Self-Defence and Defence of Another

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General Principles

Self-defence is the right in certain circumstances to respond to force, or threats of force, with force in order to stop the attacker/victim.[1] The attacker/victim is the "author of his or her own deserts”[2]

The defence is a form of justification.[3] Unlike excuses, a justification will not focus on the "human frailties" of the accused. It will render the acts morally acceptable.[4]

Self-defence is entirely codified and does not have application in the common law.[5]

Once the defence is raised the crown must prove the unavailability of the defence beyond a reasonable doubt.[6]

It is not necessary that the accused prove that there was no reasonable way of withdrawing or retreating from the situation.[7]

Good character evidence of the victim will often be relevant and admissible.

Evidence of the victim's "peaceful disposition" is admissible as part of the Crown's case. [8]

There is some division on whether the March 11, 2013 amendments apply retrospectively on offences occurring prior to the date of the amendment.[9]In Ontario, s. 34 is not retrospective.[10]

Appellate Review
Findings of a trial judge on reasonableness of the use of force is afforded deference.[11]

  1. R v Ryan, 2013 SCC 3 (CanLII) at para 20
  2. Ryan, ibid. at para 20
  3. Ryan, ibid. at para 24
  4. Ryan, ibid. at para 24
  5. Ryan, ibid. at para 22
  6. R v Cinous, 2002 SCC 29 (CanLII)
  7. R v Watson, 2010 ONSC 6153 (CanLII)
  8. R v Krasniqi, 2012 ONCA 561 (CanLII) at paras 60 to 66
  9. Not retrospective:
    R v Evans, 2013 BCSC 462 (CanLII) R v Wang, 2013 ONCJ 220 (CanLII)
    R v Simon, 2013 ABQB 303 (CanLII)
    R v Carriere, 2013 ABQB 645 (CanLII)
    R v Huth, 2013 BCSC 2086 (CanLII)
    R v Pankiw, 2014 CanLII 1391 (SK PC),
    R v LAOS, 2013 BCPC 166 (CanLII)
    R v Caswell, 2013 SKPC 114 (CanLII)
    R v Hunter, 2013 NWTSC 79 (CanLII)
  10. Ont.:
    R v Bengy, 2015 ONCA 397 (CanLII)
    c.f. R v Trudell, 2013 ONSC 6092 (CanLII)
    and R v Pandurevic, 2013 ONSC 2978 (CanLII)
  11. R v Met, 2014 ABCA 157 (CanLII), at para 19
    R v Abdulle, 2014 ABCA 52 (CanLII), at para 8


The current test for a defence of self-defence is set out in s. 34:

Defence — use or threat of force
34. (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if

(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;
(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and
(c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

No defence
(3) Subsection (1) does not apply if the force is used or threatened by another person for the purpose of doing something that they are required or authorized by law to do in the administration or enforcement of the law, unless the person who commits the act that constitutes the offence believes on reasonable grounds that the other person is acting unlawfully.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 34; 1992, c. 1, s. 60(F); 2012, c. 9, s. 2.


The test in s. 34 requires three elements:[1]

  1. Reasonable Belief (s. 34(1)(a)): "the accused must reasonably believe that force or threat of force is being used against him or someone else";
  2. Defensive Purpose (s. 34(1)(b)): "the subjective purpose for responding to the threat must be to protect oneself or others; and"
  3. Reasonable Response (s. 34(1)(c)): "the act committed must be objectively reasonable in the circumstances".

Objective Elements
When considering the objective component to the defence, "the court must be alive to the fact that people in stressful and dangerous situations do not have time for subtle reflection".[2]

  1. R v Cunha, 2016 ONCA 491 (CanLII) at para 6
    R v Bengy, 2015 ONCA 397 (CanLII) at para 28
    R v Cormier, 2017 NBCA 10 (CanLII) at para 40
  2. Cunha, supra at para 7
    R v Mohamed, 2014 ONCA 442 (CanLII) at para 29

Reasonableness of Circumstances

(2) In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court shall consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including, but not limited to, the following factors:

(a) the nature of the force or threat;
(b) the extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;
(c) the person’s role in the incident;
(d) whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;
(e) the size, age, gender and physical capabilities of the parties to the incident;
(f) the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat;
(f.1) any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident;
(g) the nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force; and
(h) whether the act committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.

R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 34; 1992, c. 1, s. 60(F); 2012, c. 9, s. 2.


Objective and Subjective Test
The trier-of-fact should consider "how the accused perceived the relevant facts and whether that perception was reasonable".[1]

The Courts must consider whether the accused "actually apprehended the risk of death or grievous bodily harm" and then consider whether that apprehension is "normatively justified".[2]

Proportionality is not a necessary element, rather it is a factor to consider in the reasonableness analysis.[3]

Personal Characteristics
In consideration of the objective factors, it is permissible, but not always necessary, to consider the accused's individual personality traits, including diminished intellectual capacity.[4] However, too much emphasis on personal traits would improperly conflate the subjective and objective elements of analysis.[5]

