Jane was on her way home from her job at a downtown Calgary restaurant late one fall evening when a catcalling stranger began trailing her.
Refusing in order to interact with him, she arrived at her apartment building and pulled the door shut — holding it closed for a few nervous seconds until the lock finally latched.
Frustrated, he began “freaking out, ” said the woman, whom CBC News agreed not to identify due to concerns she could be targeted.
“I don’t even know why I walked you home. … I should have just let you get raped in the street, ” she recalled him shouting, replaying the incident through nearly three years ago.
Because of incidents like this — plus reports the girl sees on social media — Jane carries protection, including pepper spray.
She’s not alone.
This spring, CBC Information asked a local Facebook group focused on women’s safety whether anyone armed themselves for protection. Roughly two-thirds of the near 500 respondents stated they did.
But legal and personal safety experts say people who choose to arm themselves for self-defence should be aware it can lead to other risks.
Hundreds of sexual assaults each year
There are hundreds of sexual assaults every year in Calgary, ranging from groping to equipped, physical attacks.
In 2021, there were 744 sexual approaches against adults reported to Calgary police, with 699 of those offences resulting in minor or no physical injuries to the victim.
Thirty-eight sex assaults were carried out with weapons or threats, or even caused bodily harm.
There were also seven offences that police categorize as the most severe, resulting in wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering life. All seven focused women.
Of the total number of offences, more than two-thirds had been against females. In about a quarter from the reported assaults against women in 2021, the offender was a stranger.
A small arsenal with regard to protection
To protect herself, Jane carries a small arsenal when she heads to her work. She works downtown as a server, usually leaving after last call, and walks about nine blocks to her apartment.
“I have an alarm, I have pepper spray and I have, it’s like a little dagger, basically, ” the lady said, referring to a small tool designed for breaking glass.
When CBC News asked others in the Facebook group what items they carry regarding protection, the list included purse-sized cans associated with hairspray, specialized keychains and knives.
“After being assaulted many times by an abusive partner, I won’t go anywhere without at least one knife, ” one woman mentioned.
The lawful risks of arming yourself
But while carrying an item for protection may seem like a simple solution, it can lead to a complicated ordeal.
Long-time Calgary lawyer Balfour Der has prosecuted and defended women charged in self-defence cases — and he says there’s no guarantee the self-defence argument will shield someone from charges.
Dieser said cases of people becoming charged whilst defending on their own don’t happen often , but they are possible.
“Even having something for self-defence can be — can amount to — a good offence under the Criminal Code for possession of a weapon for a purpose dangerous, inch Der said.
Claiming an object is for self-defence “may make the punishment a heck of a lot lighter, but you still could be found guilty if you have something that can be a tool and your sole purpose [for having it] is self-defence, ” Der said.
This means that certain items are legally riskier than other people.
For example , there’s probably no reason to carry a knife in your purse whenever out for the walk other than for self-defence. A pen, on the other hand, is a common item many people would keep in their bag that could also be used to fend off an attacker.
A Calgary police spokesperson stated in an email that officers have discretion.
“If the object that you’re carrying is intended to cause harm to another individual and is not used like a typical device, then you can be caught plus charged along with carrying a concealed weapon, ” law enforcement said.
When it comes to pepper spray, Der mentioned someone convicted with carrying a prohibited weapon in this instance would likely face just a fine. But that might not be the end of it.
Conviction for carrying a prohibited weapon could still prevent someone from travelling to the United States due to a criminal record.
Justice system can be a blunt instrument
For Anne, the idea she could be billed for defending herself is inconceivable.
“I can’t imagine, though, being pulled into a court and getting like, ‘Well, it was either I get attacked in the streets or I spice up sprayed this particular person, ‘” she said.
But Lisa Silver, a former criminal defence attorney who teaches in the University of Calgary’s faculty associated with law , describes the particular justice system as a blunt instrument.
“The law basically states if you’ve got problems, you should be going to professionals — and that would be the police, inches said Silver. “But of course the police aren’t around all the time. ”
Last month, a woman has been walking in Mission , an inner-city community in southwest Calgary, when a man exposed himself to her through his truck. She screamed. The pickup truck left. She then called the police, but after a 40-minute wait, the girl got a friend to take the girl home.
While the police response drew some criticism, Insp. Clare Smart of the Calgary Police Service said how the woman handled herself is a model for personal security.
“The victim do an excellent job of reporting. What the lady did also was using her voice … and getting the attention of bystanders as well as scaring away the individual, inch Smart stated.
Despite overseeing initiatives like the Stephen Avenue Safety Hub, which provides more police visibility in the downtown core, Smart knows officers can’t always be present.
“We’re out there 24/7, yet we can’t be in every location. ”
Staying safe upon city streets
It’s not just the legal repercussions people need to consider. Lorna Selig with Safe4Life , a company that will teaches self-defence, also alerts against arming yourself.
“Carrying something that might produce harm in somebody else is probably not a great idea, mostly because it can be turned around and used against a person, ” Selig said.
The girl said things like personal protection alarms are usually helpful in an emergency.
Selig added practising personal safety drills can better prepare somebody for an assault, rather than relying on a weapon that you may not have time to access.
“Everything that we have to defend ourselves, we already have in our bodies — we have our minds, we have our voices and we possess our fists and our own feet in order to fight back. inches
Part of exactly what Selig teaches includes keeping tabs on who is close to and their own proximity, and staying away from dimly lit areas. No one can control the actions of others, she said.
Selig noted that knowing what to do may catch a good attacker off-guard.
“The mere fact of someone yelling at them and fighting back very often will cause them to change their particular mind about that person being an easy target, ” the girl said.
Community vigilance is also a critical tool, added Smart.
“We’re one piece of the puzzle, and having people come forward with what they’re seeing or if something is happening, that is what assists us in moving forward with our investigations. ”
As for Jane, the lady said she has weighed the pros and cons of holding a tool.
“But I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and never have it. ”