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Port Coquitlam to stop convenience stores from selling bear spray to teens

What is bear spray and why is it a a problem? Recent bear spray attacks have spurred Port Coquitlam to consider banning the sale of it to minors under the age of 19.
pepper spray bear
Port Coquitlam wants small stores to stop selling bear spray to minors.

Bear spray attacks are becoming more common in the Tri-Cities, prompting at least one city to make the chemical less accessible to minors.

In recent months, there have been at least four instances where victims were attacked by teens armed with cans of bear spray; in one case liquor store employees were hit, resulting in potential charges for some Port Moody youth.

As well, there have been three bear spray attacks in the last few months in public facilities in Port Coquitlam, according to officials.

"Just in the last couple of months there have been three assaults on a person by youth that we’re aware of," said Dominic Long, the city's director of community safety and corporate support.

Council is considering a change to its business bylaw that would require retailers to lock up or store bear spray and spray paint out of public reach, and restrict the sale of both items to adults 19 and older, unless the minor is accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Under federal law, bear spray is legal as long is it's used against animals, but when it's used against a person it's a prohibited weapon.

Bear spray banned for teens

Long told Port Coquitlam's committee of council on July 5 that RCMP have confirmed teens are being sold bear spray at some convenience stores "that will freely sell to whoever."

Some youth are using it to attack other teens in public places, he said. The spray causes extreme irritation to eyes, nose, throat and lungs. 

Banning the sale of spray paint, meanwhile, is an effort to reduce graffiti complaints, which have increased 35 per cent this year.

But some councillors were concerned about the impact on local businesses.

"It seems like were putting an onus on them to fight crime, so to speak," said Coun. Steve Darling.

Long assured council that public hearings would be required before the changes could be approved. Letters would be sent to retailers informing them of potential changes.

"That will act as a way of raising it to their attention," Long said, noting that Michaels, a craft store in Port Coquitlam, already locks up its spray paint.

Bear spray consultation

As for access to bear spray, Long said the expectation is that bylaw changes would make it more difficult for youth to acquire the canisters and use the spray as a weapon.

"We'll require businesses to lock it up because we have noticed that youth are obtaining bear spray a lot easier," Long said.

However, he acknowledged that youth may still be able to acquire it from their parents' garages "and various other means."

Council will consider first three readings of the bylaw amendments at its upcoming council meeting on Tuesday, July 12.

The Toronto Defence Lawyers' website provides the following information about bear spray:

What is Bear Spray?

Bear spray is a bottle of liquid spray powder chemicals containing capsaicin which is designed to spray the substance approximately 10m into the direction of an approaching bear. Bear spray can be purchased at hardware stores such as Canadian Tire as well as wilderness survival stores.

To be legal in Canada, the label must clearly show that it is intended for use on animals and the package volume cannot exceed 500 ml.

How Does Bear Spray Work?

Bear spray cans shoot the substance up to 10 m and when a bear walks into the spray, the substance will irritate the eyes and skin of the bear so as to cause the bear to retreat. Bear spray is not harmful to the bear and the effect is temporary.

How is Bear Spray Used?

Bear spray is used by removing the safety tip on the can, point the nozzle away from you, and point the nozzle in the direction of the bear’s face. Use quick, one second bursts until the bear retreats and immediately leave the area. Be careful not to walk into the path of the spray.