When did you know the RCMP were kicking in doors in High River, why didn’t you stop it before it got out of hand and why did your government defend the RCMP’s actions?

Dear Minister Denis:
I want to thank you for taking the time to write on January 28, 2015 responding to my two previous letters dated September 30, 2014 and January 2, 2015.

Your letter stated: “The Province of Alberta, as a contracting partner for the services of the RCMP, have worked with the CRCC (Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP), as the federally legislated oversight body, to ensure sufficient accountability to Alberta and its citizens results from this independent review.” [Emphasis added]

Sadly, the RCMP Complaints Commission’s High River report did not “ensure sufficient accountability to Alberta and its citizens” – not even close.  The Commission’s investigative mandate was about the seizing of guns and; therefore, their terms of reference was much too narrow to address the overarching reason why guns ended up being seized at all. Why were the RCMP allowed to enter any homes in High River let alone 4,666 homes (on at least two occasions)?

Now that the RCMP Public Complaint’s Commission has published their long-awaited report on the High River Gun Grab on February 12, 2015, I am hoping that you will now be free to answer the questions I asked in my previous correspondence and the new questions the RCMP Complaints Commission’s report raises for the Government of Alberta.

Why does the Province of Alberta need to answer these questions?  Because a telephone poll taken after the RCMP Complaints Commission’s report was released, showed that sixty-seven percent of the people in High River thought the RCMP’s actions were not “appropriate”. Trust in the RCMP is so bad in High River that fifty-three percent of residents polled last August indicated they would be prepared to refuse an evacuation order in the event of another emergency.

This trust will not be rebuilt until and unless someone in Government admits that kicking in hundreds of doors and entering 4,666 High River homes (twice) without warrant was just plain wrong and promise to never let it happen again.  Now that the RCMP Complaints Commission report is out, the RCMP and the Alberta Government have to stop defending the indefensible.

The following excerpt from an interview with High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass on News Talk 770 Radio on June 17, 2014 provides the most important reason why a more in-depth review of all the events in High River is necessary: “It’s something that happened.  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.” [Emphasis added]

The most recent telephone poll of High River residents confirms that lessons were not learned and Mayor Snodgrass’s concerns have not yet been adequately addressed by the RCMP Complaint Commission’s report.

I don’t question the “honesty” of the RCMP Complaint Commission’s High River report; however, I will question its thoroughness.  Nor do I question the competence or the integrity of the Commission Chair or his staff.  However, I do question the narrowness of their terms of reference that led to an incomplete investigation of all the mitigating circumstances that led to the RCMP kinking in doors and entering 4,666 High River homes in the first place.

If the RCMP had done a normal door-to-door search exercise, knocking on doors, looking in windows for persons in distress, listening for cries of help, and using thermal imaging technologies rather than kicking in the doors to homes and entering the homes without warrants there would have been no private property seized and more than $2.2 million dollars in damages to High River homes would have been saved.

As I have explained in previous reports, the RCMP have admitted that they kicked in “more than 754 doors” in High River and never rescued one person as a result.  RCMP claim that they rescued 28 or 38 people as result of searching 4,666 High River homes is not supported by any of the 143 pages of handwritten notes taken by RCMP officers conducting the searches.  Even the RCMP Complaints Commission couldn’t find documented proof of these “rescues”: Footnote 19 on page 30 of the report reads: “This number appears to be an estimate. There was no uniform tracking system and on other occasions it has been reported as 28 people rescued.”  It makes no sense that the RCMP tracked the number of pets rescued and the number of guns seized but not the number of people they say they saved.

In your letter to me you also stated: “All Police in Alberta operate strictly independent of political authority.  At no time did the Government of Alberta support, endorse or direct this to happen.”  [Emphasis added]

Now, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt here that you may have been thinking I was referring only to the unwarranted seizure of hundreds of firearms, seizure and destruction of tons of ammunition, magazines, bows, knives, etc from High River homes – I wasn’t.  None of these seizures could have occured without the RCMP first being given or assuming the authority to enter the 4,666 homes and businesses in High River (on two occasions).  RCMP documents obtained by Access to Information Act requests show that unwarranted searches of and seizures of private property from High River homes started on June 21, 2013 and continued until at least July 10, 2013.

You and other Alberta Government Ministers were in High River right from the start of this whole mess. Handwritten Scribe notes obtained by a FOIP request from the Town of High River document your arrival in High River at 1:45 pm on June 21, 2013. These same Scribe notes clearly show that the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre had their own staff embedded in High River participating in the decision making and planning process.  Brian Cornforth from Lethbridge Fire Department and Operations Chief for Alberta Emergency Management announced he was on his way to High River at 6:32 am on June 20th before a State of Local Emergency had even been declared by the Town Council. Jim Cornish, Director Field and Recover Operations from Alberta Emergency Management was in High River on June 22nd.  An unknown number of Alberta Sheriffs were also in High River assisting with the door-to-door searches and evacuations.

Your own Assistant Deputy Minister, Bill Sweeney (former RCMP Commanding Officer for Alberta) arrived in High River EOC at 2:00 pm on June 24th.  Premier Redford, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths and Transportation Minister Ric McIver, and Health Minister Fred Horne were all in High River during the time when the RCMP were kicking in hundreds of doors to High River homes.  You all had to know what was going on and if you didn’t directly “support, endorse or direct it to happen,” by your very silence everyone in the High River Emergency Operation Centre must have thought you condoned it.

QUESTION #1:  My first most important question to Mr. Minister:  What did you know?  When did you know it? Why didn’t you stop it? And, Why did the Premier of Alberta and other Alberta Ministers defend the RCMP’s actions?

The Province of Alberta declared of a State of Emergency for the Town of High River on June 27, 2013.  This Provincial declaration automatically nullified the emergency powers of local High River officials by virtue of Section 22(3) of the Emergency Management Act.

