Firearms Possession in Canada

Unlike in the United States, Canadian law does not recognize a constitutional right, or even a legal right, to bear or possess firearms. In order to avoid being charged under the Criminal Code, the Firearms Act, or the regulations enacted under either, individuals are expected to comply with the Criminal Code, Firearms Act laws and regulations. First and foremost, that means obtaining a firearms licence and maintaining such licence in effect for as long as one wants to possess a firearm.

If a firearm owner is charged under the Criminal Code, Firearms Act, or another person raises a public safety concern with a Chief Firearms Officer, a Chief Firearms Officer may refuse to issue a firearms licence or revoke an existing firearms licence. Since the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled Canadians do not have a constitutional or legal right to possess firearms, that “privilege” can be taken away on proof on a balance of probabilities; the court has ruled that it is a privilege. If you are convicted of a firearms offence, you will likely end up with a criminal record, you may be subjected to a firearms prohibition order and, depending upon the severity of the offence, you might face a term of imprisonment. When you hire a criminal lawyer in Edmonton or in surrounding areas to defend your firearms charge, they need to have a comprehensive knowledge of Charter rights, 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, other than those which are classified as restricted or prohibited. 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. and firearms designated as restricted under the Regulations enacted under the Criminal Code (such as the Colt AR-15).

Prohibited firearms include:

  • a. handguns with a barrel length of 105 mm (4 inches) or less and
  • b. handguns that discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition, except for a few specific ones used in International Shooting Union competitions,
  • c. rifles and shotguns that have been altered by sawing or other means so that their barrel length is less than 457 mm or their overall length is less than 660 mm,
  • d. full automatics,
  • e. converted automatics, namely full automatics that have been altered so that they fire only one projectile when the trigger is squeezed, and
  • f. firearms designated as prohibited by Regulations enacted under the Criminal Code.

Licensing Requirements for Restricted and Prohibited Firearms

A firearms Possession and Acquisition licence application usually 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 you must be at least age 18 (exceptions to age restrictions apply if under the direct and immediate supervision of a licenced adult or where hunting and trapping is a way of life to sustenance). 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 is also considered prior to the issuance of a licence, including a background check and investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Spousal consent is also required. 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 offense 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.

Obtaining and Registering a Restricted Firearm

Getting licensed to possess restricted firearms entails a distinct firearms safety course and exam. Upon successfully obtaining a restricted firearms licence, you may purchase a restricted firearm, such as a handgun. 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 your name, licence number and the date on which your firearm was verified. 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 a 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 is 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 will have its own laws and regulations related to firearms, including rules and regulations pertaining to hunting. Each jurisdiction may restrict where hunting can occur and the caliber or gauge that may be used for particular game.

The permitted use of a restricted firearm is limited, such as for target practice or competition at a licensed 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 very limited. Where licensing has been obtained, prohibited handguns that discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition or that 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.

Any such range must be licenced by the province’s Chief Firearms Officer.

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 potentially posing a threat to the public's peace or as having the potential to be used for the purpose of committing a criminal offence. If you possess firearms which you are not licensed 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 and if there is a suggestion of organized crime or drug dealing will impact the case, as will other mitigating and/or aggravating factors.

Rod Gregory is the best criminal lawyer in Edmonton who can represent you in court if you are charged with a firearms offence within Edmonton, Grand Prairie, Fort McMurray or Western Canada. He has over 25 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer who has defended many clients in court to prevent severe consequences associated with such offences. Contact him today.