A Toronto doctor who has advocated for stricter gun control laws since she helped treat victims of a mass shooting on the Danforth last summer says she won’t be intimidated by a firearms lobby group’s attempts to “silence” her.
Dr. Najma Ahmed said Friday that the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights (CCFR) is behind nearly 70 complaints filed against her with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. The regulatory body is responsible for investigating allegations of professional misconduct made against physicians working in the province.
“The objective of making these complaints is to cause hassle and stress for the physician and it certainly did do that,” said Ahmed, who works as a surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto.
She drew the attention of the lobby group when she co-founded an organization, Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, that pushes for lawmakers to treat gun violence as a public health issue. The group’s membership consists mostly of emergency room physicians and trauma surgeons.
It formed in the wake of the July 22, 2018, mass shooting in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood that left two people dead and 13 others injured. The group supports a ban on handguns and assault-style weapons.
Ahmed said the impetus was that doctors across Canada have seen an “alarming increase in harm, injury and death from guns, not only in our urban centres but also in rural settings.”
“The research is pretty clear that something can be done about this if we consider this to be a public health issue and take a public health approach and treat the gun as the vector,” she told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.
“The effort would be to minimize exposure to guns, to minimize the number of guns in circulation and the amount of guns in society.”
You can listen to the full interview below:
Last month, Ahmed and her colleagues testified before the Senate committee tasked with examining Bill-C71. The proposed legislation would see an overhaul of the background check system for owning a firearm, new record-keeping requirements for retailers and increased restrictions on transporting a firearm.
The CCFR opposes Bill-C71 and argues that physicians should not be advocating for policy changes on a topic for which they have no discernible expertise.
Rob Giltaca, CEO and executive director of the CCFR, said that doctors have “no idea about the other side” of the dialogue around legal gun ownership.
“Gun owners are just Canadians and they want a safer Canada, too,” he said, adding that some 2.1 million Canadians are currently licensed to lawfully possess a firearm.
The prohibition of various types of firearms would not effectively address the root causes of gun violence, Giltaca said.
“Mass confiscation or banning of law-abiding gun owners is not the way to do that and it unfairly targets all the people who aren’t doing the shooting.”
‘It is our obligation to engage’
In a Feb. 5 post to the CCFR’s website, readers were asked to file complaints against Ahmed with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario because her advocacy amounts to an “abuse” of her position as a doctor.
According to Giltaca, the tactic was the idea of five physicians who contacted his organization with concerns about her position on gun control. He said that he had previously “tried desperately to open a channel of dialogue” with doctors on social media but the conversation quickly “devolved.”
In addition to the formal complaints, Ahmed said she also received a flurry of tweets and emails from gun rights supporters. Many of them include the phrase “stay in your lane,” a refrain made infamous by the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the U.S. as a rejoinder to American doctors who have similarly pushed for stricter gun control laws.
Giltaca denied any connection to the NRA. Any attempt to insinuate so is “just another tactic to deflect from the issue,” he added.
Despite the personal stress the complaints have caused her, Ahmed said she is undeterred by the attempts to derail her career and activism.
“It is our ethical responsibility to engage in dialogue and public policy that supports the health and welfare of Canadians,” she told Metro Morning host Matt Galloway.
“I will not be silenced by this. I think that was the ultimate objective, to intimidate us and scare us away. But this is an important issue and it is our obligation to engage.”
Ahmed says her advocacy is fuelled by what she has seen in emergency rooms, and the broader impact gun violence has on victims and their communities.
“Their lives are never the same. Their families are shattered and their communities are broken. Those people who die, die violently in an unnecessary and preventable manner — in many circumstances. Not all of them. But for many, many victims it is avoidable.”