Is it just a knife, or is it a ‘weapon’ as contemplated in the Criminal Code?
The definition in the Criminal Code is as follows:
weapon means any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use: (a) in causing death or injury to any person, or (b) for the purpose of threatening or intimidating any person and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, includes a firearm and, for the purposes of sections 88, 267 and 272, anything used, designed to be used or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will;
In R. v. Vader 2018 ABQB 1, the accused was found in the driver’s seat of a beat-up pickup truck, in the middle of nowhere, driving and behaving erratically. When he was arrested, the police noted the handle of what turned out to be an old machete extruding from the under the driver’s side floor mat of the vehicle and a fishing knife, in a leather scabbard, in an open area at the bottom of the driver’s side door. Vader, at the time, was bound by two release documents, each of which provided as follows:
You shall not possess any firearms, ammunition, explosives or any other type of weapon whatsoever and you shall surrender any firearms, ammunition, explosives or any other type of weapon currently within your possession to the St. Albert RCMP Detachment within 24 hours of your release.
He was not charged under s. 88 or s. 90 of the Criminal Code, but with violating the terms of his release. The trial judge concluded that both items were “weapons” within the definition of “weapon” in s. 2 of the Criminal Code and convicted him. Vader appealed his conviction, based on the definition of ‘weapon’ in the Code. The focus at trial was on the middle portion of the definition (designed to be used).
On appeal, the Crown submitted that the inference which could have been drawn on the evidence was that the accused intended to use the items as weapons. The Crown argued that inference was, in all the circumstances of the case, inescapable, and should have been drawn by the learned trial judge. The appeal judge noted that items which have both violent and non-violent uses are not caught by an objective categorization. Context is necessary to determine if the violent aspect of the item is ascendant. Weapons offences are not absolute liability offences. An accused person retains the right to attempt to establish justification for possessing an item which is otherwise, by its nature, a weapon.
So, said the judge, while it may be reasonable to have a machete in the forest or a fishing knife at a lake, it’s not reasonable to have either on a residential bus in February in the City of Edmonton. In that latter context, it is not the manufacturer’s design or the modification of it performed by others which determines the character of the object. It is the accused’s design which is determinative. The accused’s design is determined by context. In those circumstances, the otherwise ambiguous nature of the item is determined by what possibilities the evidence does and does not support. In the absence of some other reasonable possibility, it leads to the inference that the possessor’s design was to use the machete as a weapon. Or, put another way, to have the machete as a weapon.
By way of another example, the judge said that an accused with a freshly sharpened machete in the leg of his pants in February, in Edmonton, at a local bar, in the absence of other reasonable possibilities, could be inferred to have the item which he designed to use as a weapon. He has an item designed to be used as a weapon, whether he intends to use it or not. If the circumstances are the same, but the accused is shown to have gone to the bar to seek retribution for an earlier beating at the hands of a fellow bar patron, one might infer intent to use the weapon, which the machete was found to be by virtue of the context and his design. An item which is both violent and non-violent in potential use will be found to be a weapon where the context supports the inference that it was the accused’s design and the context does not support any other reasonable possibility.
Vader’s appeal was dismissed.