All we want is to feel safe, or at least have some peace of mind
By Jessica Berget, Opinions Editor
Just a few months ago, I was mugged at knifepoint. Although a jarring experience, after going through everything I realized how lucky I was to have only been mugged. If it had been someone who wanted to do physical harm to me they easily could have; I didn’t have anything that could have protected me, nor was there anything I could have done or said to defend myself if the situation turned that way. I realized that I was and still am vulnerable, and I had to do something about it. I thought about taking self-defence or kick-boxing classes but they are either too expensive, far away, or I just don’t have the time for them. Instead, I looked to purchasing self-defence weapons as a final resort, but unfortunately, all weapons used for self-defence—pepper spray, mace, tasers, and the like—are currently illegal in Canada. I, and many women who wish to have something to defend themselves (or even just have a little peace of mind), have very few options.
According to Statistics Canada, a higher risk of sexual assault is noted among those who are women, young, single, Aboriginal, LGBTQ+, or with poorer mental health. These are the people that are disadvantaged because self-defence weapons are illegal. You can’t expect everyone to know self-defence, or even to be able to defend themselves when put in a dangerous situation, so by criminalizing anything that can be used as a weapon for self-defence, a lot of women—or anyone that has reason to feel unsafe—are being put at risk. The only thing that leaves to use in a dangerous situation is an air horn or any noise-making machine, but that does very little in terms of defence, or even offence, and if you burst the assaulter’s eardrum with the air horn you can get in a lot of trouble. It’s hard to tell who is really being protected under these laws.
The laws surrounding what constitutes as a weapon is confusing, even contradictory at times. In an interview with The Coast, Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Pierre Bourdages said: “You have the right to defend yourself, but you can’t be carrying pepper spray or knives or guns for that purpose. If your intent to carry these weapons is to either defend yourself or to harm someone, you could be charged with carrying a concealed weapon.” In other words, you can defend yourself, but you can’t use anything to aid in your defence. If it were a case of a woman being assaulted by someone bigger and stronger than her, a defence weapon may be the only thing that would help, but because of the laws surrounding self-defence weapons she may be in trouble for even carrying such an item. Because of this, women often resort to disguising their self-defence weapons (usually knives) to look like everyday objects like lipstick or a hairbrush, and knives are a lot less safe for everyone than just pepper spray. If women want to or feel the need to carry something for self-defence, they will do it whether it’s illegal or not because they have no other means of defence.
As per the Criminal Code, a weapon is considered anything that can be used or intended for injury, death, or even to intimidate someone, but that can mean pretty much anything, so it really all depends on your intentions. By this logic, if you carry a pencil with the intent of stabbing someone in the eye with it, you can get in trouble. Similarly, if you take a knife to a park to cut a watermelon, you’re fine, but to carry a knife while walking down a dark street in the middle of the night in case you feel unsafe is where you can get into trouble. Pepper spray and tasers are no different; you can use them for protecting yourself against a wild animal if need be, but it’s illegal if you use it against someone who intends to inflict bodily harm. It makes no sense, and these laws needs to be reviewed so women can defend themselves without possibly getting into legal trouble because of it.
Some eyebrows will be raised as to whether self-defence weapons will be used for self-defence at all, which is a legitimate concern. Pepper spray and tasers can be used as assault weapons as much as they can be used for defence. By no means am I suggesting we legalize all these weapons for free public use. However, with a background check, registration, and a program to ensure that any purchasers use these items only in the case of self-defence, I believe anyone’s concerns about malicious intent would be calmed.
Women are at higher risk of being assaulted, and should be able to protect themselves, but by criminalizing self-defence weapons, that leaves minimal options for them to do this. Self-defence weapons should be legalized so that we can protect ourselves or at least feel safe when walking home late at night.