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My late brother in law used to talk about his career as a well-site geologist back in the 60s. His job involved life in some of Canada’s less traveled wilderness regions where his fear of a bear attack was alleviated by his 44 Magnum sidekick. He never had to prove whether the gun was mightier than the bear. These days he would not be legally allowed to carry a handgun in the Canadian wilderness . . .

So most law-abiding Canucks will carry bear spray or flare pens (colloquially known as bear-bangers) as their sole defense against Yogi’s less funny relatives. Neither is likely to provide a rock solid defense against an angry bear, but a leaky dinghy is better than a poor swim stroke in a stormy sea.

The bear spray has proven to be a pretty effective weapon for use in commission of a crime in Canada, whether it is a robbery, assault or a combination platter of both misdeeds. The bear spray statistics for its use as a defense against bears are not quite as accurate as bear spray statistics for its use against crime victims.

The flare pen is a sound and visual device ostensibly designed to scare the hell out of a bear. They dispense a loud bang and a brief smoke show that will make a bear think big bore rifle instead of smoke and mirrors.

The physics behind the flare pen are similar to the physics behind every firearm, and that makes some flare pen owners want to adjust the pens into an unlikely firearm. It is a highly illegal weapon once it is converted into a gun because it still looks more like a pen than a gun.

A recent court case involved an accidental death in which a young teenaged male was accidentally (and fatally) shot by his young friend. The converted pen rolled out from under the seat of a truck owned by the shooter’s father, his son found it, and had no idea that it was a weapon.

The teenager shot his buddy in the chest after messing with the device and discharging it into the victim’s chest. It had been converted into a .22 caliber gun that was not entirely reliable according to its defendant/owner, 42 year old James Alexander Rose.

Rose claimed that he had difficulty making the weapon fire bullets after its conversion, which was not officially done by him, according to testimony. The incident spurred a host of charges that were complicated by the definition of an illegal weapon (instead of illegal device) in one of the charges against Rose.

The most serious charge was criminal negligence causing death; which is the Canadian version of an American manslaughter style of charge-very serious and usually accompanied by an extended adventure in the Canadian penal system.

Ultimately most charges were dropped and Rose was convicted of storing a firearm without reasonable caution to the safety of others and given a six month conditional sentence. Conditional sentences are served in the community in Canada and it means that Rose will have no criminal record upon completion of his sentence.

Was justice was served? Can’t say. But gun control advocates should note that the law of unintended consequences was evoked, with tragic consequences.

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  1. Employees such as forestry, wilderness guides, geologists, land surveyors, tree harvester surveyors and the like, CAN carry a sidearm for wildlife protection when in the wilds. I know people who do so all the time. You require a special permit from the Chief Firearms Officer: you must prove a pressing need for the sidearm (which is pretty simple if your job puts you in the deep bush) and you must successfully complete the IPSC Black Badge training course. The IPSC training is supposed to be paid for by the employer since they are the ones that require the employee to go into the wilderness. Do note, however, that this is for the Alberta CFO district; I don’t know what they do in Ontario. British Columbia was much the same as Alberta when last I checked.

    As for the flare pens turned into firearms: d’uh. People do stupid and dangerous crap like this all the time; especially if they are young, and most especially if they are male. Are you contending that if Canada has looser firearms control that such activities and this particular tragedy would have been avoided? What, exactly do you mean by :”Gun control advocates should note that the law of unintended consequences was evoked”? Do you really think that this dumb-ass wouldn’t have shot is buddy if it was a proper firearm instead of a cocked-up MacGuyvered .22? How, exactly, is this whole incident an argument against gun control?

    The fact that the device was classified as a weapon is a good thing, as is the heightened charge of criminal negligence causing death (rather than manslaughter, which is what this would have been twenty years ago, and yes the CCC does have a manslaughter section). The only real way to control gun crime is to exact much harsher penalties for those who use them in the commission of a crime.

