Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive May 3, 2010)

Good Public Policy

By Bob Cooper



You can always count on the BC Criminal Liberties Association to shriek ‘Fire’ when someone strikes a match.  In this case it’s a new piece of provincial legislation requiring that doctors and other health care providers report gunshot and stab wounds to the police.  With the BC Rail trial starting next month and that HST thing sticking to them like tar one could question the government’s timing & motives but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. 

Don’t be taken in by the BCCLA’s shrill cries of doom and the end of western democracy.   Pavlovian stuff.

The fact is that hospital emergency wards have been reporting gunshot wounds as kids say, like forever, because most believe its good public policy to have shootings and stabbings investigated by the police.  It’s also a good idea to have the police there in the event that the assailant shows up to finish the job which has happened in the past.  Most people, including many police officers, weren’t even aware that up until now no law existed either federally or here in BC requiring doctors to report this type of injury.  Practically speaking, in most cases we’re notified long before the victim reaches the hospital by the Ambulance, Fire Department, 911 call, etc.   

This law will also cover those other situations where, for whatever reason a doctor or other health care professional treats a shooting or stabbing victim outside of a hospital and decides to be modest about their good deed.  Make no mistake, this law only gets us in the door by making us aware of the crime and in no way alters the patient’s privacy rights.  If we require medical records of the treatment for the purposes of the investigation we still must have either signed consent from the victim or go through the onerous process of obtaining a court order and believe me, it’s not like the two second phone call they make to a judge on Law & Order.

In this age of privacy legislation, observed by some medical facilities to fanatical lengths, this law is long overdue.  Hospital policy can change at the whim of an administrator and falls well short of the force of law in terms of achieving compliance in cases of this importance.   Back in the 80’s I worked a gang-related shooting at a Chinese movie theater on East Broadway where the victim had been driven away from the scene by his friends.  We located him in a hospital emergency ward almost an hour later and no one had called the police.  We never discovered whether the lack of reporting was due to fear or incompetence.  This law will make clear to all health care providers what their responsibilities are.  

The BCCLA decries the law as conscripting doctors to act as agents of the state and expresses the fear that criminals may be left to die by their friends rather than driven to medical aid.  I expect they’ll criticize the up-coming prohibition against armored vehicles as leaving gangsters vulnerable.

You’d think they’d find some legitimate windmills to tilt at. 

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