Offences relating to all aspects of gun use, including possession, careless storage and trafficking, are collectively set out in the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. There are also specific provisions under the Criminal Code that classify firearms as restricted, non-restricted, or prohibited. Below is an explanation of the different types of firearms classification and descriptions of some common firearms offences.
Firearms Classification in Canada
Prohibited firearms are those that are illegal to own in Canada unless the firearm was owned prior to it becoming prohibited. Prohibited firearms include handguns that are less than 105 mm in length or those designed or adapted to discharge a 25 or 32 calibre cartridge. Also classified as prohibited are rifles or shotguns that are adapted into handguns (also known as “sawed off shotguns”) and automatic firearms capable of firing bullets in rapid succession during one pressure of the trigger. Firearms that can be altered or converted into an automatic firearm in less than 10 minutes and without replacement of any part of the firearm are also prohibited. Tasers or other firearms that are small enough to fit in the palm of the hand have also recently been added to the list of firearms that are prohibited under Canadian law.
Restricted firearms include a) handguns that are not prohibited firearms b) firearms that have a barrel less than 470 mm in length and c) firearms that are capable of discharging ammunition in a semi-automatic manner. Also classified as restricted are semi-automatic firearms capable of discharging centre-fire ammunition and those that have been designed to be able to be fired when the length is reduce to less than 660mm. You can own a restricted firearm provided you complete a safety course and obtain a licence under the Firearms Act.
Non-Restricted firearms are those typically used for hunting. They include rifles and shotguns that are neither prohibited nor restricted. To own or lawfully use a non-restricted weapon an individual is usually required to obtain a license by meeting the requirements under the Firearms Act.
Types of Firearms Offences
If you are in any place with a loaded non-prohibited, prohibited or restricted firearm or unloaded non-prohibited, prohibited or restricted firearm (or replicas of any of these) together with readily accessible ammunition, you could be charged with unlawful possession of a firearm unless you are the holder of a license for such possession. In the case of restricted weapons, you must also be a holder of a registration and certificate for the firearm.
Other possession offences include Possession of a firearm for a dangerous purpose; carrying a firearm to a public meeting; carrying a concealed firearm; and possession of a weapon obtained by crime.
If you have been charged with any of these offences you may have a defence if you are authorized to carry the weapon in the manner in which it was found. If you were acting under the authority of the police force or if you are employed by a “carrier” of weapons as defined under the Firearms Act and are in possession of the weapon in the course of your duty as an employee you may also have a defence against the unlawful possession charge. You may also have a defence against an unlawful possession charge if you are using a firearm in direct supervision of another person who is lawfully entitled to possess it and are using it in a manner for which that person is lawfully entitled to use it. Every case is different and depending on your particular circumstances. There may be other defences available to you, such as possessing an illegal weapons solely for the purpose of getting it turned in to the police.
If you are found guilty of unlawful possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm, you could attract a sentence of between 5-10 years or more if the unlawful possession was as a result of a commission of another offence. The mandatory minimum sentence for unlawful possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm (like a handgun) of three years imprisonment was recently struck down as unconstitutional by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Nevertheless, the courts are still handing out substantial prison sentences for illegal firearms possession, even for first offenders.
Careless Use and Careless Storage
You might be charged with careless use of a firearm if you discharged a firearm without reasonable precautions taken for the safety of other persons. To be convicted of this offence, the Crown would have to prove that the care used to deal with the weapon fell below the reasonable standard of care required to ensure that a person would not endangered by the firearm.
Similarly, a person could be charged with careless storage if they improperly stored a firearm or improperly transported a firearm. The Crown must prove that the individual failed to meet the required standard of care to ensure that the firearm was stored or transported in a manner that would not endanger the public. Such standard would be dependent on a variety of factors including the type of firearm in question. The Firearms Act and related regulations set out the minimum requirements for legal storage of firearms.
An accused person could raise a defence based on a lawful excuse for the apparent carelessness or—in the case of a charge for careless storage—the accused could argue that the charge was based on a police officer’s “personal opinion” rather than on expert opinion. An accused person could also argue that the way in which the firearm was discovered by the police was a breach of their constitutional rights, and would have the opportunity to file an application to the court on this basis.
Trafficking refers to the transporting or manufacturing of firearms. In order for an individual to be guilty of trafficking firearms, in addition to the physical act of transporting the weapon(s), the Crown must prove that the accused had the required level of knowledge for trafficking. In other words, the accused must have known they were not authorized to manufacture or transfer or offer to transfer the firearms.
You can also be charged if you are suspected to be in possession of a firearm for the purposes of trafficking. To be guilty of this offence, the Crown must prove that the accused had possession of the firearms for the purposes of transporting them and was aware that they did not have the right to do so.
A conviction under a trafficking or possession with intent to traffic charge is considered a very serious offence under Canadian law. Trafficking a firearm and possession with the intent to traffic attract lengthy penitentiary sentences.
Call to Get a Full Assessment of Your Case
Firearms offences are among the most complex types of offences in Canadian law. If you have been charged with a firearms offence, you need a competent and experienced defence lawyer to evaluate your case. Tyler MacDonald will provide you with an accurate understanding of the charges brought against you so that you will know exactly what your options are.