The Portage la Prairie area has been seeing an uptick in reports regarding assailants releasing bear spray, both in public or directly on another person.

A common misconception relating to bear spray is that it is interchangeable with pepper spray. In reality, bear spray is much stronger , with a longer reaching mist, and a greater concentration of capsaicin(chili pepper extract).

Constable Larry Neufeld, the Community Media Liaison Officer for the Portage RCMP, weighed in on the issue.

"Bear spray is one of those items that is easily accessible, and people that are in the lifestyle of committing crime have been using it for a deterrent, in getting away or assaulting somebody."

Relatively recent cases include someone releasing the gas inside the Portage Walmart location, as well as a 14-year-old boy discharging bear spray at Stride Place during a Portage Terriers game.

While people of any age can purchase bear spray in Manitoba, retailers are not allowed to put canisters in areas accessible to customers. Interested individuals must ask specifically for it. The law does not require stores to see photo ID from customers, rather encourages them to ask for identification. Some stores across Manitoba have decided to implement their own policies.

"We recommend to anybody that does have [bear spray], that they are facing a charge of that kind of the prohibited weapon, and if they're carrying it, or finding it on their person, like in a backpack or anything else like that, they're carrying a concealed weapon in public. They can face several charges which could impact their career, future travel plans or anything else like that. If people see anybody with bear spray, we ask them to call the police, we will attend and determine if that is the case and lay the appropriate charges. It is a bad thing to have it in the general public, because we don't really have bears around here."

People wanting to report someone carrying bear spray are encouraged to contact Portage la Prairie RCMP at 204-857-4445 or anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.