Outrage Over High River Is About More Than Guns

All Canadians should be concerned by the RCMP’s actions during the flood in June 2013 in High River, Alberta, because it points to a breakdown in the rule of law.

After ordering the evacuation of High River, RCMP officers acted illegally when they smashed down doors to homes and seized property without a warrant and without informing judges, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP said Feb. 12 after a 20-month investigation. In some cases, the officers illegally removed people’s belongings from their homes, the commission said.

While the objects seized were firearms, the RCMP’s actions raise concerns for all Canadians and not only for gun owners. The events of High River show that the national police applies the law in an arbitrary and discretionary way, that officers ordered an evacuation and then broke into homes and stole belongings, and that they can break the law without penalty or punishment.

The RCMP “failed to comply with legal requirements concerning the seizure of firearms,” the commission said. “In a number of instances, RCMP members seized firearms that were properly secured or that were not in plain view. In these cases the firearms were not removed with lawful authority.”

The commission concluded that police broke the law in at least three ways: (1) by not reporting firearm seizures to a judge, as required by the Criminal Code; (2) by confiscating guns that were stored legally; and (3) by searching for firearms in drawers, cupboards, closets and under mattresses, beyond their authority to confiscate objects in “plain view.”

The commission said that police can choose whether to charge people for offences, and that the RCMP didn’t plan charges for almost all the High River gun seizures because they found no evidence of criminal intent. But the relevant Criminal Code sections make no mention of intent in describing what constitutes an offence.

If the police found residents violating the Criminal Code, I would expect the residents to be charged with criminal offences. If police officers violated the criminal code, I would expect police officers to be charged with criminal offences. But I’m not a lawyer or a judge. I also know that many Canadians are outraged that, despite all the cases of Criminal Code violations by both residents and police, nobody has been charged.

The Canadian Shooting Sports Association and the National Firearms Association criticized the police break-ins and seizures from the beginning, and criticized the report by the complaints commission.

“What is missing in this report is accountability,” Sheldon Clare, president of the NFA, said in a statement on the group’s website dated Feb. 12.

“Incredibly, the report appears to be little more than a not-so-transparent attempt to come up with legalities to excuse the offensive behaviour of the authorities in High River,” the CSSA said in a statement on its website dated Feb. 12.

Canada urgently needs better firearms laws. Until we get them, we must respect the laws we have or face the penalties provided by law. That applies to everyone, private civilians and police.

The only people who were punished by the police’s illegal actions at High River are law-abiding residents of High River. This is unjust. It reflects a breakdown in the rule of law, and a breakdown in police accountability.

It should act as a warning to all Canadians.

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