Withholding documents is only prolonging the agony
by Dennis R. Young
In addition to their inept handling of the High River Gun Grab last June and July and over the last year, the RCMP have also demonstrated how not to handle a self-made public relations disaster.
Given the amount of media interviews the RCMP have offered up these last few days in the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun, it would seem the Mounties have learned little and are worried about what will be in the final report when it is issued by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP in August. The top brass are starting to sound a little desperate in their media interviews as the evidence piles up against the actions they took in High River.
There’s going to be lessons learned through it. That’s all I’ve asked from the RCMP. When this report comes out and it’s not the RCMP doing it – the independent report – as long as it’s honest and there’s lessons learned in there because my biggest worry is, if there isn’t the lessons learned in there, if something like this happened again somewhere, anywhere in Canada, how would you do things differently? If we don’t have that lessons learned, I’m very worried that if there’s an evacuation order put anywhere and certain people locked down because of a loss of trust in any of that stuff, that it could possibly get somebody killed, right. So we got to be very honest about this stuff.
This latest media blitz all started on June 14th with a e-mail blast to all Alberta RCMP employees by Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan, K Division Commanding Officer, in which she said she wanted to “clarify misinformation” and “provide journalists, employees and the public with a credible source of information on our actions in High River.”
Given the misinformation provided so far by RCMP spokespersons regarding the High River firearms seizures, including the former RCMP K Division Commanding Officer, and the withholding of documents requested under the Access to Information Act, it is doubtful that any information to come from the RCMP in Alberta will either “clarify misinformation” or be “a credible source.” Chief Superintendant Kevin Harrison didn’t disappoint in his interviews with the Sun and the Herald.
On June 25, 2014, the Calgary Sun reported: “Harrison confirmed that High River’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) ordered Mounties to enter homes to search for stranded people and pets and to later escort building inspectors.” And yet, on August 16, 2013 his own Commanding Officer, Dale McGowan wrote the Alberta Property Rights Advocate saying: “…we did not take operational direction from any elected officials or public service employees to enter in private homes and remove personal property.” Seems like the previous Commanding Officer didn’t have this newest version of the story last August.
The Sun article continued with Harrison’s defence of the RCMP’s unwarranted search and seizures in High River: “No directive was ever issued to step up any search for guns after the initial discoveries, he said, adding suspicions that a copy of the now-abolished long gun registry was used to target weapons is ridiculous. “There was no long gun registry,” he said.
Evidence uncovered so far indicates that the RCMP were in fact using copies of the old long-gun registry to assist them with their searches in High River. A video released to the media by the RCMP on June 28, 2013 shows a RCMP search team and includes a radio transmission saying “located all the firearms”. RCMP can’t “locate all the firearms” without first knowing exactly how many firearms were in the homes in the first place.
Secondly, when Don White went to the RCMP detachment in High River to pick up his eleven seized long guns the RCMP officer informed him that two of his long-guns were not registered. Don responded, “That’s right, the two new shotguns we just bought!” The only possible way the RCMP constable knew that two of his long-guns weren’t registered is if he had access to a copy of the old long-gun registry listing of their guns – all copies of which were supposed to be completely destroyed in accordance with an Act of Parliament passed in 2012.
Complaints with the above evidence and other examples from across Canada of this serious contempt of Parliament’s wishes have been filed with the Privacy Commissioner, Information Commissioner and the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP by our friends in the National Firearms Association.
The Sun article reported another of Harrison’s misleading statements, “Officers were never ordered by their superiors to grab insecure guns from evacuated homes, during either the initial searches in June and those that followed into July, said Chief Supt. Kevin Harrison.” Statements from a number of High River residents who had their firearms seized claim their firearms were neither in “plain view” nor unsecured (before the RCMP kicked in their doors that is). One firearm owner told Sun News his home was searched three times before the RCMP found his firearms.
Don and Jane White’s home was clearly targeted for a firearms search despite them advising authorities on three occasions that they were safe, out of their home and that they were staying with relatives. Their eleven long guns were both out of sight and were secured in accordance with the federal firearms regulations.
In her e-mail, Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan claimed, “In our view, unsecured weapons in a community where police could not ensure home security posed a significant public and officer safety risk.” This is an odd statement for the commander to make because there were 273 RCMP officers and 330 Canadian Armed Forces personnel in High River when the “no threat to life and limb” had been declared by the Canadian Armed Forces on June 24. They had the resources to search 4,666 High River homes, many on more than one occasion, kicking in doors as they went, and yet they didn’t have the resources to “ensure home security?”
This looks like seriously misplaced priorities by the commanders on the ground in High River, a complete disregard for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a loss of discipline and control of the troops or all combination of all three.
