Alice and Bob are in a car together; Alice is driving. While on the road, she picks up her phone and begins texting. Is it legal for Bob to take the phone from her until she parks? Normally this would be theft, but perhaps it could be justified as self-defense? Does it make a difference whether or not he touches her in the process?

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    Are Bob and Alice emotionally mature, normal, rational adults who know each other, and interact with one another in a mostly civil manner? Because if not, it could be theft and assault. Otherwise it could be a loving spouse simply and assertively, in good faith, trying to prevent distracted driving and they both laugh it off... DV for a silly question. Mar 22 at 4:53
  • P.S. If you are asking whether such an act would be considered self defense, please use that wording in the question rather than sneaking in a tag. Because the act of taking a phone would not normally be considered self defense. And as Jen pointed out, you should by now have an understanding what constitutes self defense, so what is the real question? Mar 22 at 16:33
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    Texting while driving is illegal in Oregon. I'm not sure how this affects things.
    – Barmar
    Mar 22 at 20:51
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    In many jurisdictions, the definition of theft requires an attempt to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Taking it temporarily until she parks would not be theft.
    – Barmar
    Mar 22 at 20:54
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    "...the likelihood of a prosecution". Are you suggesting that Alice would report Bob for theft of the device that she was illegally using (and after Bob returned it)? Just imagine the convo: "Police? I am reporting the theft of my phone. Oh, this phone... err..." Mar 22 at 23:05

2 Answers 2


You have asked many questions on this site about whether it can be self-defence to do X. The answer is always the same: any offence may be justified or excused by self-defence or defence of another.

The defences of "self-defence" and "defence of another" are available defences to any act that would otherwise constitute "an offence" in Canada. Section 34 simply says: "A person is not guilty of an offence if... [and then goes on to list the elements of the defence]."

Your question seems to ask about the scope of actions (in this case, theft or assault) that might be justified or excused by the defence.

If it wasn't clear before 2012, amendments in 2012 to the self-defence laws in Canada made it absolutely clear that any offence may be justified or excused by self-defence or defence of another. As the Supreme Court describes in R. v. Khill, 2021 SCC 37:

The accused’s response under the new law is also no longer limited to a defensive use of force. It can apply to other classes of offences, including acts that tread upon the rights of innocent third parties, such as theft, breaking and entering or dangerous driving.

The substantive elements of self-defence and defence of another are described several other Q&As, so I will only state them briefly: (a) reasonable belief of a threat of force; (b) the act constituting the offence is for the purpose of protection; (c) the act committed is reasonable. For details see:


This may theoretically be viewed as a self defense: driving while texting is dangerous also for the passengers of the car. The danger is not very extreme but the force is also not excessive. Who knows. Must be a

threat of deadly or grievous harm by the other person, or a reasonable perception of such harm

What if a truck runs over that car? Even if say the driver of the truck is guilty - maybe it was avoidable by the alert driver of the car.

Imagine sho would start drinking whiskey from the bottle with one hand while speeding 140 km/h on a highway. It would be legitimate for the passenger on a front seat to take an action. Murder-suicide is still a murder.

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    Hello, and thank you for the answer! Do you have any legal references for what you wrote in your answer?
    – Someone
    Mar 22 at 20:57

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