So many questions, so few answers

High River, Alberta Forced Entries, Unwarranted Searches and Seizures

By —— Bio and Archives--November 26, 2014

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High River, Alberta Forced Entries, Unwarranted Searches and Seizures

Last week, we learned that the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP has once again delayed releasing the report of their investigation of the RCMP’s actions during and following the emergency flooding in the Town of High River, Alberta in June and July of 2013.  The Commission’s investigation is looking into the RCMP’s forced entries of 754 homes, their unwarranted search of 4,666 homes, the complaints filed by more than 1,900 home owners, the RCMP’s seizure of more than 600 firearms and the destruction of more than 7,500 pounds of ammunition.

On June 20th, 2013 thousands of residents of High River, Alberta had to run for their lives to escape flood waters that inundated a large part of that town.  While towns folk mobilized tractors, combines and trucks to rescue a few hundred stranded homeowners, a State of Local Emergency (SOLE) was declared by the town council, the town’s people were ordered to evacuate and two hundred and seventy-three Mounties and three hundred and thirty soldiers descended on High River to help out.

During the night of June 20th and 21st, Canadian Armed Forces(CAF) helicopters rescued 31 people from the rooftops of their homes in High River.  According to hundreds and hundreds of pages of documents obtained from the RCMP and the Department of National Defence, through Access to Information Act requests, these 31 people were the last people to be rescued by either the CAF or the RCMP.  How can that be you ask, when everyone has been told that the RCMP with the help of the military searched 4,666 homes (many more than once) including kicking in the doors to 754 homes and causing damage to more than 1,900 of them, apparently justified because the RCMP has said it all happened while they were rescuing residents?  Sadly, no one has yet been able to answer that question or many others.  In fact, most of the questions residents were all asking on September 5, 2013 at MLA Danielle Smith’s Town Hall meeting in High River remain unanswered to this day:

  • According to documents tabled in the House of Commons on September 15, 2014, the RCMP say they were “directed” to search all High River homes by the Director of the Town of High River Emergency Operation Centre(EOC).  This admission raises three very important questions:
    1. This admission tabled in Parliament directly contradicts this initial statement made by the RCMP Commanding Officer of “K” Division (Alberta) Dale McGowan in his letter dated August 16, 2013 to the Alberta Property Rights Advocate in which he stated: ...it should be clear that we did not take operational direction from any elected officials or public service employees to enter in private homes and remove personal property.” Why did the RCMP’s story change over the last year?
    2. How is it possible that a town bylaw officer could be given so much power (without any oversight) under the Alberta Emergency Management Act to order the unwarranted search of thousands of homes in direct violation of Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
    3. Did the High River Town Council legally delegate this huge responsibility and authority to the Director of the EOC (i.e. the town bylaw officer)?

  • In June 2014, the Calgary Herald reported that the Town of High River bylaw officer, Ross Shapka was the Director of the Town of High River Emergency Operation Centre who apparently ordered the RCMP to search all High River homes.  However, documents dated June 25, 2013 obtained from the Department of National Defence name Brian Cornforth as the Director of the Town of High River Emergency Operation Centre.  Considering the fact that the RCMP were searching and researching thousands of High River homes and seizing firearms right up to and including July 10, 2013, questions remain:

