Practice Areas

Firearms and Weapons Offences

Firearms and weapons offences are governed by the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code of Canada.  This area of the law is complicated and involves a confusing array of regulations and Criminal Code Offences, some of which contradict each other. This presents many challenges to individuals trying to comply and respect the law. As an area of legal practice, firearms and weapons offences demand a strong understanding of the Charter rights of individuals, detailed interpretation of statutes and a strong understanding of judicial review.

Generally, a weapon is anything that is used, designed or intended to be used to cause injury to any person or for the purposes of threatening any person. A firearm is a barrelled weapon from which a projectile can be discharged and is capable of causing serious bodily injury and includes the frame or receiver of this kind of barrelled weapon and things that can be adapted for use as a firearm.

The effect of these two wide definitions means that almost anything, in certain circumstances, can be a weapon or firearm. This can includes firearms that are no longer operational but can be made operational or household appliances being considered weapons when used for nefarious purposes.

Offences in this category cover a wide range and include everything from possession of a concealed weapon, trafficking in firearms to improper storage and other licensing and registration offences. Moreover, there is a broad range of circumstances where charges are laid. Typical scenarios range from motor vehicle stops and searches to wiretaps investigations that may span months to regulatory compliance checks conducted on businesses.

Like the broad range of offences, sentences that can be imposed vary widely. Several firearm offences carry sentences in excess of ten years and can range up to life imprisonment. The Courts and Crown Prosecutors generally treat these offences very seriously. Parliament has indicated that it views these offences seriously as well by creating a whole host of new mandatory minimum punishments which may apply. These mandatory minimums can carry sentences up to three years imprisonment for offences that were previously thought of as failures to comply with licensing requirements.

The rules and regulations surrounding licensing, storage and transportation of firearms are complicated in application. Decisions about the ability of individuals to obtain firearms licenses, registration certificates for those firearms and to authorize transportation of restricted and prohibited weapons are made by either the Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) or the Registrar in the province of residence of the person applying. The decisions of the CFO must be made according to the tests and criteria set out in the Firearms Act. These decisions are not final and can generally be reviewed by a court to insure that the decisions made were reasonable. If you have had trouble getting a response to your application for a licence or have been rejected for a licence, authorization to transport or firearms certificate, talk to a lawyer at Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey to see what can be done.

How are firearms classified? What special regulations apply to different types of firearms?

Broadly speaking there are three general categories of firearms. First, non restricted firearms are firearms which do not require registration and are sometimes referred to simplistically as long guns. This class of firearms is the least restricted and are commonly thought of as ‘hunting guns’.

Restricted firearms are the next classification. They are highly restricted and require both a registration permit to acquire and pre-authorization to legally transport them. Storage of these weapons is also more restricted. Generally, restricted weapons are handguns as well as other weapons which have been added in eclectic fashion.

Finally, there are prohibited firearms. These are weapons which generally cannot be possessed or acquired in any fashion. There a few very limited exceptions. One of the most common exceptions is for individuals who are ‘12X’ authorized. ‘12X’ signifies section 12 of the Firearms Act which authorizes certain people who were authorized to have weapons at the time that legislation or regulation made certain kinds of weapons prohibited. People are said to have been ‘grandfathered in’ in these circumstances. Some examples of prohibited weapons include some handguns which have very short barrels or firearms which are capable of fully automatic fire.

I applied to renew my firearms license but I was rejected. What can I do?

If you have been rejected by Chief Firearms Officer, it is important to know that you still have options. One of those options is to refer the matter to an impartial judge of the Provincial Court.  If you wish to have the decision reviewed, you only have 30 days after receiving notice of the decision. If you are out of time it may be possible to get an extension of time. It is paramount that you speak immediately to a lawyer to get help in understanding your rights and how the court process works. Contact a lawyer at Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey to get more information and find out how to best protect your rights and your valuable property.

I got a letter in the mail from the Chief Financial Officer saying that they were revoking my licence or authorization to transport. What can I do? What am I supposed to do with my firearms?

The process of revoking a licence or authorization must be in a specific form and must include the reasons for the decision and include the provisions of the Firearms Act which allow you to refer the matter to a provincial court judge.  What is important now is to decide if you are going to accept that decision or if you wish to challenge it. If you wish to challenge it you have 30 days to refer the matter to a provincial court judge. If you are out of time you may apply to get an extension. If you decide to challenge the order, the period set out in your notice to dispose of your firearms is suspended until your reference is concluded. 

