An undercover operation led by Vancouver Police has resulted in $20,000 in fines against 10 different businesses that illegally sold bear spray in contravention of a new City of Vancouver bylaw.

VPD officers tested compliance of the city’s bear-spray bylaw, which restricts where bear spray can be displayed in stores and limits sale of the product to people over age 19.

“This operation shows there is still more work needed to educate retailers and gain compliance with the new bylaw,” says Constable Tania Visintin, adding that prior to the enforcement, VPD proactively reached out to over 60 businesses to provide information and education on the new bylaw.

“This is about public safety and protecting our youth, and it’s concerning that more than a third of the businesses we visited were breaking the rules.”

VPD officers disguised themselves as shoppers and visited 28 businesses between October 16 and December 15, 2023, to purchase bear spray. Ten of the 28 businesses were found to be violating the bylaw, which prohibits the sale of bear spray to anyone under 19 and to anyone who doesn’t provide ID. The bylaw also requires retailers to keep spray locked up and to maintain records of each sale.

All of the fines were issued to businesses that failed to record sales and keep the appropriate records.

While bear spray is legal to possess and is often carried by people venturing into the outdoors, the substance becomes illegal when possessed as a weapon or used in the commission of a criminal offence. In Vancouver, police frequently respond to retail robberies and street-level assaults involving bear spray.

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“Between 2018 to 2022, VPD investigated approximately 3,000 violent offences involving bear spray,” adds Constable Visintin. “We became particularly concerned with the number of incidents involving young people who were carrying bear spray in self-defense – sometimes in places like schools and community centres – so we worked closely with staff from the City of Vancouver to create this bylaw.”

In spite of the fines handed out to retailers this fall, there are signs the bear spray bylaw is having a positive impact. Incidents involving youth in possession of bear spray decreased 12 per cent between August 1 and December 31, compared to the same period in 2022.