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Stricter bear spray rules could be coming to Vancouver after police raise alarm about its use

Greater Sudbury Police are searching for a suspect Tuesday after a teen was attacked with bear spray at the New Sudbury Centre. (File) Greater Sudbury Police are searching for a suspect Tuesday after a teen was attacked with bear spray at the New Sudbury Centre. (File)
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In response to concerns raised by police about incidents involving bear spray, Vancouver city council is being asked to tighten restrictions on the item's sale and display – and to impose hefty fines for sellers who break the rules.

A report from city staff recommending a new bylaw is set to be voted on at next Tuesday's meeting.

The recommended changes are to prohibit the sale of bear spray to anyone who is under 19 or who does not provide ID and to require sellers to document every sale. Records of each transaction would include the purchaser's name and details about the ID they presented, and those records would have to be kept for at least a year and produced if requested by a city official. Displays, the report proposes, should be locked or otherwise made inaccessible to the public.

The proposal further recommends a violation ticket of $1,000 be issued for each infraction.

"Regulating the sale of bear spray is a proactive measure to increase public safety and potentially reduce the number of violent offences involving these products in Vancouver, particularly by youth," the report says.

"Staff did not consider an outright ban on the sale of bear spray to ensure adults who require bear spray for its intended usage still have access to it at businesses in Vancouver. The recommendations proposed by staff are aimed at striking a balance between protecting public safety while supporting businesses."

Statistics provided by the Vancouver Police Department detail the number of annual offences reported over the past five years involving the use of bear spray, specifically in cases involving threats, assaults, and robberies.

In 2018, the total was 429 and in 2022 it was 721. The highest number of cases was recorded in 2020, with 730. Cases involving youth have seen annual increases since 2018 – from 52, to 70, to 80, to 100, to 115.

"While possession or sale of bear spray – including to a minor – is not illegal, it becomes a public safety issue and can become a criminal offence when used for purposes other than its intended use," the staff report says.

The report notes that municipal governments in Surrey, Chilliwack and Port Coquitlam have taken measures to regulate the sale and display of bear spray. The report says those measures have been successful in decreasing its use in police-reported crimes, but detailed data is not provided.

Because a municipal bylaw approach to regulation can not prevent people from travelling to neighbouring cities or ordering the product online, the staff report also asks the mayor to write to B.C.'s environment minister to advocate for a province-wide response.

The province could require bear spray to be classified as a "restricted pesticide," which would require vendors to get a license to sell it and to keep records for each sale.

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