The RCMP has earned twin rebukes for its actions during the 2013 Alberta floods when Mounties broke into hundreds of homes in High River and seized properly stored firearms without warrants.
First off, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP issued a report Thursday that found a number of “failings” in what has become known as the “gun grab.”
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Overall, the commission determined that RCMP members entered 4,666 homes, including 754 in which they broke doors and windows to gain entry. The Mounties rescued 38 people and 700 stranded pets, but also removed 609 firearms from 105 homes, (as well as marijuana plants from five homes).
“While RCMP members, acting on their own initiative and with little guidance, may have acted with public safety in mind, they nonetheless failed to comply with legal requirements concerning the seizure of firearms,” the commission said.
The federal government then piled on the criticism, calling on the RCMP to enact the 10 recommendations in the commission’s report to prevent such a situation from ever happening again.
“Some of the activities described in the report are completely unacceptable. Law-abiding Canadians should never be faced with unlawful searches and seizure of their personal property,” the office of Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said in a statement.
The RCMP acknowledged there was “room for improvement,” but said it needed more time to analyze the commission’s findings. Still, Commissioner Bob Paulson praised his officers who “put their own lives at risk to protect and save others.”
“Our police officers – many directly affected by the devastation themselves – worked long, stressful and emotionally charged hours to keep their community safe. Their priority was ensuring the safety of the public and the protection of property,” he said in a statement.
Danielle Smith, the Conservative MLA for Highwood, said the RCMP did great work during the first 72 hours of the crisis. However, she felt the force went overboard in the following days as Mounties started to seize properly stored weapons and force their way into homes in unaffected areas.
“It is pretty surprising that the RCMP didn’t follow the basics of the law,” she said in an interview. “Let’s just make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Some residents affected by the gun seizure remain angry, and are skeptical that the RCMP will learn any lessons.
“As a citizen, I feel violated,” said High River realtor Greg Kvisle. “The question is what is the RCMP going to do with the recommendations? It’s total silence.”
The commission said it fully understood the anger over some of the actions of the RCMP. “The community’s reaction was somewhat predictable, given that the sanctity of one’s home from state interference is a deeply rooted principle,” the report said.
It found RCMP members entered some residences by force even in areas that were not affected by the flood. In addition, RCMP members “seized firearms that were properly secured or that were not in plain view,” meaning they “were not removed with lawful authority,” the report found.
The commission found the officers who conducted the “warrantless” seizures were under-supervised, and the problems created by their actions were compounded by the ineffectiveness of the RCMP’s communications strategy.
The commission did find many RCMP officers reacted admirably during the crisis, but said the police force needs clearer guidelines with respect to the seizure of firearms in disaster zones.
Ms. Smith said the fact that the seized guns were returned in 2013, and that homeowners were compensated for the damage to their properties, had already served to calm emotions in High River.
Officials in High River said their main priority at this point is the reconstruction of the damaged town and preventing future floods. The commission’s report, said Mayor Craig Snodgrass, “is one more check mark off the list for our community’s recovery from the flood.”