Winnipeg doctors asked to send letters urging stricter gun laws

Doctors in Winnipeg are being asked write letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday, as part of a national campaign urging Ottawa to pass tougher gun laws.

Letter writing campaign part of national day of action by Canada-wide doctors' group

A handgun is displayed by a firearm retailer in this file image. (CBC)

Doctors in Winnipeg are being asked write letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday, as part of a national campaign urging Ottawa to pass tougher gun laws.

The national day of action, organized in more than a dozen cities by Canadian Doctors For Protection From Guns, is pushing for legislation to curb gun violence and a ban on handguns and assault weapons.

"I don't think there's any question that it would have an impact, and it would save lives," said Dr. Alecs Chochinov, an emergency room doctor at Winnipeg's St. Boniface Hospital and president of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.

"There's a good volume of research that proximity to guns leads to more deaths from guns, and lack of access leads to lower death rates. That's what we're aiming for."

The emergency doctors' group has signed on as a supporter of the Canadian Doctors For Protection From Guns' position statement, which calls gun injuries and deaths — intentional or otherwise — a preventable public health issue.

"Gun related injuries exact a huge cost upon society, beyond the physical and psychological burden of injuries for victims and their families," the statement says. "Gun related incidents erode the fabric of communities."

Chochinov, who spoke to CBC Manitoba by phone while in Halifax, said he'll write a letter in support of the campaign when he returns to Winnipeg.

For doctors treating gunshot wounds, he said there's a "sense of hopelessness."

"Gunshots are just particularly lethal," he said. "A bullet entering a body really causes an immediate explosion of tissue, and then the path of the bullet wreaks havoc in unpredictable patterns."

The Winnipeg letter writing campaign was set to start at noon on Wednesday.

Problem been around 'a long, long time'

The Canadian Doctors For Protection From Guns statement points to Statistics Canada data, released in August 2018, showing firearm-related violent crime rose by 42 per cent between 2013 and 2017. Just over 40 per cent of that increase was driven by a spike in Toronto.

Despite public attention to gang-related violence, Chochinov said suicide is the largest contributor to gun deaths. Gun injuries are also driven by intimate partner violence, he said.

Stats Can data from 2018 showed self-inflicted injuries accounted for three-quarters of gun deaths in Canada between 2000 and 2016.

"This is a problem that's been with us for a long, long time," Chochinov said. "It's primarily a problem related to suicide and not gangs. So even though the incidence of gang violence has increased across the country, particularly in Winnipeg, that's not mostly what we see."

The national day of action is pushing Ottawa to move on Bill C-71, proposed legislation that would see an overhaul of the background check system for owning a firearm, new record-keeping requirements for retailers and increased restrictions on transporting firearms.

'Systematic program of intimidation'

The letter Chochinov plans to pen will be a statement of support for Canadian Doctors For Protection From Guns, he said, and an endorsement of Bill C-71.

He said some doctors have been reluctant to speak out about the issue due to vitriol directed by some members of the public at those who do. He's received multiple "anonymous emails" on the subject.

Najma Ahmed, who founded Canadian Doctors For Protection From Guns after the 2018 shooting in Toronto's Danforth area, has said there were close to 70 complaints filed against her with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in response to her advocacy.

"I think there's no question that in the States and in Canada that there's been a systematic program of intimidation of people who are willing to take a stance," Chochinov said.

"Doctors aren't really used to engaging in public debates and certainly aren't used to being victims of intimidation, so this has caused an unfortunate quiet in the medical community."

If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide by calling toll-free 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645 or chatting online with Crisis Services Canada.

With files from CBC Manitoba's Information Radio


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