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City police say be careful about using bear spray, even in self-defence

Bear Spray

One of the many brands of bear spray available. Bear spray contains the same basic chemicals as pepper spray, dog deterrent and mace. Photo courtesy of  Wikipedia.

By Matthew Murray [1]

BELLEVILLE – Police are advising the public that using bear spray [2] on people could lead to serious charges.

Bear spray is a form of pepper spray used as non-lethal protection from bear attacks. The spray contains capsaicin [3], a chemical found in chili peppers, and causes skin and eye irritation, difficulty breathing and an intense burning feeling on the skin.

QNet News spoke with Belleville Police Investigator Chris Barry about the legality of bear spray and similar products after three people were attacked last week [4].

The pepper spray used by police is not available to the public. However,  less potent forms such as bear spray and dog deterrents are completely legal for people to buy, Barry said.

However, it’s not legal to use it against people, he said. Once it’s used against someone, Barry said it becomes a prohibited weapon under the Criminal Code [5], and charges such as possession of a prohibited weapon and assault with a weapon can be laid.

Even using bear spray for self-defence is not recommended by police, said Barry. Using it against an attacker can end up causing more harm than good, he said.

“It can be used against you  just as easily as it can be used by you,” he said. “If you’re in an unsafe situation, the best thing to do is get distance from you and the situation.”

There are no legal permits or minimum age required to buy bear spray or similar products, Barry said. However, some local hunting shops say they have restrictions in place of their own.

Warnings and instructions on how to use bear spray are given customers before the purchase, said Dave Gunning of Chesher’s Outdoor Store [6] in Belleville. While there’s no laws requiring the store to, Gunning said everyone is ID’d when buying bear spray and no one under 18 is allowed to buy it.

“We ID the person, we get their name, their phone number and we have a list,” said Gunning.

Another local hunting supply store has a similar policy, said Ben Harvey of High Falls Outfitters [7].

“There is a waiver form that comes with each can of bear spray,” said Harvey, “That waiver form gets filled out and kept on record.”

While pepper spray and bear spray are very similar, Harvey said he hopes people aren’t buying bear spray to use as self-defence.

“It’s the same as a knife. It’s a tool for a certain job.” Harvey said.