Straight Talk
LORNE GUNTER - Gunning for answers in High River

Aerial photo of High River this morning Friday June 28, 2013 . The Town of High River remains under a state of local emergency



There are two things I want most to know about the incident that has become known as the High River Gun Grab: Who ordered it? And, how did police know what houses to go into to find guns?

I know there are other questions about why Mounties seized guns in the abandoned Alberta town of High River last month during the disastrous spring flooding there, such as under what legal authority did the RCMP "take possession of firearms" (the force's spin-doctored term for seizing) and what did the Alberta provincial government know about the seizure?

Did Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis sign off on the Mounties' action? While the RCMP is a federal police force, it is under contract with Alberta (and many other provinces) to act like a provincial police force and to serve as local police in most towns. Did Denis or anyone else from Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative government give a nod to the search and seizure?

Denis is in a very tough spot. Either he knew about the seizure and gave at least his tacit consent to it, which would be a very big sin in the minds of Alberta voters. Or Denis knew nothing, which would also be bad since he is, nominally, the Mounties' boss in Alberta. He would look weak and foolish if he didn't know what was going on.

Did the boys and girls in red serge act illegally? That's another question of interest to a lot of people.

The answer is important to me, too, but not as important as who ordered the seizure and by what means did police find homes with the guns?

Why am I less concerned about whether the Mounties' acted legally? Because I suspect their actions fall within a grey area of Alberta's emergency law.

I'm betting that when the RCMP's public complaints commission wraps up its investigation of the gun grab, it will find the latitude offered police during a declared state of emergency grants them enough discretion to cover what they did.

Even if, as they now admit, police took legally stored firearms out of locked homes, I think it would be difficult to prove they were acting outside the scope of the province's or the feds' emergency powers act.

That doesn't change the fact that what the RCMP did was wrong - very wrong. It just means no one is going to be prosecuted for ordering the grab.

The seizure is part of a larger culture now among the RCMP and most Canadian police forces, a culture in which firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens are seen as so dangerous that those same citizens are under constant suspicion.

You are seen as a threat to the public safety in your community simply because you own a gun.

Since that is the mentality of too many officers - local, provincial and federal - it's easy to understand how they would view the forced evacuation of an entire town of 13,000 as a great opportunity to go into empty houses and relieve gun owners of their threatening property.

That's why I am keen to know how high up the orders went and whether there were any politicians in on the decision.

Also, how did police choose the houses to enter? Does there remain enough info from the old long-gun registry in the central, national police database, known as CPIC, to enable police to operate a sort of ghost registry?

Since the RCMP's civilian complaints commission has limited powers, it may not get all the needed answers.

In that case, a parliamentary or judicial inquiry will be needed.


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