retain an experienced defence counsel if you are charged with any weapons offence.

What are some usage offences?

Usage offences relate to charges where the firearm was used during a criminal offence.

The charge of careless use of a firearm can be laid if someone “uses, carries, handles, ships, transports or stores a firearm … in a careless manner or without reasonable precautions for the safety of other persons.”

An example can be found in a news report about a man in Nova Scotia who was charged with careless use of a firearm after allegedly firing shots over his house to “scare raccoons off the roof.” It adds that “a number of firearms were seized from the residence.”

People can be charged with using a firearm in commission of offence, even if they did not intend to “to cause bodily harm to any person as a result of using the firearm.” It doesn’t matter if a replica firearm was used.

The charge of pointing a firearm can be laid if someone aims “a firearm at another person, whether the firearm is loaded or unloaded,” the Code states.

For example, a man and youth in Winnipeg were both charged with pointing a firearm after drivers in cars were threatened by men holding what turned out to be a replica handgun, according to a news report. Another youth also had the fake handgun pointed at him before he was robbed of his backpack, the story states.

What are some possession charges?

The charge of possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes can be laid if someone owns or carries a firearm or imitation weapon, “for a purpose dangerous to the public peace or for the purpose of committing an offence.”

A news report from Timmins, Ont., details how a man was stopped for a sobriety check and was found to have firearms and controlled substances in the vehicle. The story states he was charged with three counts of possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes, two counts of carrying concealed weapons, along with numerous drug and property theft charges.

To be charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a person has to be found with “a weapon, a prohibited device or any prohibited ammunition concealed, unless the person is authorized under the Firearms Act to carry it concealed.” It does not matter if the weapon was used to commit an offence.

For example, police responded to a report of someone smashing Christmas ornaments in downtown Regina. They took a man into custody and found he had knives and a loaded homemade gun in his backpack. The man was charged with three counts of carrying a concealed weapon, along with unauthorized possession of a firearm, possession of a weapon for a purpose dangerous to public peace and careless use of a firearm.

The charge of carrying a weapon while attending a public meeting can be laid if someone attends a public event or area while possessing “a weapon, a prohibited device or any ammunition or prohibited ammunition.”

This news report from Nova Scotia talks about a youth found with a loaded sawed-off rifle and a knife in his backpack at his high school, after police were tipped off by another student. The youth was arrested without incident and charged with seven weapons charges, including carrying a weapon while attending a public meeting.

The charge of unauthorized possession of firearm can be laid if the person with a non-restricted firearm does not have a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). The charge can also be laid against those with restricted firearms if they do not have a registration certificate for it along with a PAL.

What are storage charges?

People can be charged with contravening storage regulations if they violate any of the rules dealing with storage, handling, transportation, shipping, display, advertising and mail-order sales of firearms and restricted weapons.

According to information from the RCMP, non-restricted firearms can be stored by securing a locking device, such as a trigger lock or cable lock or by removing the bolts so the firearms cannot be fired. Another option is to lock the firearms in a secure cabinet, container or room.

If you own restricted weapons, the RCMP says secure locking devices must be attached so the firearms cannot be fired and they must be locked in a cabinet, container or room that is difficult to break into. Other storage options are to lock the firearms in a vault, safe or room that was built or modified specifically to store firearms safely. For automatic firearms, the RCMP says bolts or bolt carriers (if removable) should be locked in a secure separate room.

A news report from Halifax shows how serious authorities take gun storage issues, as officers were ordered not to keep service-issued firearms with them when they’re not on duty. According to the story, that policy change came after an off-duty police constable was charged with shoplifting and was found to be carrying a service revolver in her purse. The story states she was charged with a slew of firearm-related charges including contravening firearm storage.

“There needs to be proper storage facilities wherever the officer is going … off duty,” a senior officer is quoted as saying.

What are transporting charges?

Non-restricted firearms must be unloaded during transportation. The RCMP recommends they be carried in the trunk or in a similar lockable compartment. If the vehicle does not have a trunk or lockable compartment, Mounties recommend putting “firearms and firearm containers out of sight inside the vehicle and lock the vehicle.”

If you own a restricted weapon, the RCMP says the firearm has to be unloaded and a secure locking device attached to the trigger. It must be locked in a “sturdy, non-transparent container” and you must obtain an Authorization to Transport before removing the weapon from the location where it is registered.

You cannot leave any class of firearm in an unattended vehicle.

What are handling and assembling offences?

This category includes making a semi-automatic firearm into a fully automatic one by using what are called bump stocks. According to the Code, “anyone convicted of altering a firearm to make an automatic weapon may be sentenced to a maximum of one year, or from 1 to 10 years, depending on how the Crown chooses to try a case.”

Another handling offence is losing or finding a firearm. This charge can be laid if the owner has lost a firearm or “any prohibited ammunition, an authorization, a licence or a registration certificate, or had it stolen from the person’s possession” and does not report that loss to police or a firearms officer. If people find a firearm, the Code demands they “deliver it to a peace officer, a firearms officer or a chief firearms officer.”

An example of someone abiding by that law is shown by this report, which states that a café owner opened a package delivered to his business and found a 9 mm handgun inside. The man called the RCMP, the story states, since he “knew it would be illegal for him to have the gun in his possession.”

How many firearm offences are there in Canada?

Despite public perception, only a small proportion of police-reported violent crime involves firearms, according to a 2016 Statistics Canada report. It states the almost 80 per cent of police-reported violent crimes did not involve any type of weapon, with only about three per cent of all violent crimes in 2016 being firearm-related.

Handguns are the most common weapon when it comes to police-reported firearm-related violent crime. The study shows that in 2016, 60 percent of firearm-related violent crimes involved handguns, followed by shotguns or rifles (18 percent) and other types of firearms (four percent) such as fully automatic firearms or sawed-off rifles or shotguns. The remaining 18 percent involved a firearm-like weapon (such as a pellet gun or a flare gun) or an unknown type of firearm.

Since 2009, the rate of police-reported violent crime involving handguns has been well above the rates of violent crime involving rifles or shotguns, other firearms (i.e., fully automatic firearms or sawed-off rifles or shotguns), or firearm-like weapons or unknown types of firearms. In addition, much of the increase in firearm-related violence crime since 2013 has been driven by increases in violent crime where a handgun was present, as there were about 1,200 more victims and a 37 per cent higher rate in 2016.

Call me for advice

The laws dealing with firearms are constantly evolving in Canada, meaning that some law-abiding owners may unknowingly find themselves in contravention of the rules. If you are facing any firearms-related charges, contact me for legal advice on this complicated issue.

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