Does Canada already have a “red flag” law?
Is there really a gap in Canada’s firearm licensing framework that leaves us vulnerable?
Or are Canadian lobby groups and government politicians simply piggybacking an American political issue for their own gain?
These are questions up for debate in the wake of the push for “red flag” legislation across the United States now being imported into Canada.
Dr. Alan Drummond — co-chair of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians’ public affairs committee — says physicians cannot violate doctor/client privilege and report a mental health issue.
“This [new red flag law] would allow us to breach our oath of confidentiality [for the] greater good for the individual and greater good for society,” Drummond says.
One of the key planks of Quebec’s Anastasia Law, passed after the Dawson College shooting that left 18-year-old student Anastasia DeSousa dead, requires professionals, such as physicians and teachers, to violate confidentiality and report suspicious behaviour.
Drummond wants this ability to report on patients expanded nationwide.
“In an ideal world, an emergency physician should be able to pick up the phone and call a local police detachment, but I don’t think physicians would take this responsibility lightly. It would not be a question of reporting somebody with anxiety or phobias. We’re talking about the far end of the mental health spectrum where people truly are…a danger to themselves or others.”
Heidi Rathjen, a long-time proponent of banning guns from civilians, says the change Drummond seeks is probably useless.
“This measure would be effective if it is accompanied by substantial resources as well as clear directives to prioritize public safety over the gun-owning privileges of individuals,” Rathjen said.
Minister Bill Blair appears to have something different in mind when he refers to “red flag laws”. Blair wants to “remove guns from people deemed by the courts to be at risk of hurting themselves or someone else” – a far cry from the law Dr. Drummond seeks.
Minister Blair’s office also confirmed “red flag” legislation would allow ordinary citizens to obtain a provincial court order to have someone’s guns seized if they believe there is a potential threat to public safety.
“Our government wants to empower not just the police, but doctors, individuals in domestic abuse situations, communities, and families to raise a flag on people who pose a risk to themselves or an identifiable group, ensuring they do not have access to firearms,” said an unidentified spokesperson from Minister Blair’s office.
Wilful Ignorance of Current Canadian Law
These statements from Minister Blair and his spokesperson show they are woefully ignorant of current Canadian law surrounding firearm licensing and ownership.
If anyone – friends, neighbours, a spouse, doctor or police officer – believe a person is an imminent threat to themselves or others, they can call 1-800-731-4000 and select the option “report a spousal or public safety concern.”
This key provision of Bill C-68 was included based on evidence provided by medical professionals and pubic safety advocates in the wake of Gamil Gharbi’s 1989 murder spree that left 14 young women dead and many other wounded.
The ability to report a spousal or public safety concern is the law of the land and has been since the Firearms Act passed into law in 1995.
When a concern is reported through this hotline an investigation is initiated immediately. Police must act or face liability for what happens if they don’t and were warned of a possible danger.
Canada’s current law is not shiny and new. It may not title the prevision a “red flag” law – the catch-phrase that’s all the rage on both sides of the border – but it is still the law of the land.
The push for a “red flag” law in the United States is happening because they do not license individual firearm owners, nor do they have the same background check requirements we have in Canada.
Can we pass another law to duplicate the reporting provisions already on the books?
Will this new law enhance public safety?
If people are unwilling to utilize the reporting provisions the law provides today, why would they make use of a fancy rewrite of those provisions tomorrow?
A wiser use of our limited national resources is better education for doctors, police officers and the general public alike.