Advice for Having Swords and Bows in Public

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun has brought a often discussed issue to the forefront again: Can I carry a sword or bow to class on public transit, or for that matter down the street in Vancouver? The short answer is "yes" but there are some nuances to be aware of and a few good ground rules to follow when doing so.*

* A little note to our readers outside of Vancouver. This post deals with Canadian law and the particular environment in Vancouver specifically.

Canadian Weapons Law

Canadian law is quite reasonable when it comes to weapons. A weapon is defined by intention not function. This means that a baseball bat is a tool for playing baseball unless your intention is to beat up your neighbour with it. The same is true for a sword. If you have a good reason to be carrying one, i.e. "I'm taking it to my martial arts class", then generally you're in the clear. However a police officer has a tremendous amount of leeway in the judgment they make of your intention. If they believe that you may have nefarious intent they can confiscate the weapon. They can also make judgments about risk to the 'public peace'. If they think you carrying the item is going to 'disturb the peace' they may also choose to take action in some way.

An illustration; one morning at 6am while carrying a bare blade from my apartment to a nearby demonstration, I became aware of a car pacing me along the street. I glanced over my shoulder to see that it was a police cruiser. The window slowly slid down and the cop inside called out "Off to the crusades?" I paused for a moment and told him that I was going to a nearby demonstration for my martial arts school and that seemed to satisfy him, with a nod he was off.

An alternate scenario had less comfortable results. Two students were on their way from class on public transit. They boarded their bus with rapiers strapped to their backpacks. The bus driver made no immediate comment but once the students had boarded he called the police and proceeded to wait at the stop for them to arrive. A message was relayed through a few passengers to the Duello members that the police had been called and the members decided to disembark and seek another way home.

A third incident involved a student from another school. He was carrying a sword cane with him on the skytrain (technically legal as long as the blade is longer than 12 inches). A skytrain police officer questioned him about the cane to which his response was "What's it to you?" The cane was promptly confiscated.

Wise Rules for Transporting Swords in Public

For sword transport specifically I have a few recommendations:

  • If possible travel with the sword in a bag that completely covers it. This takes any discomfort out of the equation and generally avoids all possible concerns of police officers as well as potential for others to misunderstand.
  • Alternately cover the hilt of the sword with a small bag. Generally as soon as you do this the sword becomes essentially unidentifiable to the general public. Most people seem to think it's a broom.
  • Carry an Academie Duello card or rack card. That way if questioned you can always show them the card and add some legitimacy to your story.
  • Carry the sword strapped to a bag or by holding the forte (like we do before the salute) or supporting it under the pommel with the blade lying along the length of your arm and by your shoulder (like a rifle parade position). Don't carry it by the handle or brandish it in any way. I hope this seems obvious.

Wise Rules for Transporting Archery Equipment in Public

The following was put together by Patricia Gonsalves our Archery Program head.

On transit, archery students may:

  • Carry a quiver/bag of arrows exposed as long as their bow is in a case.
  • Carry a bow (1) out of case as long as their arrows are completely concealed within a bag or case

General rules and good sense:

  • Keep all equipment in secure cases
  • Do not open cases on a Translink vehicle
  • If the driver asks what is in the cases answer 'archery sports equipment' and school or club associated with.
  • If the driver asks you to leave the bus, leave the bus. Follow rule #1 of Duello: don't be an idiot.

These are generally good rules for on the street transport as well.

Communicating about Swords and Bows in Public

If a security official or police officer asks you about your sword or bow:

  1. Be polite. They're doing their job.
  2. Tell them about the school and make it clear that the sword is dull and made for practice or that your bow is unstrung.
  3. Show them a card or tell them the location of the school

Other than the rarest encounter, I have almost never heard of any negative encounters with police or transit security. Be smart and polite and you're unlikely to run into any problems.

Be safe and have fun.

Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
Read more from Devon Boorman.