high angle view guns bullets table Firearm Charges in Canada

What are Firearm Charges in Canada ? (Note this Down)

Navigating firearm charges in Canada can seem daunting due to the intricate laws and strict regulations outlined in the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, which govern the ownership, use, and classifications of weapons. Firearm charges in Canada cover a range of offenses, from possession of prohibited weapons to improper storage, with specific rules about who can purchase, possess, and transport them. Recent amendments like Bill C-21 have introduced stricter measures to prevent gun violence, reinforcing the importance of compliance to avoid severe penalties.

Global context of firearm charges in Canada

Gun laws vary significantly across countries, influencing firearm charges and penalties. Canada is known for its stringent gun control regulations, with legislation including the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, which set out distinct categories of firearm offenses. Compared to the more relaxed gun laws in the United States and similar strict regulations in Europe and Australia, firearm charges in Canada are perceived as stricter, aiming to reduce gun violence and promote public safety.

Comparisons of Gun Ownership Rates per 100 People

CountryGun Ownership Rate
United States120.5
United Kingdom4.6

Canada’s approach to firearm regulation has been shaped by its cultural and historical context. The evolution of Canadian firearm laws since the 1892 Criminal Code reflects a commitment to increasing public safety through careful regulation of firearm possession and use.

Understanding Firearm Legislation in Canada

Canada’s firearm legislation focuses on categorizing firearms, imposing strict legal requirements, and enforcing penalties to ensure public safety. This legislation includes the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, addressing firearms charges in Canada and various types of weapon classifications.

Understanding Firearms Charges

Firearm charges in Canada are governed by the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, covering activities like possession, usage, storage, and transportation. A valid licence, either the Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) or the Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence (RPAL), is mandatory for legal firearm ownership, ensuring only qualified individuals handle firearms. Firearm charges in Canada carry severe penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving firearms and stringent background checks to prevent individuals with criminal histories from obtaining firearms, highlighting the strict regulatory framework surrounding firearm charges in Canada.

Woman holding a gun and pointing it on someone and she is not aware that she is facing  firearm charges in Canada.

Types of Firearm Charges

Understanding the various types of firearm charges in Canada is essential for navigating the legal landscape. Firearm charges can be categorized based on the type of firearm involved and the nature of the offense, each coming with its own regulations and penalties.

Type of Weapon ChargeDescriptionSection of Canadian LawPotential Punishment
Using firearm in commission of offenceUsing any firearm, even an imitation, during a criminal act can lead to severe penaltiesSection 85This can result in imprisonment for one to fourteen years even if no one is hurt during the offence.
Careless use of firearmThis includes careless handling or storage of firearms and ammunition.Section 86If treated as an indictable offence, penalties can range up to two years in prison, and subsequent offences can lead to up to five years.
⁠Pointing a firearmPointing a firearm at someone, regardless of whether it is loaded or not, without lawful excuseSection 87Punishable by up to five years in prison if prosecuted as an indictable offence.
Possession of Weapons for Dangerous purposesThis charge applies when a weapon is used or intended for use in a way that could be dangerous to the public peaceSection 88Potential imprisonment up to 10 years if treated as an indictable offence.
Carrying concealed weaponCarrying a concealed firearm or ammunition without authorizationSection 90Punishement can lead to a maximum of five years imprisonment if treated as an indictable offence.
Unauthorized Possession of a FirearmPossessing a firearm without the proper licensing or registration can lead to serious charges.Section 91Possessing a firearm without the proper licensing or registration can lead to serious charges.

Firearms in Canada are also classified into categories like non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited firearms, each with specific rules. Non-restricted firearms include most rifles and shotguns, restricted firearms typically include certain handguns, and prohibited firearms encompass fully automatic firearms and specific handguns.

Criminal Charges and Legal Process

Understanding the criminal charges and legal process related to firearm offences in Canada is crucial. Key aspects include proving firearm charges, the sentencing and consequences upon conviction, and your rights during the legal proceedings, including how to choose a legal representative.

⁠Charges and Arrest

Firearm offences can range from unauthorized possession and careless storage to using a firearm in the commission of an offence. Upon suspicion or evidence of a firearms violation, law enforcement officers can make an arrest. Typically, the specific charges will be formally read to the accused during or shortly after the arrest.

