What Is a Weapon in Canadian Law?

A number of criminal charges under the Criminal Code of Canada speak of the use or possession of a weapon: for example, Possession of Weapon for Dangerous Purpose; Carrying Weapon While Attending Public Meeting; Carrying Concealed Weapon; Assault with a Weapon or Causing Bodily Harm; Assaulting Peace Officer with Weapon or Causing Bodily Harm; or Sexual Assault with a Weapon, Threats to a Third Party, or Causing Bodily Harm. What is a “weapon”? The word “weapon” is defined in s. 2 of the Criminal Code as:

“weapon” means any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use

(a) in causing death or injury to any person, or

(b) for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person

and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, includes a firearm and, for the purposes of sections 88, 267 and 272, any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will.

This is a very broad definition; it includes not only things which are designed to be used in causing death or injury to any person or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person or actually used in causing death or injury to any person or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person, but also includes things intended to be used in causing death or injury to any person or for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person. Obviously, any firearm (including airguns) is also automatically a weapon. Since the level of injury or intimidation needed is minimal, almost anything can become a weapon. In the context of the offences of Possession of Weapon for Dangerous Purpose, Assault with a Weapon or Causing Bodily Harm, or Sexual Assault with a Weapon Threats to a Third Party or Causing Bodily Harm, it also includes anything used in binding or tying up a person against their will, designed to be used in binding or tying up a person against their will, or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will.

In my nine years of practice, I have seen almost everything alleged to be a weapon. From the obvious (a bat, a knife, a pellet gun, a firearm, scissors), to ordinary objects (a belt, a television remote control, a car, a spatula, a piggy bank, a rubber boot, a broomstick, a spoon, an etch-a-sketch, a cell phone), to food (a hamburger bun, a tomato, a banana, an orange, a watermelon, a grilled-cheese sandwich, a ham sandwich with mustard, a pancake, an English cucumber, a trout, a salmon, a frozen Arctic char, spoiled meat, flour and icing sugar, a hot pizza, chips and dip, potato chips, a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, a glass of water, a juice box, untoasted bread), to the positively ridiculous (a puppy, a bouncing tiger, a pillow, liquid soap, a ceramic snowman, a plastic Tupperware container, a baby bottle, a baby stroller, an exersaucer, a pine cone, one piece of Lego, a foam flip-flip, a plush teddy bear, dirty laundry, a dirty sock, a rubber vagina, and my personal favourite, an orange cat named Marmalade).

The list of potential weapons is therefore limited only by the imagination. The bottom line is that anything is a weapon if the person having it intends to use it to cause injury or to threaten or intimidate, opening up criminal charges if the thing is carried concealed, possessed for a purpose dangerous to the public peace, and constituting aggravating circumstances if used in the commission of an offence.

What is the rationale for this? Quite simply, it is one of convenience. In criminal law, the Crown must always prove all the elements of an offence beyond a reasonable doubt. That includes that a particular object is a weapon. Since any ambiguity in the interpretation of the criminal law is always resolved in favour of the accused, the use of a broad definition of “weapon” ensures that any object that poses a risk to a person or to the public is captured, without having to use an exhaustive list of what may or may not be a weapon and without risking any ambiguity in the definition. This also ensures that novel objects used as weapons will be captured without the necessity of a legislative amendment (which is important since legislative amendments to the criminal law cannot generally be retroactive).

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