In the US there is generallyno prohibition against firing flares, however, there will be many state and municipal regulations regarding "fireworks" and "firearms" that might come into play. Nevertheless, there's usually an opportunity to fire flares for testing, i.e., you go to the local fire department or cg station and tell them you want to test some pyros and they'll either walk you outside or tell you how. I've seen a number of cg stations that also keep a small metal dumpster with a slot in the side marked "epired pyrotechnics" for public disposal. (I'm sure they pay to ship them off as hazmat, sure. (G))
"We Canucks have no opportunity to fire expired flares. it is illegal."
Well, that's why you folks were granted independence versus we threw old George and his minions out. A little revolution every couple of hundred years is a good thing.
I don't know your provincial or municipal regs, I know Canada has some strict regulatiosn concerning "firearms" in general, but again I'd suggest asking your CG or FD, and let them know you want to see how the pyros actually work. Here, the USCG and others routinely fire them off during demonstrations, i.e. the Safety At Sea seminars.
The first time I fired some off (during an inland fourth of july evening, when pyros of all sorts are incredibly common and ignored, legal or not, as long as you don't burn anything down) my reaction was gee, the fireworks you buy at the roadside stand are brighter and shoot higher. And cost less too.
The Olin 12g flare gun rounds are a cruel joke, best used to amuse any kids in the life raft. The dedicated hand-helds a tad better (unless I'm getting those mixed up again) but still nothing to write home about. There's been a lot of discussion elsewhere about using a "rescue laser" pointer, and sweeping the laser beam across whoever you want to attract. But after you've seen the typical Olins in action, you quickly realize their only purpose is to meet regulations or decorate inshore waters.
If you can't swim home, you want SOLAS pyros. And those are too damned expensive to waste on burglars.
Machete: 10c in China, $20 in US, same product in both places. As long as you stow it in the galley, they'll usually accept it as "not a weapon".