If you decide not to challenge the decision and you are no longer authorized to possess the firearms that you have you must follow the period set out in the notice to dispose of your firearms. You can do that by delivering them to a peace officer, firearms officer or chief firearms officer or otherwise lawfully dispose of them. Generally, this will mean that you may lawfully sell your firearms if you are able to do so. Speak to a lawyer from Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey if you want to challenge your revocation or for legal advice on how to dispose of your firearms.

I was accused of domestic violence and when the Police came they seized my firearms. What happens now?

Police do have some limited authority to seize firearms in circumstances where you have been accused of domestic violence. Like the rest of the Firearms Act and firearms section in the Criminal Code of Canada, these powers are complicated and highly nuanced. If your firearms have been seized generally they will need to be brought before a judge of the provincial court very quickly for the government to show that their seizure was appropriate.

Generally speaking the Prosecutors services have 30 days to apply for your firearms to be forfeited and destroyed. If that application is made, you should receive notice and have a chance to appear and make submissions. If an application is not made within 30 days or if a judge declines to order their forfeiture at your hearing, then your firearms should be returned to you. In certain specific circumstances you may not get the opportunity to challenge the seizure and detention of your firearms for 90 days. This may be the case if your firearms are being held as evidence against you or someone else.

One important negative side effect of having your firearms seized is that generally this will mean that your firearms licence and all of your authorizations and registrations certificates become revoked. It is important that you ask the judge who orders your firearms returned to you to reverse their revocation.

Situations like these are legally complex and can be difficult to navigate; legal expertise and experience are critical to achieving a desirable outcome. A Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey lawyer can help present the best case to get your firearms back. Call our office at (780) 424-8866 to book your consultation or email us at reception@pringlelaw.ca.

I sent a reference to a Provincial Court judge and didn’t get what I wanted. Am I out of options?

You are not out of options. In certain cases you can appeal to a superior court to review the decision made by provincial court judge. Time is of the essence because you only have thirty days to let the other parties know you are going to appeal. In rare situations, even if your time is out you may get an extension.

Appeals are complicated matters which require a great deal of expertise in order to present the best case for you. Please consult our section on Appeals and speak to a lawyer to find out if an appeal would be the best decision for you.

How does a criminal conviction impact my ability to get a firearms license?

A criminal conviction does not automatically make you ineligible to get a firearms licence; however, a criminal conviction or discharge is one factor of many in deciding whether it is desirable in the interests of the safety of yourself or any other person that you possess firearms.

Certain criminal convictions or discharges are going to weigh much more heavily against getting a firearms licence than others. Criminal offences involving violence, where firearms are involved or instances of criminal harassment as well as violations of the Firearms Act are going to be significant factors in deciding whether you qualify.

Another important factor is if you have a history of mental illness associated with violence or attempted violence against other people or against yourself. This factor is very important and is going to significantly hurt your chances of getting a firearms licence if you have this history.

In all circumstances, the decision to grant a license or not must focus on whether it is desirable in the interests of safety of yourself or any other people that you be allowed to acquire and posses firearms.

I am a member of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada. How does the Firearms Act apply to me?

If you are a member of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada or beneficiary under the treaties referred to under section 35 of the Constitution Act, are a member of an aboriginal community and you engage in the traditional hunting practices of that community then the Firearms Act applies different to you than other people.

While you are still required to be licensed and have any appropriate registration certificates, you may be able to speak to an elder or community leader to get references about the importance of you engaging in traditional hunting practices. The Chief Firearms Officer will take this into consideration when deciding to issue you a licence or not and can mean the difference between receiving a licence or not.

You may request to demonstrate your competence and your knowledge of firearms safety in a different manner than may normally be required.  This might be granted if the safety course is not reasonably available or accessible because of time, location or cost. An elder’s recommendation will also be required.

Finally, if you are a member of certain First Nations which are provided ammunition on an annual basis because of a treaty with the Government of Canada you may receive that ammunition even if you do not hold a firearms licence.

If you have questions about how you are being treated or how the Firearms Act applies to you, contact a lawyer at Pringle Chivers Sparks and Teskey.

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