Canada has strict gun possession laws, and its gun violence rate is also low compared to the US. But, if you’ve never been to Canada, you’ll want to know whether the gun possession laws also affect the police officers. So, do Canadian police carry guns?
Yes, police in Canada carry guns. Generally, an officer will carry firearms while on patrol along with other equipment. Most police outfits use highly-modified pistols, and only special units use rifles. However, gun control is strict, as even off-duty police officers need permission to carry guns.
Regardless, peace officers who enforce safety and security laws in Canada don’t carry guns. This article discusses firearms rules for police in Canada and the general gun control system.
Firearms for Law Enforcement in Canada
On-duty police officers in Canada all carry guns, and police officers aren’t subject to the Firearms Act whether they are on or off duty. This means they can carry guns without having a Possession/Acquisition Licence (PAL). However, police officers rarely carry a gun off duty. Even if they’re to do so, there are police rules which make it compulsory to do so only with the permission of the police chief. Such a request is only in special circumstances.
The circumstances include where the operational situation requires it or when there’s a genuine threat to personal safety while off duty. Thus, a police officer without a Possession/Acquisition Licence (PAL) and no permission to carry firearms off duty will leave their gun at the police station when going off duty. But police officers can acquire the PAL to carry their firearms even when off duty.
Apart from police officers carrying guns, police cruisers in Canada also have guns in them. Every police cruiser usually has a shotgun in between the two front seats. The shotgun is only for situations where there’s a need for greater firepower. Tactical units generally have rifles, sniper rifles, or submachine guns.
What Type of Guns Do Police Officers Use in Canada?
There’s no uniform firearm for all Canadian police officers. But most agencies issue double action or single action semi-automatic pistols without decocker or safety. The guns usually have modifications such as higher trigger pressure. The federal government prefers the Smith & Wesson 5946, which officers in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Fisheries & Oceans Canada get. Officers of the Canada-Border Agency usually get Beretta Px4 Storm (Type D) as service pistols.
Among the provinces, particularly Ontario and Quebec, and most municipalities, Glock is the common option for service firearms.
Police Equipment in Canada
Firearms aren’t the only weapon police officers carry in Canada. They also have batons, handcuffs, pepper spray, spare ammunition, and magazines. All this equipment is usually in the duty belt. Some police services also include tasers and body cameras as part of the gears. Police officers in Canada also have to wear an external protective shirt over their uniforms.
Every gear issued to a police officer is the property of the police service. But only the person the gear was issued to can use them, which applies throughout their police career.
Gun Control in Canada
Apart from law enforcement officers who can carry guns, the gun control regime is very strict. The federal government regulates the carriage and usage of firearms in the country. The control mostly revolves around the registration and licensing of firearms.
History of Gun Control in Canada
Gun control in Canada goes far back. When it was a confederation, the Canadian Justices of Peace could impose fines for carrying handguns without reasonable cause. In 1885, the Parliament instituted gun control in the North-West Territories to prevent rebellion. Under this system, the territorial government must grant permission in writing for anyone to own any firearm apart from a smoothbore shotgun. It was an offence to own firearms without a permit and could lead to forfeiture during this period.
In 1892, the Criminal Code made it compulsory for people carrying a pistol to have a permit. This applied except in cases where the owner feared injury or assault. By the 1920s, foreigners who’re just acquiring firearms must get a permit. Handgun regulations started in 1934 when it became a law to register a handgun. Not long after, it became illegal to sell a pistol to anyone below 16.
Later on, in 1951, the law extended to automatic firearms. By 1969, there was the classification of firearms into three categories. The categories are non-restricted, prohibited, and restricted. Non-restricted is available to everyone as long they are registered, while restricted has limitations. For example, no one can own prohibited firearms.
In 1979, the Firearms acquisition certificate became compulsory for anyone who wanted to own a gun. The local police agency was in charge of issuing this certificate. In addition, between 1995 and 2012, all firearms owners needed to get a PAL, FAC, or minors license. All these licenses require the firearms owners to register their weapons.
In 2012, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act removed the registration requirements for all non-restricted firearms. This meant people could own firearms in this category without registering them. But it was still compulsory to have a license. In addition, due to the mass murder in Nova Scotia, the prime minister announced in May 2020 that the country would ban military grades assault weapons, mostly semi-automatic rifles, in the next two years.
Classification of Weapons in Canada
Weapons in Canada are in three categories:
Firearms considered non-restricted include antique guns, i.e., most guns designed before 1898. Antique guns are not seen as firearms, and one can buy and own one without a PAL.
All handguns are restricted to firearms, and many of them are prohibited. The guns in this category include those not prohibited, with a barrel length less than 18.5 inches and capable of semi-automatic discharge. In addition, firearms that can still be fired after the length has been reduced to 26 inches are also in the category.
The list of prohibited firearms is endless. It includes handguns with barrel length below 4.1 inches capable of discharging .25 or .32 calibre ammunition. The exception is when they’re used for international sports competitions. Sawed-off rifles and shotguns are also fully automatic or converted automatic guns.
While the gun control system in Canada is strict, police officers usually carry guns in the country. However, they can’t carry guns off duty unless they have PAL or special permission.