Proposed federal firearms legislation includes ‘red flag’ rules ripe for abuse

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, October 24, 2023
Proposed federal firearms legislation includes ‘red flag’ rules ripe for abuse

Last year the Trudeau government tabled Bill C-21, which passed the House of Commons and is now before the Senate for examination. If approved by the Senate, it will become the law of the land. This latest attempt to “curb gun violence” is a grab bag of measures including gun bans and new “red flag” provisions that are particularly egregious.

For example, according to the bill, anyone—not just a peace officer, as is now the case—could apply to a court for an emergency firearms prohibition order (i.e. red flag) to immediately remove firearms from “an individual who may pose a danger to themselves or others” or “an individual who may be at risk of providing access to firearms to another person who is already subject to a weapons prohibition order” rather than the present standard, which is anyone who poses “an imminent threat to themselves or others.” This new language would lower the bar for confiscating firearms, making it much easier for complaints to be made.

To protect the safety of "red flag" applicants, section 110.1 of the bill gives a judge the option to close a “red flag” hearing to the “public and media” and “seal the court documents for up to 30 days, or remove any information that could identify the applicant for any period of time that the judge deems necessary, including on a permanent basis.”. And the bill does not include any appeal process, which would represent an important change because currently Canadians can appeal revocations and have their firearms returned.

You don’t need to be a lawyer to understand how this type of process could invite abuse. So why did the Trudeau government add these “red flag” provisions to the bill?

According to the government, they’re needed so police can seize firearms from dangerous individuals in an emergency. But police already have the authority to act immediately with or without a warrant to seize firearms when there’s a genuine concern about public safety—specifically, section 117.04 of the Criminal Code already permits disarming anyone who poses “an imminent threat to themselves or others.” And anyone who believes a person poses such a threat can call 9-1-1 or 1-800-731-4000 to “report a spousal or public safety concern.” The police are, by law, required to respond. And under the Firearms Act, the Chief Firearms Officer can also revoke a firearm licence and order firearms confiscated.

Finally, even if you think these proposed “red flag” provisions are appropriate, they’d likely be ineffective in an emergency. Why? Because applicants have to apply to a court for an order to remove a firearm, and due to our under-resourced and backlogged court systems, would face considerable delays before appearing before a judge.

The Trudeau government has not made a compelling argument for this legislation. But rather than looking for more ways to seize firearms from law-abiding Canadians, the government should focus its efforts on violent criminals and actual gun crime.

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