Vancouver police warn of criminal charges for carrying bear spray in the city

VANCOUVER – Bear spray is legal in B.C. and is sold in many popular outdoor shops, but police warn that carrying the potentially harmful substance could lead to criminal charges.

The warning comes as Vancouver police search for three men who robbed the Oakridge Mall Apple store Monday night by blasting bear spray and then took off with a number of items. Five people were treated by paramedics for exposure to the spray.

Const. Brian Montague, a spokesman with the Vancouver police, said bear spray is much stronger than pepper spray and can last up to 45 minutes longer. That could be very dangerous for someone who has lung problems, he added.

He said although it is easy to buy in Vancouver and sold at hiking shops like Mountain Equipment Co-op and 3 Vets, he cautioned that people are not allowed to carry it around in the city.

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“If you are carrying it in Vancouver, you have a lot of explaining to do,” Montague said Tuesday morning.

“If we find you with it and you’re hiking on the North Shore mountain trails that’s fine, but if you have it in a downtown nightclub then it’s illegal.”

Montague said people found carrying the bear spray, even those who claim it is used for self defence, could face possession of a weapon charges.

Monday’s robbery happened just before 7 p.m. when about 40 customers were in the store. Five customers were treated at the scene by paramedics for inhaling the powerful spray.

“Officers arrived and searched the area for the suspects with the help of a police K-9 unit,” said Montague.

“Some of the stolen items were recovered, but police were not able to find the three men responsible.”

Montague did not know how many robberies have taken place in Vancouver where the suspects used bear spray, but he noted that several similar incidents have occurred in the past few years.

Earlier this year, two men robbed a jewelry store at gunpoint in Vancouver’s Pacific Centre Mall and then fled in a cloud of bear spray.

Two mall customers were treated in hospital for exposure to the bear spray.

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In October, one man was treated by paramedics after a robbery at a Future Shop in a West Vancouver mall.

Two men entered Future Shop in Park Royal South in the morning and sprayed a canister of bear spray, while the other man broke into a display case.

According to the Canadian Tire website, a can of bear repellent spray costs $45.99 and is a non-lethal spray that causes temporary eye-tearing and respiratory distress, but leaves no permanent damage.

A spokesperson for the head office of Army and Navy in Vancouver refused to comment Tuesday, except to say that two stores carry the item.

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