Bear spray rules in the spotlight after rash of youth assaults in Greater Victoria

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Bear spray is pictured at a Victoria outdoor store in this file photo.

A recent rash of youth assaults involving bear spray in Greater Victoria shows just how accessible and easy to get it really is.

It’s available online within a day’s delivery time and it’s available in most outdoor shops on Vancouver Island.

But at Robinson’s Outdoor Store, it’s not for everyone, according to Cole Legree, equipment buyer at Robinson’s Outdoor Store.

“If at any point we get the sense that that’s not really the person’s intention with the bear spray. Then we can refuse to sell it to them essentially,” said Legree.

“This is bear spray for use only as wildlife deterrent,” he said.

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Retailers like Robinson’s have a thorough screening process, ensuring the customer intends to use it for wildlife.

“In which case they are bound to sign this waiver we have here, where they give us their name, their phone number, how many they are purchasing if more than one, and a signature. That’s just signing that they are using it for wildlife deterrent,” Legree said.

And they won’t sell it to anyone under 19.

Earlier this year, Saskatchewan tightened up its laws regarding bear spray after a rash of incidents.

People there can’t spray it in urban areas. If they do, they face fines of up to $100,000.

Last year, Vancouver voted to restrict the sale of bear spray to minors, joining Chilliwack, Port Coquitlam and most recently West Vancouver.

Mike Mulligan, a criminal defense lawyer, said absolute bans won’t work.

“It’s certainly why those sorts of things might be tried, and they might have some impact on the absolute margin. But there is no provincial or municipal regulation that is going to prevent people from getting dangerous rocks, sharp steak knifes, or bear spray,” he said.

In new video of an assault involving young people released by the Victoria Police Department, bear spray is used on the victim.

Police say it’s unclear where they may have obtained it from.

“We live in a world where things can be ordered online. They can be purchased all over the place. They can be bought and sold between people. And so, the law tries to focus on – the criminal law – tries to focus on the use, and purpose somebody has something for,” Mulligan said.

While you may be able to buy bear spray as easily as clicking a button online, there are a laws against carrying it with you on city streets, and using it on anyone for any reason.

Mary Griffin

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