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Annie gets her gun.

The safety of Canadians living in both urban and rural settings, in the east, west, or north of this country is squarely in the sights of Alberta Provincial Court Judge D.E. Demetrick. Consider this passage from his recent ruling on the decision of the Chief Firearms Officer for the Province of Alberta to deny an applicant permission to possess a gun.

"... the refusal of a firearms licence application could jeopardize seriously an applicant's life, liberty, and personal security. In the coniferous forests of rural Canada humans sometimes need firearms for self-protection against four-legged predators such as cougars or bears and occasionally perish in needless avoidable tragedy for lack of a firearm. Similarly in the concrete jungles of urban Canada ordinary persons sometimes urgently require a firearm for use in lawful self-protection against the lethal attack of two-legged predators such as homicidal rapists or robbers, and of those mentally ill persons who on rare occasions engage in mass homicide for no rational reason. (ed. note: is there a rational reason for mass homicide?). Decent but defenseless urbanites die annually in Canada as innocent victims of criminal or mentally deranged violence in circumstances where their timely and lawful use of a firearm could have prevented or reduced the tragedy."

Judge Demetrick was hearing an appeal from an Alberta woman who was refused a permit to own a firearm under the Firearms Act. A staff member acting for the Chief Firearms Officer decided that it was not "in the interests of your safety or public safety. You have had three hospital emergency visits in 2000; you were intoxicated each time and there were suicide concerns. Alcohol is a problem in your life and ... you were convicted of an assault that you committed while intoxicated. Your treating physician.... sent me a letter detailing frequent visits and treatment for alcohol intoxication, depression, suicidal concerns and a history of psychological problems. Local police do not support your application."

Judge Demetrick, however, did. He decided that the decision of the Firearms Officer was unjustified for three reasons.

First, Judge Demetrick ruled that the Firearms officer "... treated the fact the applicant's local police did not support her application as relevant. The Firearms Act in no way makes support of an applicant's local police or of any other police group a condition precedent to, or a relevant factor in, the obtaining of a firearms licence."

Secondly, the Judge found that the applicant should have been told of information adverse to her that had the potential to affect her application. Judge Demetrick wrote "As a matter of fundamental fairness the applicant should have been apprized of the peace officer's negative information and given a reasonable opportunity to refute or confirm it before a decision was made on her application. She was not afforded that opportunity."

Thirdly, the Judge ruled that the officer relied on outdated and unreliable information about the applicant's mental health. He determined that the undated, brief letter from the applicant's doctor was "stale-dated by about seventeen months" at the date of her application, and so could not be used as a justifiable basis upon which to reach a conclusion about the applicant's current state of mental health.

The Judge then considered his discretion under s. 76 of the Firearms Act to either confirm the refusal or to direct the chief firearms officer to issue the licence. He wrote "Under the Firearms Acts eligibility provisions, a person's 'legal fitness' to possess or acquire firearms is not a static legal state, but rather is something in the nature of 'a work in progress' Legislatively, one's legal fitness at any specific point in time to possess and acquire firearms is inexorably linked to one's personal circumstances as they are at that specific moment in time." He then considered the applicant's personal circumstances as she outlined them to the court in testimony. She testified that she was coping well with her depression on her own, having decided not to take her prescribed medication. She said she was not the type of person to commit suicide, and told the police she was only hospitalized to avoid being placed in a cell for being intoxicated. She said she had been sober for six months and planned to stay sober. She said the woman she assaulted was now her friend. The judge found her to be a credible witness and accepted her evidence as reliable and accurate. He ordered the Chief Firearms officer for Alberta to issue the applicant the licence she sought.

Not everyone seemed as concerned as Judge Demetrick about the dangers posed by two-legged or four-legged predators to the Canadian citizenry. Asked about the judgment, Alberta Premier Ralph Klein responded "Do Albertans need firearms to protect them? You're asking my opinion? No, they don't." The Justice Minister stated "I hope we're not at a stage where the public takes those comments as encouragement to go out and arm themselves to protect themselves. We're in a pretty safe society."

The Canadian Firearms Centre is appealing the decision.

Pogson v. Alberta (Chief Firearms Officer) 2004 ABPC 41
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Title Annotation:Today's trial; Pogson v. Alberta (Chief Firearms Officer) 2004 ABPC 41
Author:Mitchell, Teresa
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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