QUESTION 2:  Who authorized all the forced entries and warrantless entries and seizures by the RCMP from and after June 27, 2013?

On May 22, 2013 you appointed former RCMP Deputy Commissioner, Commanding Officer of K Division (Alberta), Bill Sweeney as Assistant Deputy Minister/Director of Law Enforcement, Public Security Division.  On June 25, 2014, Mr. Sweeney e-mailed then Asst. Commissioner Marianne Ryan asking her for the “legal authorities” she was using to justify the RCMP’s forced entries into High River homes.

QUESTION 3:  If your office didn’t have serious doubts about the legitimacy of the RCMP’s forced entries in High River, why did your Asst. Deputy Minister ask Asst. Commissioner Ryan for the “legal authorities” she was using to justify the RCMP’s actions in High River?

QUESTION 4: Did Asst. Commissioner Ryan provide your office with a copy of the “Crown counsel” paper she refers to in her e-mail to your Assistant Deputy Minister?  If yes, will you now release a copy of this important document to the public?

QUESTION 5:  A poll taken in High River in August of last year indicates that at least half of the residents of High River no longer trust the RCMP to care for their homes in an emergency and would refuse an evacuation order.  What is the Alberta Government doing to rebuild this broken trust?

Section 18 (5.1) of the Alberta Emergency Management Act states: “Unless otherwise provided for in the order for a declaration of a state of emergency, where an order for a declaration of a state of emergency is made, and there is a conflict between this Act or a regulation made under this Act and any other Act or regulation, other than the Alberta Bill of Rights or the Alberta Human Rights Act or a regulation made under either of those Acts, during the time that the order is in effect, this Act and the regulations made under this Act shall prevail in Alberta or that part of Alberta in respect of which the order was made.” [Emphasis added]

QUESTION 6:  Many people are wondering why section 18 didn’t protect the residents of High River from the RCMP’s kicking in the doors to many hundreds of their homes, the unwarranted search of thousands of their homes, and the unwarranted seizure of private property from more than a hundred homes including a number of arrests and charges being laid (many of which have still not been made public).

The Alberta Property Rights Advocate’s 2013 report tabled in the Legislature on June 2, 2014made the following Recommendation 2013.05 – “that the Legislature amend the Emergency Management Act to clarify and affirm the consistent respect for and deference to private property rights, even in the face of an emergency situation. Specifically, it is recommended that section 19 of the Act be amended to confirm that a natural disaster does not create licence to disregard the property rights of individual Albertans, nor does it absolve the authorities from a responsibility to follow the due process of law (including the need to obtain Ministerial authorization) if any encroachments do become necessary as an emergency response.”

QUESTION #7:  When is the Alberta Government going to amend section 19 of the Alberta Emergency Management Act as recommended by the Alberta Property Rights Advocate?

On June 28, 2013, Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell reported, “Premier Redford defends the police as she stands Thursday afternoon in the Cargill plant north of this town of 13,000. ‘I think what we need to understand is these are exceptional circumstances,’ says the premier, adding the gun snatching move was talked about for other places. ‘In an emergency situation we need to have our police ensuring there is law and order.’ Redford says she thinks in the fullness of time ‘we’ll find the system has run smoothly.’ ‘At the end of the day, when we’re through all of this, people are going to be able to return to exactly their life and deal with these issues through the RCMP.’”

On July 5, 2013 the Toronto Star reported:  “Alberta Premier Alison Redford defended the RCMP’s work and regretted it had become fodder for controversy, saying nobody’s guns were confiscated. ‘The RCMP went in and secured a community that has been evacuated and, as part of that work, they went into houses where there were firearms that weren’t properly secured,’ said Redford.’”

On September 6, 2013, the National Post reported: “For her part, Ms. Smith had come under fire from the provincial government for allegedly preying on the frustrations of local people. ‘We now have the leader of the Opposition saying that the RCMP destroyed property during what was the worst natural disaster in Alberta history? I don’t buy that,’ Premier Alison Redford said this week. ‘We have a federal police force that went above and beyond to secure property.’ Doug Griffiths, the province’s municipal affairs minister, accused Ms. Smith of ‘making political hay.’ ‘The RCMP are doing the best that they can and they did the best they can in the situation. I am sick and tired of people like her going around trying to blame people when we’re still trying to rebuild the community. It’s f-ing embarrassing,’ he told the Calgary Herald on Thursday. Mr. Griffiths later apologized for swearing.”  However that same day, Beacon news reported: “I am tired and I am frustrated,” Griffiths said. “It doesn’t make it excusable, but I’ve got 30 communities we’re trying to rebuild … “But I still stand by what I said.”

QUESTION #8:  Why did the Alberta Government defend the actions of the RCMP so vigourously when their actions were so at odds with the feelings of the residents of High River and do you still defend the RCMP’s actions today?

I leave you with these final words from a Canadian Press story dated February 12, 2015: “High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass called the report one more step in the community’s recovery and said residents now have some of the answers they need.” [Emphasis added]

The Alberta Government needs to take the next step to get more answers for the residents of High River and other communities in Alberta who may have the RCMP come into their town during a State of Local Emergency “suggesting” they need to enter and search all the homes in their community.  Now that former Calgary Chief of Police, Rick Hanson, is part of the Prentice team, it would be a good idea to ask him to answer the questions above.

This commentary has described a few more very important reasons why there has to be a full judicial inquiry into the RCMP’s actions and the Alberta Government’s support for those actions in High River during and immediately following the flood of 2013.  For more reasons open the links below.

By Dennis R. Young February 22, 2015

By Dennis R. Young February 18, 2015

By Dennis R. Young March 9, 2015

By Dennis R. Young – March 16, 2015


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