⁠Bail Hearing-Following an arrest

The accused often has the right to a bail hearing, where a judge or a justice of the peace decides whether the accused can be released from custody while awaiting trial. The conditions for release typically depend on the nature of the offence, the accused’s criminal history, and any potential risk they might pose to the public.


At the arraignment, the accused is formally charged and asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. This stage sets the course for the legal proceedings. If the accused pleads guilty, the process moves directly to sentencing. If they plead not guilty, the case proceeds to trial.


During the trial, the prosecution presents evidence to prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has the opportunity to refute the evidence, present its own evidence, and question the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. In firearm cases, the specifics of how the firearm was used, stored, or possessed are critically examined.


If the accused is found guilty, the sentencing phase follows. Canadian firearm laws specify minimum and maximum penalties for various offences. The actual sentence can depend on factors such as the defendant’s prior criminal record, the nature of the offence, and mitigating or aggravating circumstances.


The accused has the right to appeal the conviction or the sentence if they believe there was a legal error during the trial or sentencing stages.

Sentencing and Consequences

Sentencing for firearm offences varies widely based on the nature of the crime and any prior criminal record. Possible penalties range from fines to imprisonment. For instance, severe crimes like trafficking firearms can result in life imprisonment, whereas pointing a firearm at someone without lawful excuse might lead to a five-year prison term for an indictable offence or be treated as a summary conviction with reduced penalties. Multiple factors, including the type of firearm involved, influence the sentencing outcome.

Specific Sections and Related Legal Considerations

Specific sections of firearm laws address various legal considerations, including unauthorized possession, careless use or storage, and the use of a firearm during the commission of an offence.

  • Unauthorized Possession of Firearm (Section 91): This includes possessing a firearm without a valid license or registration. It’s a hybrid offence, meaning the prosecution may elect to proceed either summarily or by indictment, which affects the severity of the possible sentence.
  • Careless Use or Storage of a Firearm (Section 86): This charge addresses actions that show disregard for the safety of others, such as negligent storage that allows unauthorized access to firearms.
  • Using a Firearm in the Commission of an Offence (Section 85): This escalates the seriousness of any concurrent offence and can significantly increase the potential sentence.

Rights and Choosing Your Legal Representative

Navigating the Canadian judicial system can be complex, especially with firearm charges. You have the right to legal representation and it is crucial to choose a knowledgeable and experienced weapon offenses lawyer. A good legal representative will help you understand your rights, including the right to remain silent and protection against unlawful searches.

They will guide you through the legal process, from the initial investigation to the court trial, ensuring that your case is robustly defended. Confidence in your legal support can significantly affect the outcome of your case, providing you with a fair chance in court.

If you are an offender and you are still confused, you might need our help, we can make the process easier to you.

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What to Expect for a Weapon Offenses

Facing firearm charges in Canada involves significant penalties, impacts on your personal and professional life, and various legal complexities. Each aspect of the process, from the time of conviction to life after judgment, carries unique challenges and consequences.

At the Time of Conviction

When convicted of firearm charges in Canada, the penalties vary based on the specific charge. For instance, possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes under Section 88 of the Criminal Code can lead to up to 10 years in prison for an indictable offense or less severe penalties for summary convictions.

Convictions may also involve fines and other legal sanctions.

illegal sale weapons black market criminal opens case with assault rifle shows it buyer Firearm Charges in Canada

First-time Arrest vs. Second-time

The judicial system in Canada differentiates between first-time offenders and repeat offenders. For a first-time severe firearm charges in Canada, penalties include fines up to $5,000 and imprisonment ranging from six months to 2-3 years. Repeat offenders face harsher sentencing, including longer prison terms and increased fines, reflecting the severity of recurring violations.

For example, charges like unauthorized possession in a motor vehicle can lead to stricter penalties upon subsequent convictions.

Judicial Repercussions

Judicial repercussions of firearm charges in Canada include mandatory minimum sentences, especially for severe crimes such as possession of restricted or prohibited firearms. If the crime is tried as an indictable offense, the penalties can be severe, including life imprisonment for certain serious offenses.

