New gun-control legislation will include “red flag” laws to remove guns from people deemed by the courts to be at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says.
Mr. Blair told The Globe and Mail that the proposed red flag laws will allow police, doctors, lawyers, educators and loved ones to petition the courts to remove guns from someone flagged to be a risk.
“There are dangerous situations where the firearm presence becomes deadly. And so we want to empower not just the police, but doctors, victims, communities and families to be able to take steps to render a dangerous situation safe,” he said in an interview.
The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians has long advocated for a red flag law, arguing that current privacy legislation limits doctors’ ability to prevent the most common type of gun death in Canada – suicide. In a submission to the Senate last year, the association said that some 500 Canadians die by gun suicide each year, representing approximately 80 per cent of firearm deaths.
Dr. Alan Drummond, co-chair of the association’s public affairs committee and a rural physician in Perth, Ont., said doctors frequently encounter patients who disclose suicidal or violent thoughts and gun ownership, but don’t pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. In those cases, physicians can’t force treatment or notify police. “We recognize this gap in the law,” he said. “A red flag law would be extremely helpful.”
While doctors can share their concerns with the Chief Firearms Office, which controls gun licensing, an investigation and eventual seizure can take weeks or longer, Dr. Drummond said. A red flag law would permit swift action.
He added he’s aware of criticism that mandatory reporting may discourage some patients from seeking mental-health treatment, but he believes there’s greater benefit to public safety. “We will save more lives than we will lose.”
An Ontario coroner’s inquest into the 2014 death of a young military veteran who shot himself after being released from hospital with suicidal thoughts called for regulatory changes. Among its recommendations was that when a patient is deemed a threat to himself or herself and known to be in possession of a firearm, a physician would be required to immediately notify local law enforcement to request the firearm and licence be seized.
The new legislation to be brought in by Mr. Blair will also tighten the requirements for storage of guns, particularly handguns, he said. It will specify the type of locks and gauge of steel to be used in gun safes and containers. Currently, the rules only require trigger locks or that weapons be stored in a locked room.
"For me, there are some very strong lines that I want to draw with respect to strict storage of handguns. We want to make sure they are all stored in a safe or a vault, to make them tougher to steal,” he said.
Mr. Blair is in the process of putting together a multistep gun-control strategy, including the prohibition of the sale of military-style assault weapons, as well as a partial handgun ban that will require negotiations with the provinces. Ottawa intends to put in place a buy-back plan to purchase assault weapons that are currently in the hands of Canadians.
“Many people have told me they would like to turn those weapons in for compensation so we want to work that out,” Mr. Blair said.
The government plans to move quickly on the assault-rifle prohibition and a senior government official said that ban would be put into effect through an order-in-council. The Globe is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
By using cabinet’s regulatory authority to ban the sale of assault rifles, the Liberal government can avoid presenting legislation that would require parliamentary debate, study and a vote in both the House of Commons and Senate, the senior official said.
Conservative MP Glen Motz, who is his party’s associate critic for public safety, said the government would be bypassing the democratic process by using an order-in-council.
He has sponsored an online petition opposing an order-in-council ban; he said it has garnered more than 146,000 signatures by Sunday.
“Making law-abiding members of our communities follow even more rules will not help solve gun crime," Mr. Motz said. “The Liberals’ policies are targeting law-abiding firearms owners instead of criminals and gangs, which are the real issues.”
Assault weapons refer to firearms that are designed for rapid fire and can shoot large amounts of ammunition.
During the election campaign, the Liberals placed an estimated price tag of $250-million on the assault weapon buy-back program, but critics said the final tab would likely be much higher, reflecting the market value of the weapons.
Mr. Blair said that discussions and consultations are continuing on new rules that would allow municipalities to ban or restrict handguns.
He also promised that the new legislation would restrict the availability of illegal handguns on Canadian streets. He said there will be tougher penalties for those who smuggle handguns into Canada, as well as for those who take handguns from a legal source and divert them into the hands of criminals.
“I want to make sure we have strong legislation that will include penalties and offences, new authorities for our police and our border agencies to be more effective at keeping those guns out,” Mr. Blair said. “And finally, we know that there is a really big problem with criminal diversion, where people are buying legally and selling them illegally. [We want] to make sure the police have the means to catch these guys and prosecutors have the tools they need to convict them and that there are real consequences when they get caught and convicted.”