What is Considered Self-Defence?

For charges that involve violent offences, self-defence is often used as the main argument for the defendant.

But what is considered self-defence in Alberta? What are the limits to how people can legally defend themselves? Do the rules change depending on their location at the time of the incident or who they try to defend?

There are many grey areas with the self-defence laws in Canada and they have been changed quite recently. It helps to understand these laws and to know what you can and can’t do if you are attacked, provoked or threatened by another individual.

What is Considered Self-Defence?

What is self-defence?

Self-defence is known as a defence of justification as opposed to a defence of excuse or defence of duress. It is applied most commonly in cases involving assault, murder and uttering threats.

The Criminal Code of Canada has always recognized that a person is justified to intentionally use force against another person in certain circumstances — notably to repel an attack from another person.

Early on in the history of the Criminal Code, the following was stated:

“The law discourages persons from taking the law into their own hands. Still the law does permit men to defend themselves …And when violence is used for the purpose of repelling a wrong, the degree of violence must not be disproportioned to the wrong to be prevented, or it is not justified.”

In 2012, the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act reshaped the self-defence laws in Canada and the following principles now apply:

(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.

The notion of “reasonable” behaviour is central to these principles and self-defence arguments often hinge on whether the force applied was reasonable.

In the right circumstances, force may be used against another person in defence of oneself, a third party or property.

Under Canadian criminal law, if an accused person raises a reasonable doubt to a charge by claiming that he or she acted with legal justification in self-defence, the onus is on the Crown prosecution to prove that this was not the case.

Defence of others

The old law stated that a person may use force “to defend… anyone under his protection from assault” but the phrase “under his protection” was subject to interpretation.

Therefore, the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act clarified the law, stating that the laws of self-defence apply not only to acts in defence of oneself but also where a person acts in defence of a third person without any special or different qualifications or requirements.

However, to be a valid defence, a defendant must be able to show that he/she reasonably perceived a threat against the other person, acted with a defensive purpose, and acted reasonably in the circumstances.

How does the self-defence law apply to attacks in your home?

If someone is trying to break into your home or steal your car, the threat to you and your family is clear. You are entitled by law to defend yourself, your family and your property.

The question is how much force is justified?

If someone is trying to break into your home through a window and you shoot them dead, you may have a self-defence claim but the Crown might argue that excessive force was used.

How far can you go to defend your belongings before self-defence becomes assault or manslaughter?

Generally speaking, you must only use reasonable force and cease using this force once the attacker discontinues his/her threatening actions.

Fear of an attack

Another situation with different interpretations is when the attack is verbal — in the form of threatening words or gestures rather than physical threats.

Again, if the response to the threats is proportional and reasonable, you would likely have a self-defence argument. But if someone makes a threatening gesture and you take out a knife and stab the person, it could be challenging to claim self-defence.

A judge will weigh up the evidence provided to determine whether you acted in self-defence or with a disproportional response and/or with malicious intent.

Understanding the grey areas

As you have seen, the self-defence laws in Canada are rarely “black and white”. There are plenty of grey areas.

If self-defence is your main argument to defend against a criminal charge, your criminal defence lawyer will need to convince the judge that you acted with proportionate force.

The extent of bodily harm inflicted on the attacker from the actions of the defendant will be a major factor in determining this: permanent or fatal injuries generally raise the stakes, especially if the attacker died as a result of the actions.

Another major factor is the extent to which the attacker backed down from the threatening actions — if he/she attempted to flee and was shot in the back, this is likely to create doubts with a self-defence claim.

What to do if you have been charged with a violent offence?

If you have been charged with a violent offense in Calgary, your freedom could be in jeopardy. Discuss your situation with a qualified criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible to start working on your defense.

Avoid saying too much to the police (or anyone else, especially on social media), even if you believe you acted in self-defence. The prosecution may not see it that way.

Let your lawyer do the talking after you have held confidential discussions about what happened.

Call us to arrange a confidential consultation

To speak with Cory Wilson or arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with Wilson Criminal Defence, call 403-978-6052 or email us here.

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