Judges also consider the context and nature of the offense, which can influence the length and type of sentencing.

Existence after Judgment: Societal Impact

Life after a weapon offense conviction can be challenging. A criminal record can limit job prospects, housing opportunities, and even the ability to travel internationally. Social stigma may affect your personal relationships and community standing, making reintegration into society difficult.

Programs for offender rehabilitation and community support may aid in mitigating some of these impacts, but they cannot completely erase the societal repercussions.

After Conviction

After conviction, compliance with conditions set by the court is crucial. These conditions might include probation, mandatory rehabilitation programs, or community service. Violating these terms can result in additional legal complications and penalties.

Seeking legal advice and support from professionals is essential to navigate this period successfully and understand your rights and obligations fully.

Specific Firearm-Related Crimes

Firearm-related crimes in Canada encompass various offences, each carrying distinct penalties. These crimes typically involve violence, threats, or the use of firearms in illegal activities.

Violence and Weapon Offences

Firearm-related violence includes serious crimes such as assault, robbery, and homicide offences. When a firearm is used to threaten or harm someone, the penalties are severe. For example, pointing a firearm at someone without a lawful excuse can result in a five-year prison term if charged as an indictable offence.

In cases where firearms are used in sexual offences, the presence of a weapon can significantly increase the severity of the charges and the length of the sentence. The emotional and physical impact on victims is profound, and the law reflects this with stringent penalties. Harassment involving firearms also falls under this category, with offenders facing both imprisonment and a criminal record that can affect their futures.

Using Firearms in Other Criminal Acts

Firearms are involved in a range of criminal activities beyond direct acts of violence.

  • Drug Offenses: Firearms are frequently used in drug-related crimes to intimidate or coerce individuals.
  • Trafficking Firearms: Involvement in firearm trafficking can result in severe penalties, including life imprisonment, underscoring the gravity of this crime.
  • Robbery and Murder: Firearms are often used in crimes such as robbery or murder to facilitate the crime or evade capture, increasing the associated penalties.
  • Public Safety Threats: The presence of firearms in these crimes elevates the risk to public safety, reflecting the heightened danger they pose.

The illegal possession, trafficking, and use of firearms in committing other crimes are serious offenses that highlight the broader implications of gun violence in the community. These offenses are prosecuted rigorously to maintain public safety and discourage the misuse of firearms in any criminal context.

Unauthorized Possession

Unauthorized possession of a firearm occurs when an individual has a firearm without proper authorization or licensing. Penalties for this offence can be severe, including hefty fines, imprisonment, and a possible criminal record. The severity of the punishment often depends on the circumstances, such as the type of firearm and the intent behind the possession. Proper licensing and permits are crucial to avoid falling into the category of unauthorized possession.

Unsafe Handling and Storage

The careless or unsafe handling and storage of firearms is another serious offence. This includes failing to secure firearms properly, such as not using a lock or storing ammunition separately from the weapon. Violating these regulations can lead to criminal charges, fines, and imprisonment. In some cases, improper storage can also involve revoking firearm licenses and prohibiting future ownership. Ensuring that firearms are stored and handled correctly is essential to avoid these consequences.

midsection man standing against wall Firearm Charges in Canada

Possession for a Dangerous Purpose

Possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose involves having a firearm with the intent to use it to threaten or harm others. This offence carries harsh penalties, including significant prison terms. Law enforcement treats situations involving weapons intended for dangerous purposes very seriously. Proving the intent behind the possession is a critical aspect of legal proceedings for this charge.

Trafficking of Firearm

Weapons trafficking involves the illegal buying, selling, transferring, or distributing firearms. Those convicted of firearms trafficking face severe penalties, including long-term imprisonment and substantial fines. This offence is taken seriously due to its potential impact on public safety. Various factors, such as the number of firearms involved and the method of distribution, affect the severity of the penalties.

Illegal Use of Firearm

Using a firearm in the commission of a crime or threatening someone with a weapon constitutes an illegal use of a firearm. Such offences often result in mandatory minimum sentences and significant prison time. The use of firearms in criminal activities elevates the gravity of the incident, leading to harsher penalties. Even brandishing an unloaded firearm can result in serious criminal charges.

