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Firearms Possession

Firearms Possession in Canada

Unlike in the United States, Canadian law does not recognize a constitutional right, or even a legal right, to bear firearms. In order to avoid charges, individuals are expected to comply with the Criminal Code and Firearms Act laws and regulations. First and foremost, this means obtaining a firearms licence.

If you are convicted of a firearms offence, you will likely receive a criminal record, be subjected to a firearms prohibition order and, depending on the severity of the offence, face imprisonment. When you hire a criminal lawyer to defend your firearms charge, they must have a comprehensive knowledge of Charter rights, and a detailed understanding of statues and of the judicial review.

Firearms Classifications

There are three classes of firearms in Canada: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. Non-restricted firearms include rifles and shotguns used for hunting and target shooting.

Restricted firearms include:

  • a) Most handguns with barrels longer than 105 mm, short barrel (i.e. shorter than 470 mm) semi-automatic centre-fire rifles and shotguns;
  • b) Rifles and shotguns that can be fired when their overall length has been reduced by folding, telescoping, or other means to less than 660 mm; and
  • c) Firearms designated as restricted by the Criminal Code (such as the Colt AR-15).

Prohibited firearms include:

  • a) Handguns with a barrel length of 105 mm or less;
  • b) Handguns that discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition, (with minor exceptions made for International Shooting Union competitions);
  • c) Rifles and shotguns which have been altered so their barrel is less than 457 mm long or their overall length is less than 660 mm;
  • d) Full automatics;
  • e) Converted automatics, namely full automatics which have been altered to fire one projectile when activated; and
  • f) Firearms designated as prohibited by the Criminal Code.

Licensing Requirements for Restricted and Prohibited Firearms

A firearms Possession and Acquisition licence application takes approximately 45 days to process and there is a 28-day mandatory waiting period applicable to all applicants who do not presently have a valid firearms licence. In order to obtain the licence, successful completion of the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and Exam is required, and the candidate must be at least age 18. Since the enactment of Bill C-42, it is no longer possible to challenge the exam without attending the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.

Personal information and spousal consent are considered prior to the issuance of a licence, as well as a background check and investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The successful applicant must not have been convicted or discharged with an offence where violence against another person was used, threatened or attempted or an offence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or treated for a mental illness characterized by violence against oneself or others or have a history of violence, attempted violence, or threatening behaviour in the past five years. A person will not be eligible to obtain a licence if the Chief Firearms Officer deems it in the interests of the safety of that person or any other person to not issue it. Providing false or misleading information in order to obtain a firearms licence is a criminal offence.

If the CFO refuses your application for a firearms licence, you may appeal this decision to a Provincial Court Judge.

Obtaining and Registering a Restricted Firearm

Upon successfully obtaining a restricted firearms licence, you may purchase a restricted firearm. Since the enactment of Bill C-42, an electronic Authorization to Transport (ATT) is automatically issued by the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) to transport the firearm from the retailer to the purchaser’s residence. Unlike non-restricted firearms, all restricted firearms are still subject to registration in the Canadian Firearms Registry, with details such as the owner’s name, licence number and date of verification. Storage and transportation requirements for restricted firearms are stricter than those applicable to non-restricted firearms. They cannot be used for hunting and may only be used at approved ranges. Anyone found to commit an offence that contravenes the licence, registration certificate or authorization to transport conditions requirements without lawful excuse or contravenes the inspection requirements may be charged and found guilty of an indictable or summary conviction offence under the Criminal Code.
Acquisition and registration of prohibited handguns are possible in very limited circumstances. For example, grandfathering provisions in the Firearms Act permit the possession of certain prohibited handguns where registration occurred by December 1, 1998 or reported to the RCMP commissioner as business inventory before December 1, 1998 or through inheritance.

Use of Firearms

Each province, territory or municipality has its own laws and regulations related to firearms. As such, each jurisdiction may restrict where hunting can occur and the calibre or gauge that is permissible for particular a game.

The permitted use of a restricted firearm is limited, such as for target practice or competition at a licenced shooting range. A restricted firearm could also be approved to be kept as part of a collection if various criteria are met. Restricted firearms or a handgun may also be approved for protection of self or others in connection with a lawful profession or occupation in limited circumstances. However, authorizations to carry a restricted firearm for personal protection are rarely issued.

The permitted use of a prohibited firearm is limited. Where licensing has been obtained, prohibited handguns that discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition or have a barrel length of 105 mm or less can be transported to a licenced gun range for use at the range in the same manner as restricted firearms.

Regulation of Firearms

The firearms regulation framework is included in the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. The Firearms Act includes requirements related to restricted firearms, including their manufacture, display, sale, transport, authorized possession, lending, use, inspection and disposal. The Firearms Act also sets out that a Possession and Acquisition Licence for firearms expires and is renewable every five years.

Any firearms offences concerning administrative issues such as registration or safe storage may be treated as a criminal offence. For example, careless storage or use or handling of a firearm is a chargeable offence. Depending upon the type of firearm, you have a duty to keep your firearm trigger locked, at a minimum, or locked in a container, receptacle, vault, safe or room that cannot be readily broken open or into. Charges can also be laid on multiple other grounds related to firearms, such as pointing a firearm, possessing dangerous weapons, and carrying a concealed weapon.

Unauthorized Firearms Possession

Strict penalties are in place for unauthorized firearms possession as such weapons are viewed as posing a potential threat to the public’s peace. If you possess firearms which you are not licenced for and, whenever required, are not duly registered for, you may be charged with a serious criminal offence. The penalties for unauthorized firearms possession under the Criminal Code depend on whether the prosecution proceeds by summary conviction or as an indictable offence. Possession of an unauthorized firearm carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment as an indictable offence and, if the possession occurred knowing it was unauthorized, the maximum sentence could be up to 10 years imprisonment. Similarly, as an indictable offence, the possession of a restricted weapon with ammunition carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years. If the unauthorized firearm was used in a crime such as robbery or murder, the minimum sentence faced could be much higher. Factors such as the type of firearm, the presence of children in the vicinity, or affiliations with organized crime or drug dealing will influence the case.

Rod Gregory



Rod Gregory is the best criminal lawyer in Edmonton who can represent you in court if you are charged with a firearms offence. He has over 30 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer across Western Canada, defending clients in court to mitigate and prevent the severe consequences of firearms offences


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