    1. who was in charge of ordering the initial and subsequent searches of High River homes?
    2. Who gave them their authority to order the unwarranted search of 4,666 High River homes (many on more than one occasion? and
    3. Who was overseeing the actions of the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces and monitoring results of their searches?
  • On June 27, 2013, a Provincial State of Emergency was declared in High River and remained in effect for two weeks.  According to the Alberta Emergency Management Act, the High River State of Local Emergency was cancelled by this provincial emergency declaration.  What legislative authority did Director of the Town of High River Emergency Operation Center (either Shapka or Cornforth) have to order the ongoing unwarranted searches of High River homes after June 27th? 
  • On April 8, 2014, Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis responded in writing to a constituent who had concerns about who directed the RCMP’s actions in High River and stated: “The decision for the RCMP to enter homes in High River was consistent with their duty to protect life during a state of local emergency.  These actions were also consistent with the local authority’s powers and obligations under such circumstances.  At no time did the Government of Alberta support, endorse or direct this to happen.”  [emphasis added] Once a Provincial Declaration of Emergency was declared in High River on June 27, 2013, it would appear the “local authority” was no longer in control of the “decision for the RCMP to enter homes in High River” and that responsibility and authority of the RCMP’s actions in High River was now under the direction of the Government of Alberta.  According to documents tabled in the House of Commons, the RCMP searched 4,666 homes in High River (many more than once) right up until July 13, 2013 and were seizing firearms right up to and including July 10, 2013.  If the province wasn’t in complete charge of the High River operation between June 27 and July 13, who was?
  • Documents tabled in the House of Commons on September 15, 2014 state: “the RCMP High River incident commander approved the use of force as required to enter property. If forced entry was required, search teams were directed to cause the least amount of damage possible.”  Who was the RCMP High River incident commander who gave this order and why?  According to these same documents tabled in Parliament, was this decision never revisited when day after day, the forced entries resulted in not one person being rescued?
  • In an e-mail dated June 25, 2013, Bill Sweeney, Assistant Deputy Minister/Director of Law Enforcement, Alberta Justice to Solicitor General and Marianne Ryan, Assistant Commissioner, Officer in Charge “K” Division Criminal Operations asked her for the “legal authorities” the RCMP were using for their forced entry into hundreds homes in High River, Alberta.  Asst. Commissioner Ryan responded: “You do raise a good point on communicating what legal authorities we are using and on that point, we will get something on paper from Crown counsel tomorrow morning to give to our folks speaking to media for their reference and confidence in speaking to this issue to the public.” Why did Alberta Justice leave this “Crown counsel” legal authorities paper out of their response to my Freedom of Information Program (FOIP) request?  Why is the RCMP delaying the release of such an important document including copies of the instructions they gave their “folks speaking to the media?”
  • According to documents tabled in the House of Commons on September 15, 2014, the RCMP say that 38 High River residents were “provided assistance in evacuating the town.”  Why then in the 143 pages of RCMP handwritten notes taken by High River search teams, not one person is noted as having been rescued or requesting assistance in evacuating the town?  The RCMP’s notes list hundreds of pets as being fed, watered and relocated but not a single note about one person being rescued or provided with assistance.
  • In RCMP documents obtained through Access to Information Act requests, the RCMP admit on June 23, 2013, “RCMP not responsible to search for/retrieve pets” and yet they kept right on kicking in doors to hundreds of High River homes to do exactly that.  Here we have a stated recognition that the RCMP had no responsibility to search for and retrieve pets, how then can the RCMP hold out that their search for pets as a justification to keep kicking down the doors and seizing the guns they found inside?
  • Why did the police man roadblocks with spike belts to keep residents out of High River for nine days?  Police didn’t do this in any other evacuated Alberta communities.
  • Why keep so many High River residents out of their homes for so long allowing mold to take hold in their homes and resulting in the added expenses and clean-up time for food decaying in their deep freezers and fridges?
  • Why were the regular RCMP officers posted to High River sent away on June 24th when “hard decisions” were being made?  What were these “hard decisions”?
  • Why didn’t the RCMP get a warrant or warrants to break into thousands of homes?  They had lots of time to do it.  This is especially true of those homes where property was seized and charges were laid.
  • Rather than resorting to kicking in hundreds of doors, why didn’t the RCMP use thermal imaging technology to search for residents they believed were stranded?  This technology was available on RCMP and Canadian Forces helicopters and equipment deployed in High River.
  • Why did the RCMP kick in the doors to homes that weren’t flooded?
  • Why did the RCMP kick in doors to homes that were left unlocked?
  • Why did the RCMP kick in doors on the inside a number of High River homes?
  • Why did the RCMP search some homes more than once - 3 times for one firearms owner?
  • Who ordered the RCMP to seize firearms, ammunition, firearms magazines, and other weapons?
  • Who ordered the destruction of 7,500 pounds of ammunition?
  • Why did the RCMP say they were only seizing firearms that were in “plain view” and when so many residents claim their firearms were well hidden?
  • Why did the RCMP say they were only seizing firearms that were “not properly stored” when so many residents claim their firearms were stored in accordance with the Canada’s firearms regulations?
  • Why did the RCMP blank out the “Location Where Recovered” on lists of the 609 guns they seized?
  • Why did the RCMP clearly target homes with firearms and kick in doors to get them?
  • Why did the RCMP seize ammunition and magazines when they already had the guns?
  • Why did the RCMP destroy 7,500 pounds of ammunition without permission from all the owners?
  • Why won’t the RCMP tell us how many and what type of charges they laid as a result of their searches?
  • Why did the Canadian Armed Forces provide transportation to the RCMP to the High River homes; thereby,  aiding and abetting the RCMP’s unwarranted searches and seizures, when their orders from the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff specifically ordered them “not to engage in law enforcement activities”?
  • Why did the RCMP keep kicking in doors and seizing guns after June 24th when the Canadian Armed Forces said there was no further risk to life and limb?
  • Why did the Canadian Armed Forces(CAF) continue to assist the RCMP with their unwarranted door-to-door search and seizure operation for two more days after the CAF said there was no further risk to life and limb.
  • On June 28, 2013, several media broke the news that the RCMP had seized hundreds of firearms from High River homes.  Did these reports have anything to do with the fact the Alberta Government declaring a Provincial State of Emergency in High River?
  • On July 5, 2013, the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP initiated an investigation into the High River mess.  After four extensions, the Commission says they will have their report finished early in the new year 2015.  If the Commission’s report doesn’t answer all of the above questions, and the others I haven’t included in this summary, then a judicial enquiry will be the only way to get to the bottom of this unprecedented violation of property rights, privacy rights and the Charter right to be secure from search and seizure for the High River residents.  Without a complete and honest airing of all the facts of what happened in High River and the individuals responsible held accountable, there will be no way to stop the RCMP from doing the same thing when a state of emergency is declared in another town, maybe your town.  Without the whole truth being revealed many people will refuse to leave their homes in the care of the RCMP when another state of emergency is declared.  This is the real danger of a cover-up all of the facts.

    In conclusion, I leave readers with the following quote from the United Nations document entitled, The Administration of Justice during States of Emergency:Public opinion may call for strong measures and vengeance in response to a severe crisis, and Governments may well cater to these demands by resorting to drastic and far-reaching security measures. However, peace and security are best served by an even-handed administration of justice, also in times of adversity.”

    NOTE:  For copies of documents referred to above please go to the National Firearms Assoc. website:

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    Dennis R. Young -- Bio and Archives | Comments

    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 a Honourary Life Member of both the Canadian Shooting Sports Association and the National Firearms Association. For his 20-year crusade for the rights of firearms owners, Dennis received the NFA’s David A. Tomlinson Memorial Award for 2014 and the CSSA’s John Holdstock Memorial Award for 2014.

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