  1. R v Petel, 1994 CanLII 133 (SCC), [1994] 1 S.C.R. 3 at pp. 12-13
    R v Craig, 2011 ONCA 142 (CanLII), 269 C.C.C. (3d) 61 at para 36
  2. Craig, ibid. at para 36
  3. R v Filli, 2017 ONSC 2883 (CanLII) at para 162
    R. v. Levy, 2016 NSCA 45 (CanLII), 337 C.C.C. (3d) 476 at para. 112
    R. v. Baxter (1975), 27 C.C.C. (2d) 96 (Ont. C.A.)
  4. R v Barry, 2017 ONCA 17 (CanLII) at para 72 to 73
  5. Barry, ibid. at para 73

Belief that Force or Threats

Mistake of Fact

The defence can still be invoked even where there is a reasonable mistake of fact.[1] This could include a reasonable belief that the victim was armed.[2] Before the defence can be put to the jury, the judge must be satisfied that the evidence passes the threshold test requireing that "there is evidence upon which a jury acting reasonably could conclude that the accused reasonably believed he was about to be attacked and that this belief was reasonable in the circumstances".[3]

Self-defence is available where the accused was mistaken with respect to the "apprehension of the degree of danger and the nature and degree of the force necessary to defend himself".[4] The mistaken belief, however, must be reasonable.[5]

The trier-of-fact must not "weigh to a nicety" the exact measure of the accused's actions.[6]

The is to be expected that the victim and accused "in the heat of the moment, [view] the scene from different perspectives and benefiting from different information" can come to "reasonable and objectively supported" conclusions that are different. [7]

  1. R v Cunha, 2016 ONCA 491 (CanLII) at para 8
  2. Cunha, ibid. at para 8
  3. Cunha, ibid. at para 8
    R v Currie, 2002 CanLII 44973 (ONCA)
  4. R v Richter, 2014 BCCA 244 (CanLII) at para 42
  5. Richter, ibid. at para 42
    R v Szczerbaniwicz, 2010 SCC 15 (CanLII), at paras 20 and 21
  6. R v Baxter (1975), 27 CCC (2d) 96, at p. 111 (*no CanLII links)
    R v Kong, 2005 ABCA 255 (CanLII) appealed to 2006 SCC 40 (CanLII)
    R v Mohamed, 2014 ONCA 442 (CanLII) at para 29 citing Paciocco ("those in peril, or even in situations of perceived peril, do not have time for full reflection and that errors in interpretation and judgment will be made")
  7. Mohamed, ibid. at para 31

Purpose of Force

Under s. 34(2), any use of force for a purpose other than to repel force will not be lawful.[1] You cannot use "self-defence" as a means to cause harm to someone.[2]

  1. R v Parker, 2013 ONCJ 195 (CanLII) at para 35
  2. R v Flood, 2005 CanLII 28422 (ON CA), [2005] O.J. No. 3418 at para 32 (Ont.C.A.) “you can’t use self-defence as a cloak or means to injure someone.”

Obligation to Retreat

When the accused is alleged to have defended himself or other occupants in his home, he is not obliged to retreat.[1] In these circumstances, a failure to retreat is not a factor in s. 34(2) analysis.[2] A jury is not permitted "to consider whether an accused could have retreated from his or her own home in the face of an attack (or threatened attack) by an assailant in assessing the elements of self-defence.”[3]

The availability of retreat and failure to do so is not a "categorical" exclusion from self-defence.[4] Instead, the option to retreat is a "very relevant consideration" to determine whether there the accused had no other option but to defend himself.[5]

  1. R v Cunha, 2016 ONCA 491 (CanLII) at para 9
    R v Forde, 2011 ONCA 592 (CanLII), 277 CCC (3d) 1, at paras 42, 43, 55
    R v Docherty, 2012 ONCA 784 (CanLII), at para 21
  2. Forde, supra at paras 54 to 55
    Docherty, supra at paras 70 to 71
  3. Cunha, supra at para 9
    Forde, supra at para 55
  4. R v Abdalla, 2006 BCCA 210 (CanLII) at para 23
    R v Richter, 2014 BCCA 244 (CanLII)
  5. Abdalla, supra at para 24


It is not appropriate to consider the level of the accused's impairment in determining whether the force used might have been considered necessary by the accused."[1] Nor is impairment relevant to whether "the accused reasonably believed himself to have been assaulted or under a threat of assault" or the amount of force necessary to address the threat.[2]

Intoxication affects the subjective perception of the accused. By contrast, the objective considerations assumes a sober person is facing the threat of force.[3]

Self-induced intoxication does not apply when considering the effect of diminished intelligence or capacity on the reasonableness standard.[4]

  1. R v Richter, 2014 BCCA 244 (CanLII) at para 41, 44
  2. Richter, ibid. at para 44
  3. Reilly, 1984 CanLII 83 (SCC), [1984] 2 S.C.R. 396, at p. 405
    R v Filli, 2017 ONSC 2883 (CanLII), at para 160
  4. Richter, ibid. at para 43


Self-defence under s. 34(2) (under the old rules) is a full justification for an intentional killing. It is to be considered in situations of "last resort" where a jury would accept that "the accused believed, on reasonable grounds, that his own safety and survival depending on killing the victim at that moment."[1]

Existence of an assault is not necessary to engage s. 34(2), it is only a question of whether the accused reasonably believe, in the circumstances, that he was being unlawfully assaulted.[2]

  1. R v Cinous, 2002 SCC 29 (CanLII), [2002] 2 SCR 3 at para 124
  2. Cinous, ibid. at para 107

Character Evidence of Violence

See also: Character Evidence

Pre 2013 Amendments

Case Digests