Ottawa

'Red flag' gun laws needed to save lives, emergency doctor says

The Liberal government’s new gun control strategy could give power to doctors and other professionals to raise the alarm about people at risk of causing harm — something a Perth, Ont., physician has spent more than two decades fighting for. 

Dr. Alan Drummond says change would be for greater good

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CBC News Tuesday that the ministry would be 'announcing details of our government's plan to reduce gun violence in the near future' — a plan that could include red flag laws. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government's new gun control strategy could give power to doctors and other professionals to raise the alarm about people at risk of causing harm — something a Perth, Ont., physician has spent more than two decades fighting for. 

Ottawa is considering adding a so-called 'red flag' law to its gun control legislation, which would allow professionals like doctors and educators to ask courts to remove guns from people who could hurt themselves or others.

For Dr. Alan Drummond — a physician and co-chair of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians' public affairs committee —  it's a critical move for patients, especially those with serious mental health concerns who don't present an immediate threat to cause harm. 

"When we choose to discharge somebody, we don't know if we're sending them home to a shotgun in the closet or an arsenal in the basement," Drummond told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday. 

"This would allow us to breach our oath of confidentiality [for the] greater good for the individual and greater good for society."

In an ideal world, an emergency physician should be able to pick up the phone and call a local police detachment.- Dr. Alan Drummond

 

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CBC News that the goal of such laws is to get firearms out of the hands of those at risk. 

"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," a statement from Blair's office read.

Plan could lower self-inflicted injuries

Red flag laws have been criticized in the U.S. for infringing on constitutional rights, but at least 17 states have adopted them.

In Canada, Quebec introduced a similar bill in 2007 dubbed 'Anastasia's Law', after 18-year-old Anastasia DeSousa was killed in Montreal's shooting rampage at Dawson College.

That bill, in part, permits professionals aside from the police to report suspicious behaviour even if it contradicts confidentiality agreements.

As it stands, physicians can contact their province's Chief Firearms Officer to report concerning behaviour, but Drummond said the intervention process isn't swift enough — particularly for patients thinking of harming themselves.

"It could be days or weeks," he said. "Suicide is an impulsive act."

A Canadian doctor advocates for changes to gun control legislation. 9:05

Protecting those patients is paramount, Drummond said, because self-inflicted injuries account for the majority of gun deaths in Canada

According to Statistics Canada, 75 per cent of firearm deaths from 2000 to 2016 were self-inflicted.

Path forward unclear

It's not yet known how the federal government would put red flag laws into practice, but Drummond has his own ideas about what he wants to see.

"In an ideal world, an emergency physician should be able to pick up the phone and call a local police detachment," the physician said, adding that he would request that the patient should not have access to firearms until proper mental health treatment was provided.

As for concerns that such laws would deter people from seeking help in the first place, Drummond agreed those criticisms are valid.

"But I don't think physicians would take this responsibility lightly," he clarified. 

"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."

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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