Edmonton bear spray bylaw aims to curb misuse with new point-of-sale measures

Edmonton is proposing measures to regulate the sale of bear spray after seeing a rise in incidents involving spray being used for illicit purposes.  (Josh Crabb/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton is proposing measures to regulate the sale of bear spray after seeing a rise in incidents involving spray being used for illicit purposes. (Josh Crabb/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton is looking to regulate the sale of bear spray by requiring retailers to record details of who is buying the product and taking steps to ensure they aren't selling to minors.

City council will vote Wednesday on a bylaw to address the sale of spray canisters containing oleoresin capsicum, the active ingredient in bear, dog and pepper spray.

This bylaw will specifically target the sale of bear spray, which is more potent and has a wider range than dog and human pepper sprays.

If passed, retailers in Edmonton would have to get a licence — at no additional cost — to sell bear spray. The bylaw would also require retailers to keep the products in a secure space, prohibit sales to people under 18, require buyers to show identification, and keep records with transaction details including the buyer's name and birthday information.

Failing to record transaction information will lead to a first-offence fine of $1,000, while selling bear spray to a minor will incur a $2,000 penalty. Fines double for subsequent offences.

Illegal to use spray on humans

Lyla Peter, the city's director of development, approvals and inspections, said she believes the restrictions might reduce the use of bear spray for illicit purposes in the community.

"We're pretty confident if we can put some regulations around that sale, hopefully it makes people think a little bit more about what they're purchasing and its intended purpose," she told CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday.

According to a city report, bear spray is legal for purchasing and being used as a deterrent against bears. It contains capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers.

Compared to dog and coyote spray, bear spray has a higher oleoresin capsicum content. When a person comes in contact with the spray, it causes intense burning and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin, potentially resulting in pain, difficulty breathing and temporary blindness.

Consequently, using the spray on humans is prohibited and violators can be charged under the Criminal Code with administering a noxious substance, assault or both.

Mace and pepper spray, which are designed and intended for use on humans, are illegal in Canada.

More than 3,300 incidents, police say

The city decided to look into regulating the sale of bear spray after a February 2023 report from Edmonton police showed that bear spray cans were being manipulated by users and being used for illicit purposes.

The police report showed incidents involving bear spray have risen from 1,711 in 2015 to 3,320 in 2023.

Although bear spray is a federally regulated product, measures around its sale are not consistent, Peter said.

"What we've discovered is that it depends on what's written on the canister. Sometimes the canister might say that it shouldn't be sold to a minor and sometimes it doesn't have that marking," she said.

Peter said the new measures will create consistency in regulations for sale.

Ward Métis Coun. Ashley Salvador said she had heard a lot of complaints about the use of bear spray.

"Particularly along 118th Avenue, I had been hearing directly from community members about the inappropriate use of bear spray and just how easy it is to access it," she said.

Although major retail companies, such as Canadian Tire and Cabela's, already record bear spray transactions by making customers fill out forms, Salvador said places like convenience stores — where bear sprays are openly displayed — don't follow these types of measures.

Peter said from the city heard mixed reactions to the measures but said the majority of respondents were in favour.

"They felt it was appropriate that we were looking into this," she said.

The Wednesday council meeting, where the bylaw will be voted on, is the last one before the summer break.

LISTEN | Exploring tougher sales regulations: