How much force is “reasonable force”?
This is the most important and most difficult question to answer when it comes to your legal right to defend yourself and your loved ones. The definition of “reasonable force” can differ from one area to another so it is important that your are aware of your legal rights and obligations for where you live. The use of force also differs for civilians and law enforcement officers. The the purpose of this article we will be focussing on the use of force as it applies to civilians.In general, reasonable force can be defined as the minimal force required to deter or prevent an assault from occuring or being repeated. This would include removing yourself from a potentially violent situation before an assault occurs, verbal de-escalation, posturing, and physically defending oneself. When training in self defense it is important to practise scenarios that will allow you to assess the threat level and act accordingly. If you can leave safely without risking injury to yourself or another, then you must leave. If your are being assaulted or an assault is imminent then you can use only the amount of force necessary to stop the assault. You are not permitted to punish the assailant or seek revenge. You have to ask yourself the question “what would another reasonable person do in the same circumstances”.
By training this way you will be able to more appropriately respond to a violent altercation and protect yourself from physical harm and from prosecution by the law. Look at your self defense techniques and ask yourself if the amount of damage being inflicted on the assailant would be deemed reasonable for the type of assault. A smaller, weaker or more volnerable person for example, may reasonably inflict more damage than a larger or stronger person in the same situation. It is important to “injure to degree” according to the threat level.
Self Defense and the Canadian Criminal Code:
Below is how self defense is defined by the Canadian Criminal Code:Defense of Person
Self-Defence Against Unprovoked Assault
… / Extent of justification.
34. (1) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.
(2) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted and who causes death or grievous bodily harm in repelling the assault is justified if
- (a) he causes it under reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the violence with which the assault was originally made or with which the assailant pursues his purposes; and
- (b) he believes, on reasonable grounds, that he cannot otherwise preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm. [R.S. c.C-34, s.34.]
Self-Defence In Case Of Aggression.
35. Every one who has without justification assaulted another but did not commence the assault with intent to cause death or grievous bodily harm, or has without justification provoked an assault on himself by another, may justify the use of force subsequent to the assault if
- (a) he uses the force
- (i) under reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the violence of the person whom he has assaulted or provoked, and
- (ii) in the belief, on reasonable grounds, that it is necessary in order to preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm;
- (b) he did not, at any time before the necessity of preserving himself from death or grievous bodily harm arose, endeavour to cause death or grievous bodily harm; and
- (c) he declined further conflict and quitted or retreated from it as far as it was feasible to do so before the necessity of preserving himself from death or grievous bodily harm arose. [R.S. c.C-34, s.35.]
36. Provocation includes, for the purposes of sections 34 and 35, provocation by blows, words or gestures. [R.S. c.C-34, s.36.]
… / Extent of justification.
37. (1) Every one is justified in using force to defend himself or any one under his protection from assault, if he uses no more force than is necessary to prevent the assault or the repetition of it.
(2) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to justify the wilful infliction of any hurt or mischief that is excessive, having regard to the nature of the assault that the force used was intended to prevent. [R.S. c.C-34, s.37.]
Reference: Departartment of Justice Canada: Criminal Code