The Edmonton Journal.

Guns needed for defence
judge: Government officials ordered to award firearms licence to suicidal alcoholic

Gordon Kent

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

EDMONTON - Ordinary Canadians need guns to defend themselves from wild animals or from "homicidal rapists or robbers," says an Alberta judge who ordered government officials to grant a firearms licence to a woman they thought was a suicidal alcoholic.

People living in "the coniferous forests of rural Canada" are sometimes killed by bears and cougars if they don't have guns to protect themselves, provincial court Judge Don Demetrick said in a written judgment released Monday.

"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 occasion engage in mass homicide for no rational reason," he wrote.

"Decent but defenceless 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."

The St. Paul judge also took a shot at the federal Firearms Act, saying it forces Canadians who want to own guns "to endure ... a gauntlet of bureaucratic scrutiny and the time-consuming inconvenience of obtaining an official permit."

Demetrick made the comments in overturning a decision by Alberta firearms officer Richard Clarke to deny Brenda Pogson a firearms possession and acquisition licence.

In a refusal notice written last March, Clarke stated that giving the 40-year-old moose hunter a licence wasn't safe because she had an alcohol problem and an assault conviction, and had been treated for psychological problems.

Clarke's notice said the woman had three hospital visits in 2000.

"You were intoxicated each time and there were suicidal concerns," the judge quoted him as saying.

An RCMP officer said he could not recall a single day in the summer of 2000 when Pogson was sober, Clarke said in his notice.

The northern Alberta woman's application, made in 2001, was not supported by police, Clarke said.

But the judge ruled the opinion of police officers is not relevant in such situations, while Clarke's information about Pogson's mental health was old and unreliable.

He was more impressed with her evidence at a hearing in Lac La Biche last December, when Pogson said she told a police officer she was going to commit suicide to avoid being put in a cell for being drunk.

She testified she had been sober for six months and was coping with depression.

"The officer brought forth no evidence in the ... hearing that refuted the essence of what Pogson said about recent positive changes in her personal circumstances," the judge wrote.

Jan Reimer, provincial co-ordinator of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, said there's no proof guns keep people safe.

"We know from the experience in the United States that when everyone has a gun ... the more people are killed," she said, adding suicide is far more common in homes where there are firearms.

Demetrick went to great lengths in his 10-page ruling to point out the possible harm people face if they are not allowed to possess firearms.

A prohibition could, for example, prevent someone from owning family heirlooms, such as "a pistol carried by that applicant's war hero father while fighting in World War II to preserve freedom and democracy at the behest of the government of Canada."

The judge was concerned Pogson never had a chance to refute negative information which Clarke, a retired police officer, had learned about her.

People might argue a fair hearing with a firearms officer is not needed, "especially those Canadians who wish to abolish the private ownership of firearms and who begrudge recognizing any firearms-related rights for ordinary Canadians," he said.

However, it isn't proper to force them to correct inaccurate information in a court appeal, he said.


This isn't the first time provincial court Judge Don Demetrick has had harsh words for gun-control legislation.

In a 1994 case, he asked whether the federal government should spend more money fighting underlying causes of crime than on complex gun laws.

"Those present-day Canadians who believe giving police and military forces a monopoly on firearms brings security for private citizens should perhaps look to past history and present world events such as Nazi Germany of the past and Bosnia of the present."

Meanwhile, a judge will rule Wednesday whether former legislature sergeant-at-arms Oscar Lacombe broke the law on Jan. 1, 2003, when he took an unregistered, disabled rifle to a rally against the federal gun registration law.

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