The Alberta government is asking Ottawa to change the penal code to allow people to carry pepper spray for self-defense.
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu sent a letter to her federal counterpart and the Federal Minister of Public Security on Wednesday morning asking for the changes.
A copy of the letter was tweeted of Madu after first reported by Calgary Sun.
Recent hate-motivated violence in the province received the correspondence, the letter explains, saying victims of these crimes would have benefited from wearing pepper spray.
“I want to make sure the citizens have all the tools they need to defend themselves in a way that helps them ward off these attackers,” Madu told CBC News.
In the last eight months, there have been several attacks throughout Alberta, many of which say police were rooted in an anti-Muslim or anti-black mood. Women are predominantly targeted.
Capsaicin spray, also known as pepper spray, is illegal to carry and if used against a person (even in self-defense), it can result in criminal charges.
Amendments to the penal code – as requested by the province – are only possible at the federal level.
“Unfortunately, it is ironic that a vulnerable person carrying pepper spray for self-defense could possibly receive a longer sentence than her attacker,” the minister said.
“My hope is that they will take this seriously, work with us, implement the changes we have requested so we can protect the Albertans.”
Not ‘a slam dunk’, says expert
Lisa Silver, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s law school, said while the intention is commendable, it can give women a false sense of security against prosecution.
Even if pepper spray is removed from the list of prohibited weapons if used against anyone, it will still be classified as an offense under criminal law. And the use of self-defense as legal protection will still apply in the same way.
“Everything could be a weapon under the code,” she said.
“Self-defense does not aggravate or remove the offense itself. It’s just a justification for committing a crime … You’re almost setting the person or women to be charged.”
Silver said more needs to be done to tackle hate crimes, but that view is not “a slam dunk.”
Request for mandatory minimum sentences
The minister also calls on Ottawa to impose mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of racist, hate or bias-motivated crimes, saying there is a “pattern of flexibility” in Canada’s criminal justice system when it comes to hate-motivated crimes.
He used an example of a man from Edmonton who was sentenced to seven months for three separate race-motivated attacks. This person spent only 35 days in jail after credit for the time already served.
Madu announced the creation of a provincial unit for hate crimes and a community contact after the murder of a Muslim family in London, Ont., In June.
The team will be composed of law enforcement and civilians who have the power to investigate, enforce and prosecute hate-motivated incidents. The NDP had proposed a similar entity when it was in government, but the agency was never assembled. The liaison role will be to consult with affected communities on how to more comprehensively tackle hate crimes.
No date has been announced for the official launch of any of these initiatives, but Madu promised that both will be fully operational by the end of the summer.
Later in June, Prime Minister Jason Kenney announced the Alberta Security Infrastructure Program to provide grants to ethnic and religious groups to improve security or technology at their places of worship. Applications open in the fall with a $ 500,000 pot available.
While the letter escalated the issue of addressing hate crimes to Ottawa, Madu said he will continue to make adjustments to issues under his responsibility as needed.
“If there is more to be done by us within our provincial jurisdiction, I will do it.”