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When are French police permitted to use tear gas?

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When are French police permitted to use tear gas?
A police officer clashes with a protesters in a cloud of tear gas at the annual May Day rally (Photo by AFP)

As French police officers' use of tear gas is once again in the news, here are the rules in place governing the usage of 'gaz lacrymogène' in France.


Images of French police officers using tear-gas on fans - including children - at the Champions League final in Paris caused shock and outrage around the world.

Just a week later, French policing techniques came to the forefront again when officers used tear gas to disperse travellers - including women and children - at Paris' Gare de l'Est train station who were attempting to board replacement buses after trains were cancelled due to storms.




So are there any restrictions on how police use tear gas?

Here are the rules: 

According to French penal code, any police officer "responsible for public security or any other judicial police officer wearing the insignia of their position" is allowed to use force to disperse a gathering after two failed attempts to ask the crowd to disperse to disperse

However, officers can use force, including tear gas, without first asking the crowd to disperse in cases of "direct force or violence against police" or if the territory the police are defending has been "invaded" - in those circumstances using tear gas is the decision of the individual officer.

In all of these scenarios, officers must only use force if it is "absolutely necessary," and it must be used "proportionately to the disorder" and it must "end when the disorder has ceased."

However, in response to recent incidents, several opposition politicians have called into question policing techniques and what they see as indiscriminate use of tear gas for crowd control.

Centrist Julien Bayou tweeted: "After the tear-gassing of fans and children, this brutality against people who only wanted to get on a bus is unacceptable".

Which tools can be used?

Police officers in France are allowed to use tear gas canisters/ bombs (bombe/gaz lacrymogène) or pepper spray (aérosol anti-agression/ gaz poivre). Individual officers usually have small cans of pepper spray that they can spray directly at an individual, while at demos you will often see canisters letting off large clouds of tear gas.

Tear gas is not the only crowd-control tool that French police officers have - rubber bullets, stun grenades, also known as flash bombs (Grenade à effet de souffle), stingball grenades (Grenade de désencerclement) and water cannons (Canon à eau) are frequently used when policing large crowds. 

READ MORE: French police blasted for maiming ‘yellow vests’ with tear gas and rubber bullets

Chemical 'defensive' sprays are considered weapons in France, and therefore they cannot be sold to under 18s. The canisters that exceed 100ml in size are strictly reserved for agents of the law, such as police officers, CRS and gendarmes.  

Tear gas is actually prohibited in wartime by the International Chemical Weapons Convention, but it is allowed to be used to maintain order internally in countries so that police can disperse crowds without lethal intention.


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