Manslaughter and Self-Defence

  1. Legal Framework for Self-Defence in Canada
  2. Manslaughter Cases Involving Self-Defence
  3. Can You Go to Jail for Self Defence?
  4. Real-life Examples from Ontario Courts
  5. Challenges and Controversies In Self-Defence with Legal Weapons in Canada

In Canada, someone can face a charge of manslaughter and criminal punishment when committing negligence or an unlawful act unintentionally causing another person’s death. In many cases, the accused would state self-defence as a rationale for their actions and claim innocence in committing a crime. Below, we discuss the legal framework for manslaughter and self-defence in Canada, the challenges of applying this type of legal defence in practice and why it is always better to retain a manslaughter defence lawyer early in the process.

Legal Framework for Self-Defence in Canada

In Canada, everyone has the legal right to self-defence and defence of another person. According to Section 34 of the Criminal Code of Canada, a person is not guilty of an offence when acting in self-defence or defence of another if they have responded to force or a threat based on their reasonable belief and their acts are reasonable under the circumstances.

When Ontario courts decide if someone’s actions were reasonable to qualify under self-defence laws in Canada, they review the following factors:

  • the nature of force or threat that was prevented,
  • if the potential use of force was imminent and there was no other way to avert it,
  • whether the attacker used or threatened to use any weapon,
  • the size, age, gender and physical capabilities of participants of the incident,
  • the nature and proportionality of response to the threat,
  • the history of interactions between the parties, including prior use of force or threats,
  • whether the act was in response to lawful use of force, for example, lawful arrest.

Similarly, Section 35 of the Criminal Code allows to act in defence of property, preventing someone from entry, taking unlawful possession, or destroying that property, among others. In doing so, someone should act reasonably under circumstances which sets a limit on the use of lethal force or causing grievous bodily harm.

Manslaughter Cases Involving Self-Defence

Canadian law defines manslaughter broadly as a homicide that is neither murder nor infanticide. Unlike murder, someone committing manslaughter has no intention to kill the victim. Still, manslaughter is culpable and committed either through unlawful acts or criminal negligence. The maximum manslaughter sentence in Canada is life in prison with a minimum sentence of 4 years when using a firearm.

Voluntary manslaughter happens when someone dies as a result of the actions of the offender who intended to cause the victim bodily harm without the intention to kill. Such situations may happen in different scenarios, for example, during a brawl or after a provocation. Involuntary manslaughter occurs where the death results unintentionally through recklessness or negligence, for example, in a DUI car accident.

The criminal law and legal precedents further describe manslaughter as:

  • an offence that caused someone’s death,
  • objectively dangerous unlawful act that potentially poses serious harm to another person,
  • an act involving fault elements such as intention to commit bodily harm, recklessness or criminal negligence,
  • an act committed in circumstances in which a reasonable person would foresee the risk of death.

Can You Go to Jail for Self Defence?

If someone facing manslaughter charges in Canada claims self-defence, they should demonstrate that they believed in the existence of imminent threat or force used against them and that their actions were reasonable and proportionate to such threat. Importantly, when assessing whether actions in self-defence were reasonable and proportionate, the courts consider provocations by the accused, who claims self-defence, as a factor in evaluating the legitimacy of the response.

Canadian law holds the presumption of innocence as a fundamental principle where someone can be only convicted of a criminal offence if the evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, when someone facing manslaughter charges claims acting in self-defence, the onus to prove the unavailability of the defence lies with the Crown.

Real-life Examples from Ontario Courts

Over the years, the Canadian courts had multiple cases where the accused claimed self-defence in homicides. While most of these cases involve first- or second-degree murder charges, the same principles apply to other situations, such as claiming self-defence in manslaughter in Canada.

For example, in one of the recent landmark cases, Ontario’s Court of Appeal ruled that the judge made a mistake in rejecting the argument of self-defence and convicting the accused for manslaughter. The appellant, identified as R.S., was attacked and, while on his knees after fall, fired several shots at his attackers, who were allegedly running away, leading to the death of one of them. The appellate court considered that the trial judge made an error judging on lack of reasonableness in self-defence and scheduled a new trial.

Challenges and Controversies In Self-Defence with Legal Weapons in Canada

The answer to the question of whether you can kill in self-defence in Canada hinges on the reasonableness of such killing as defined in Section 34 of the Criminal Code. As such, the factor of reasonableness becomes one of the most critical in granting or rejecting the argument of self-defence.

Unlike other jurisdictions, such as the United States, in Canada, there is no “stand-your-ground,” aka “Castle Doctrine,” where someone can use deadly force even if it is possible to avoid danger, for example, by retreating. That said, there are opinions and groups in Canada seeking to bolster self-defence law, arguing that in situations where police are tens of kilometres away, people need more opportunities to defend themselves. These groups seek modifications to Section 34 of the Criminal Code on self-defence by increasing the burden of proof necessary to convict someone acting in self-defence for a homicide, like manslaughter.


The Canadian self-defence laws raise a high bar for the reasonableness of acts committed in self-defence. The specific criteria for the reasonableness of such acts are outlined by Sections 34 and 35 of the Criminal Code and legal precedents. Until the changes are introduced either through amendments to Canadian criminal laws or through court decisions, raising a claim of self-defence in cases involving manslaughter and other homicides requires the most careful legal analysis.

Vilkhov Law criminal lawyer in Mississauga, has years of experience in handling homicide cases and defending claims of self-defence. For more information, please do not hesitate to contact Vilkhov Law criminal lawyers for a free consultation on your legal options.

By |2024-05-28T11:40:30+00:00May 28th, 2024|Criminal Defence|

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