A weapons charge can be a serious offence in Canada. From carrying weapon while attending public meeting to weapons trafficking, there is a wide range of weapons offences, and outcomes can vary dramatically. Bail conditions, probation orders, and peace bonds often carry weapons prohibitions as well. Breaching one of these conditions can result in charges of failure to comply and even land a person back in prison or jail.
What is a weapon?
Weapons are typically thought of as firearms, knives, brass knuckles, and baseball bats. A weapon, however, can also be an everyday object, such as a pencil, or even a frying pan, if someone uses or intends to use it to threaten or harm someone. The Criminal Code of Canada defines a weapon as “anything 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, anything used, designed to be used or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will.” It is clear that for the most part, the intention is what makes an object a weapon.
What are weapon offences?
The Criminal Code divides some weapons offences according to the following classifications:
- Use Offences
You can be charged with a use offence for careless use, storage, or handling of a firearm; using a firearm while committing an indictable offence such as robbery or assault, and pointing a firearm, even if the firearm is unloaded or an imitation firearm.
- Possession Offences
This class includes possession of a weapon for dangerous purposes; carrying a concealed weapon, and authorized possession of a firearm or prohibited or restricted weapon.
Other offences are defined by reference to the use of a weapon, such as assault with a weapon, an offence with higher potential penalties than simple assault.
Weapon offences are often hybrid, where the Crown can elect to proceed summarily or by indictment. There are also weapons offences that are straight indictable, such as discharging a firearm with intent and weapons trafficking. This means the Crown has no discretion to proceed summarily and must proceed by way of indictment. Indictable offences carry harsher penalties than summary offences. Offences other than just possession or use offences include:
- Trafficking Offences
- Assembling Offence
- Import and Export Offences
- Offences Relating to Lost, Destroyed, or Defaced Weapons
Use of a weapon in the commision of an offence increases penalties and the gravity of the offence. Sexual assault, as well as offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, such as trafficking, or possession for the purpose of trafficking, are examples.
The breach of a weapons prohibition can also garner significant penalties. Weapons prohibitions are often found as a part of bail conditions, probation orders, conditional discharges, and peace bonds.
Many weapon offences carry mandatory minimum penalties, some of which have been struck down by the Courts. This is a complex and constantly evolving area of criminal law requiring experienced legal counsel. The use of a firearm or imitation firearm while committing an offence has a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, as does possession of a weapon obtained by crime. Making an automatic firearm carries a one-year mandatory minimum sentence, while the discharge of a firearm with intent to wound or endanger life carries a four-year mandatory minimum. These are only a few examples of the mandatory minimums that are still in effect for weapons-related charges. Some mandatory minimums have been struck down by the Courts and are no longer in effect, such as three years for a first offence for the possession of restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition (indictable election), or one year for a first offence of trafficking a firearm. An experienced criminal lawyer is the best resource for understanding the current state of the law.
How can you defend a weapons charge?
Speaking specifically to firearms, strict laws are in place for the protection of the general public against the use of firearms. If you are found guilty of possession of an illegal firearm, you are unlikely to find a great deal of sympathy. An illegal firearm means you do not hold a valid licence to carry the weapon under the Firearms Act 1995 or that the weapon is deemed to be illegal regardless of a firearms licence.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a may provide a defence to those accused of firearm use or possession, if their rights were violated in the course of the investigation. This can be very challenging in relation to firearm offences because the legal test to have evidence excluded weighs the public interest, and firearms are viewed as a dangerous threat.
When people hear or read about firearm offences, their minds may turn to gang members and hardened criminals. This often does not reflect the reality of these charges. Perhaps you let your gun licence lapse and are still in possession of a firearm and related ammunition. Possession of a firearm without the proper licence is a criminal offence, and even with the right licence, possession of a prohibited firearm or a restricted firearm without a registration certificate is illegal.
When to Call a Toronto Criminal Lawyer
As with any criminal charge, it is very important that you call your lawyer at the first opportunity. Weapons charges are taken very seriously and waiting to contact legal counsel can harm your defence. Having a weapons charge on your record is serious, and can hamper travel and employment opportunities. Be sure that you have a competent and dedicated defence lawyer whom you can call if you ever find yourself needing to defend against a weapons charge.
Review Weisberg Law’s Firearm Possession Successes for past instances of successful outcomes for weapon charges. If you are seeking the advice or guidance from a defence lawyer on the matter of defending a weapons charge, contact Weisberg Law in Toronto at 416.605.4811.