  2. I know handguns are taboo in Canada, but why wouldn’t they carry a shotgun?

    A buddy of mine leads field expeditions with the University of Alaska. His entire crew (undergraduates and grad students) is taught from day one not to go anywhere outside of camp (even to the bathroom) without taking a shotgun along. Heavier yes, but i’d trust my life to a 12 ga slug over spray and a flare pen any day of the week.

    • You can pretty much carry a shotgun anywhere you want (in the bush) so long as you are not in a National or Provincial Park. Handguns are okay too, if you have “permission” which is a bit of paperwork and a little bit of hassle (which is not really all that onerous). My first post gives an idea of what you need to carry a handgun in the bush.

      I can’t speak for everyone, but a shotgun is heavy and awkward and difficult to bring to bear (!) on the bear unless you are carrying it in your hands. With 50-80 pounds of gear and pack (my buddies and I do backcountry), a loaded shotgun is a real pain; a handgun would be easier to access and lighter to carry. There are also some places in the backcountry where *any* kind of long-arm is major detriment to mobility, and only those who absolutely need to go into that kind of bush do.

  3. I had to shoot a black bear once in Ontario on vacation years ago. He would repeatedly come up on the front porch of the cabin and throw himself against the wall and front door. Very unusual bear behavior, I understand — in remote areas they stay very wide of humans. Apparently this one was ill or chronically depressed or something. Anyway, he was scaring the womenfolk half to death while we were out fishing, so he had to go. Wasn’t much of a shot, ~15 yards with a .357 Marlin. I wish I’d had one of the above gadgets. The death penalty seemed rather draconian.

    • That’s too bad.

      You are right, in the wild bears tend to stay the hell away from people. Most bear/human encounters are “surprise” where the bear or the hiker turns a corner on a trail and there they are. If the bear knows you are coming, they will go out of their way to avoid you if they can (which is why you make lots of noise when hiking: talking, singing, etc). Out of all the years of back-country I’ve done I have seen exactly two bears; one was about 5 km away in a meadow on a mountain side and the other was about 300 metres down a avalanche chute from where I was. Neither was remotely interested in me. It’s mountain lions I fear. And moose.

      Bears near towns are a different matter. “Garbage bears” are a nuisance at best, highly dangerous at worst. As long as they are fed-up you are usually okay, it is when they are hungry and there is no easy food around that they become a hazard. Human encroachment is the single biggest problem with bears. We move into their feeding territory and scare away all the small game/plant lawns. They get hungry and every one has a bbq in their back yard.

    • Don’t kick yourself too hard; unless you had a kennel of Karelian bear dogs and a tranquilizer rifle, the bear didn’t leave you very many realistic options.

      Without ‘human aversion training’ (bear dogs, flashbangs and copious amounts of OC spray) or a lucky relocation to a very desirable feeding environment, even the relocated bears tend to wander right back to where they caused the trouble in the first place.

  4. Circa 1980, I saw a a prison built copy of the then popular S&W model 76 9mm submachine gun.

    Gun control doesn’t work for criminals and it isn’t intended to. It is intended to prevent or inhibit the average person from having weapons. Once you come to that point of realization, things seem to fall in place nicely with respect to the motivation of those who propose and enact such laws.

    Yes Virginia, it is a conspiracy.

  5. It’s my observation that the “gun controllers”, whoever they may be, just keep plowing along, never giving a thought to either the unintended consequences of their stupid rules and regulations, nor do they realize that they are putting themselves actually in harm’s way. I remember back in the LA riots, Charlton Heston said friends of his came and wanted to borrow guns, because they discovered the 15 day waiting period!!! Why in HELL didn’t they take care of this when they had the chance? Well, guess what, no guns were borrowed. Under the present environment, it’s just too risky to lend or give a gun to ANYBODY, no matter how well you know them. That’s a result of our stupid laws again. I doubt that in 1865 would any such problems arise. We are so tangled in legalities that we cannnot extricate ourselves. But if you have a gun and some ammo, guard it with your life. Don’t lend it, don’t give it, don’t even sell it unless to an FFL if you want to avoid trouble.


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