EPS, Edmonton city staff working to tighten bylaws on pepper and bear sprays

Officers in Edmonton want to crack down on a rise in pepper and bear spray use in urban areas and on Tuesday updated city councillors on desired bylaw changes that would give them more power.

Possessing non-restricted oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray is legal in Canada but Edmonton Police Service believes there are gaps in federal and provincial laws that make the products easy for criminals to use.

Right now, officers can only seize canisters that are used in a crime or are voluntarily surrendered by the owner, but police said criminals are tampering with the products making the cans more dangerous and harder to identify.

“With a lack of tools for frontline police stakeholders, we require a remedy to prevent the non-criminal discharge and carry of OC spray,” Acting Sgt. Andrew Furman said at a meeting of the Community and Public Services Committee.

Police want bylaw changes to make it illegal to tamper with or remove safety mechanisms. Tampering with, covering, or removing labels on the canisters would also be banned. Both of those acts would be possession offences regardless of whether or not a person uses the spray.

EPS also wants it to be a “nuisance-type offence for negligent discharge in a public place” and the service is asking for a broader definition of the sprays and business rules that are more consistent.

Officers said only some stores are requiring I.D. and maintaining records of who bought the spray.

OC sprays, which are often sold as protection against bears and dogs, are being used in parks and greenspaces only 2 per cent of the time, according to EPS data from 2015-21.

The service says 75 per cent of the time the sprays are involved in cases it’s within 100 metres of bus stops and transit centres with more than 10,000 recorded incidents in the six years studied.

Overall, recorded “bear-spray-related occurrences” have risen from 1,711 in 2015 to 3,273 in 2021, EPS said.

The committee decided unanimously to accept EPS’ report for information. City administrators will continue to work with EPS to draft bylaw changes, which will then require final approval from council.

“I was just astounded by the number of uses of the pepper spray, so it was a concern to me,” Coun. Jo-Anne Wright said.

“I do appreciate the fact that EPS, our peace officers, our legal [staff] and everybody is going to work together on this.”

Chilliwack and Surrey B.C. both have municipal bylaws on pepper and bear spray.

In 2021, then-Alberta justice minister Kaycee Madu penned a letter to the federal government to amend the Criminal Code so people could carry and use pepper spray in self-defence. The Liberal government rejected the idea.

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