The evidence obtained through Access to Information Act requests from the RCMP, clearly indicates the RCMP specifically targeted honest gun owners and kept right on seizing firearms, ammunition, magazines, accessories, bows, knives, bayonets, et cetera right up to and including July 10. Instead of being forthright and honest about where they found the firearms, the RCMP are keeping it a secret. The RCMP released a spreadsheet listing 609 firearms that they from 112 High River homes; however, they blanked out the column entitled:”LOCATION WHERE RECOVERED”.
Chief Superintendent Harrison justifies the unwarranted entry and search of 4,666 High River homes by telling the Calgary Herald, “At the end of the day I think their direction was right. We pulled 38 people out during the course of those three days that needed assistance.”
However, his boss at the time of the flood, K Division Commander Dale McGowan, told the Alberta Property Rights Advocate last August that 28 people were found stranded. And yet, hundreds of pages of RCMP documents obtained through Access to Information Act requests, reveal not one person being rescued by the RCMP during this period. It defies credibility that the RCMP would have the documentation on the many pets they fed and rescued in High River but fail to disclose even one page on the 28 or 38 people they found stranded. It also defies credibility that the RCMP would withhold these documents that we specifically requested. Once again we must rely on the Information Commissioner to uncover these documents or lack of them.
Even the Alberta Property Rights Advocate questions the veracity of the so-called facts in the K Division commander’s letter. On June 2, 2014, the Alberta Property Rights Advocate tabled his High River report in the Legislature. Here is an excerpt: “Regrettably, the experiences of High River home owners were somewhat broader than what may have been reflected in the reports given to Deputy Commissioner McGowan.”
His report entitled, “Forced Entry of Homes in the Town of High River,” contained a list of eight observations. Here is one of his most important: “…forced entries of High River homes continued well after the imminent danger had passed. It appears that up to June 24, 2013, when the emergency was deemed to be over, approximately 674 homes had been forcibly entered. Yet, after that date, over 1,200 homes were forcibly entered, and presumably searched.”
K Division Commanding Officer Marianne Ryan’s tries to justify the unwarranted search of 4,666 High River homes on more than one occasion before June 24 and again between June 24 and July 13. The Canadian Armed Forces were so disgusted with these forced entries they returned to base on June 26- 27. We also hear that the locksmiths the RCMP hired to help break into the homes quit midway through the searches. Apparently, the ATCO and Fortis employees told the RCMP there was no need to enter the homes as they could shut off the power and gas from outside the homes.
Marianne Ryan also tries to justify sending all the RCMP officers who are normally stationed in High River away on June 24. She claims in her e-mail to the troops that 10 of them were affected by the flood and they were relieved of their duties so they could focus on personal matters. She adds, “To suggest they were granted leave for any other reason does a great disservice to them and their families.” But, it was her own Staff/Sgt. Ian Shardlow, the newly appointed commander of the High River detachment, who alluded to the “other reasons” at a subsequent Town Hall meeting held by Wildrose Leader and High River MLA Danielle Smith.
On September 5, he told a few hundred angry High River folks: “What I’m suggesting to you though is that the High River members aren’t the ones that made the hard decisions, whether they’re borne out to be correct or not. Rather than leave them in a position where they may have to police the community afterward, right, in an unhealthy environment, every member that comes back to work in High River didn’t work from the 24th of June into a significant period into July. None of them made the hard decisions, none of them opened your doors, kicked your doors, smashed your doors, none of them searched your homes.”
If the RCMP are really on the side of the angels here and if the searches conducted after June 24 were all done for the reasons that the senior RCMP officers claim, then why would these decisions have been hard and why would they have resulted in an unhealthy environment for when the High River officers got back to their detachment? Adding to the confusion, if the RCMP were so proud of their actions, why didn’t their spokespersons mention these forced entries on June 28 when they revealed the fact that they were seizing guns from High River homes?
So many questions, so few honest answers and so many missing documents. Why is the whole truth and nothing but the truth so important to all Canadians? High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass said it best during his interview on the Kingkade & Kelly show on News Talk 770 Radio on June 17, 2014: “There’s going to be lessons learned through it. That’s all I’ve asked from the RCMP. When this report comes out and it’s not the RCMP doing it – the independent report – as long as it’s honest and there’s lessons learned in there because my biggest worry is, if there isn’t the lessons learned in there, if something like this happened again somewhere, anywhere in Canada, how would you do things differently? If we don’t have that lessons learned, I’m very worried that if there’s an evacuation order put anywhere and certain people locked down because of a loss of trust in any of that stuff, that it could possibly get somebody killed, right. So we got to be very honest about this stuff.”
Dennis Young retired to Airdrie, Alberta in 2007 after working for 13 years on Parliament Hill for Garry Breitkreuz, MP for Yorkton-Melville. Dennis is a member of the Calgary RCMP Veterans Association, and an Honourary Life Member of both the CSSA and the NFA. Dennis recently received the CSSA’s John Holdstock Memorial Award for his 20-year crusade for the rights of firearms owners.