Weapon Importing

Importing firearms without proper permits or attempts to smuggle weapons into Canada constitutes illegal weapon importing. This offence carries harsh penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and substantial fines. The Canadian legal system imposes strict regulations on importing weapons to prevent illegal distribution and enhance public safety. Adhering to legal procedures for importing firearms is critical to avoid these severe consequences.

Legal Exceptions and Special Provisions

Understanding the legal exceptions and special provisions related to firearm charges in Canada is essential. These exceptions encompass special rights for law enforcement, circumstances involving self-defence, and various other situations that could warrant exemptions.

Law Enforcement and Peace Officers

Law enforcement and peace officers are permitted to carry and use firearms as part of their official duties. This is a critical exception as their roles often require them to respond to dangerous situations where the use of a firearm might be necessary.

The Chief Firearms Officer has the authority to approve these privileges, ensuring officers meet stringent training and competency standards. While they enjoy certain legal protections, misuse or deviation from proper conduct can still lead to legal consequences.

Self-Defence Provisions

Canadian law recognizes the right to self-defence, including the use of firearms under specific conditions. For self-defence with a firearm to be legally justifiable, the threat must be imminent, and the response proportionate.

The laws are clear that if you use a firearm for self-defence, you must have had no reasonable alternatives and you must not have provoked the assailant. Being charged for improper use can escalate into an indictable offence with severe penalties.

Exemptions for Specific Circumstances

Certain legal exemptions of firearm charges in Canada exist for the possession and use of firearms under specific circumstances. For example, individuals may possess firearms for lawful hunting activities or participating in shooting sports, provided they meet regulatory requirements.

The Criminal Code provides exemptions for those under the direct supervision of a lawful possessor, using the item lawfully. The involvement of a firearms officer often plays a crucial role in determining eligibility for these exemptions. Offences could be treated as a summary conviction with reduced penalties, depending on the situation.

Licenses and Authorizations

Individuals may possess firearms if they have the appropriate licenses, such as a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) for non-restricted firearms or a Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence (RPAL) for restricted firearms.

Transportation and Storage

Specific regulations detail how different classes of firearms must be transported and stored. For example, restricted firearms must be transported unloaded, locked in a hard container, and can only be transported to and from approved locations, such as a shooting range or a gunsmith.

Use in Employment

Certain professionals, such as police officers, military personnel, and security guards, are authorized to carry firearms as part of their duties under specific conditions set forth by their governing bodies and the Canadian Firearms Program.

Indigenous Rights

Indigenous peoples in Canada have certain hunting rights that include the use of firearms for traditional hunting practices. These rights are recognized under the Constitution and various treaties.

⁠Sport Shooting and Competitions

Special provisions allow for the use of restricted or prohibited firearms in sanctioned sporting events and competitions, subject to strict regulations about transportation and handling.

⁠Historical and Cultural Purposes

Museums and collectors may possess prohibited or restricted firearms under strict conditions, including registration and compliance with storage regulations.

Exemptions for Minors

Minors under the age of 18 can be authorized to use non-restricted firearms under direct supervision for purposes such as target shooting and hunting, provided they meet specific safety requirements and have parental consent.

⁠Transporting Firearms Across Borders

There are specific provisions for individuals who are traveling to or from Canada with firearms, such as hunters or sport shooters attending events. These individuals must comply with both Canadian law and the laws of the country to which they are traveling. Otherwise they would face firearm charges in Canada.


Firearm charges in Canada are governed by the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, which detail various offenses and their penalties. Prohibited weapons, such as handguns with barrels 105 mm or shorter and those designed for .25 or .32 calibre cartridges, and strict regulations on ownership and use, including age restrictions and mandatory courses, must be adhered to. Understanding and complying with these laws is crucial to avoid the severe penalties associated with firearm charges in Canada.

If you are an offender and you are still confused, you might need our help, we can make the process easier to you.

Facing Criminal Charges?

Get in contact now with El Haddad, Avocats.
We answer calls 24/7!

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