Before we get stuck in, I would like to state that I am not a lawyer and have no legal training or experience. The following is my opinion based on experience, conversations with LEOs/COs/Judges, and my layman’s interpretation of various laws.
There are two ways to look at this question: shooting at night with lights on – such as Boxing Day evening clay shoots; and shooting at night in the dark – such as tactical low light/no light training. Regardless of which option you’re interested in, the legal ramifications seem pretty much the same.
The Firearms Act, which is a federal law, has no obvious clause which prohibits the discharge of firearms at night, or during any other times of limited visibility. But this isn’t the only law you have to take into consideration – if only it were that simple!
The reality is that it varies from province to province. Each province and territory has its own set of hunting regulations which usually prohibits hunting at night, and depending on how those laws are worded or interpreted, they may also prohibit any type of shooting.
I’m not going to get into the details of hunting at night because that varies dramatically and you can find the answer in your local regs. I will, however, mention that some provinces, such as Ontario, have hunting regulations which state that, with some exceptions, if you are in an area usually inhabited by wildlife, firearms must be unloaded and encased at night. It isn’t clear to me whether this only applies to hunters, or to any person with a firearm. I have asked the question a number of times with Ontario COs, and I have yet to get a definitive answer.
In contrast, at the other end of the country, BC has no such law. The provincial hunting regs do state that you cannot hunt at night, but they do not state that firearms must be unloaded and encased. Therefore, there is no obvious, direct prohibition of night target shooting in the province of BC.
I will also mention that the term “night” is defined slightly differently from province to province, but it is generally considered to be from shortly after sunset to shortly before sunrise.
Besides the federal Firearms Act, and provincial hunting regs, you must also take into account local bylaws which, while they may not specifically prohibit shooting at night, may indirectly have the same effect; the most common being noise prohibitions. Most municipalities have a bylaw which prohibits loud noises between certain hours of the night. So, because suppressors are (sadly) prohibited in Canada, that can put the kibosh on some midnight, backyard pop-can plinking.
Now, let’s pretend for a moment that you have done your homework, and you’ve established that your shooting area has no federal, provincial, or other local bylaws preventing shooting, or making loud noises etc., at night. Before you order a two foot LED bar for your truck, and stock up on boxes of orange clays, and cases of 7.5 shot, bear this final, important fact in mind:
The Criminal Code of Canada has an offence called “Careless use of a firearm, etc.” which states (paraphrasing): “Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, uses a firearm in a careless manner or without reasonable precautions for the safety of other persons.”
The terms “careless” and “reasonable” are both open to some interpretation. So, unless your night shooting activities are in a heavily controlled environment – such as a range which is legitimately set up for night shooting – there is a risk of being in breach of this law. The onus is on you to be safe.
All it takes is for one prosecutor or judge to disagree with your assessment of your actions, and it could cost you a ton of time, money, and stress battling it in court. And, worst case, it could even end up costing your guns, licence, and even your freedom.
Because of this, unless you are absolutely certain that night shooting is legal in your area, I advise that you avoid it.
In no way is this article meant to put people off: shooting luminous clays in the dark is one heck of a blast (pun intended), and low light/no light training is an essential part of a thorough and balanced tactical training regime. So I’m not saying that you can’t do it; I’m just saying be careful; stay legal and stay safe.
Eddie Banner is a regular columnist for Calibre. The owner and operator of Instinct Canada, a personal safety, firearms, and first aid training company located on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Eddie has extensive training and experience with firearms through both professional and private channels, and is an avid outdoorsman. Any questions pertaining to firearms training or safety for Eddie can be directed to info@ calibremag.ca.