As the number of bear spray-involved crimes increase, Vancouver tightens sale rules

·2 min read
Police say bear spray is becoming a more common facet of many violent crimes. (Josh Crabb/CBC - image credit)
Police say bear spray is becoming a more common facet of many violent crimes. (Josh Crabb/CBC - image credit)

Vancouver council unanimously approved new rules for the sale of bear spray with police reporting its use in crimes is becoming more common.

At Tuesday's meeting, all councillors voted in favour of a staff report's recommended by-law changes for retailers dealing in bear spray.

The new rules prohibit the sale of bear spray to anyone under 19. Stores will have to keep the spray locked or inaccessible to the public and keep records of who is buying bear spray.

"I have personally come across … an unhoused person who was attacked with bear spray," said Coun. Rebecca Bligh during the meeting. "It was a very, very vicious attack."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The staff report notes that police data records 429 assaults, robberies and threats involving bear spray in 2018. By 2022, that number shot up 68 per cent to 729.

'We're seeing it in violent street assaults'

Vancouver Police officers were present at the meeting to speak in favour of the by-law changes.

Ahead of the meeting, Sgt. Steve Addison told CBC police are seeing bear spray in more and more crimes in the city.

"It's quite common for people who are committing robberies at stores to brandish things like bear spray," Addison said. "We're seeing it in violent street assaults in places like the Downtown Eastside."

Wayne Vallevand/CBC
Wayne Vallevand/CBC

Young people are part of the story: the staff report included VPD numbers on violent offences involving youth as perpetrators or victims.

Those offences — assaults, threats and robberies — more than doubled from 52 offences in 2018 to 115 in 2022.

"Which is especially concerning," Addison said. "Occasions where bear spray has been deployed in schools."

Other cities regulating with success, staff say

The staff report noted that locally, Surrey, Chilliwack and Port Coquitlam regulated bear spray sales in 1998, 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

"Data from Chilliwack RCMP indicates a 49 per cent decrease in the number of case files for incidents involving bear spray in 2021 compared to the previous year," the report said.

"Recent police data from Surrey indicates that their municipality experiences far fewer incidents involving bear spray annually compared to Vancouver, with 158 less violent offences in 2022."

On Tuesday, Coun. Pete Fry asked if council could do anything about people carrying bear spray in the city: "There's no reason to have bear spray in the city of Vancouver. There's no bears in the city of Vancouver."

Staff and VPD officers at Tuesday's meeting note it's not a crime to possess bear spray as long as it's not intended to be used against a person as a weapon.

Fry acknowledged some people carry bear spray for self-defence, but added he'd like to re-visit the rules in the future if the changes don't reduce its use in crimes.