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Commentary – RCMP Answers in File – A-2013-04535 – Feb 21 2014

RCMP ATI ACT RESPONSE – FILE # A-2013-04535 / F141
Analysis and Commentary by Dennis R. Young – February 20, 2014

This RCMP response to an Access to Information Act request was sent to the National Firearms Association by mistake. It is highly unusual because the RCMP answered the questions posed by the person or organization making the request which it has been my experience in two decades of filing approximately seven hundred ATI Act requests to many departments, this is never done. The standard practise is for the responding department or agency to provide documents or records that may be related to the issues being addressed in the request.

Q1 – Who ordered the search and removal of firearms?

RCMP RESPONSE: There was not a specific order to search and remove firearms.

Q1Comment #1: This impossible. I was in the RCMP for five years and the one thing that was drilled into us in training and in the field was to follow orders. To do otherwise would definitely get a member of the RCMP in serious trouble. This action was not only ordered by a high ranking official of the RCMP but it was condoned and supported daily as the kicking in the doors progressed for seven or eight days.

Q1Comment #2: We have a document signed by the RCMP Constable Jason Decoste who completed the firearms seizure of Don and Jane White’s home proving that this break and enter and search without a warrant was definitely a targeted for a firearms seizure – not a search for survivors. Click here to see this document.
Q2 – What is the definition of plain view?

RCMP RESPONSE: RCMP Operational Manual Section 21.1 Authority to Search: 21.1.3 Refers to the Doctrine of Plain View.
3. Doctrine of Plain View
3.1 You may seize any item in plain view that may provide evidence of the commission of an offence if: There is a pre-existing lawful reason for the intrusion upon the person or premises, the discovery of the item was inadvertent, and the item is immediately apparent as incriminating evidence.

A person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in what he knowingly exposes to the public or abandons in a public place.
• R. v. Tessling, 2004 SCC 67, [2004] 3 S.C.R. 432 at para. 40
• R. v. Boersma, 1994 CanLII 99 (S.C.C.), [1994] 2 S.C.R. 488

Q2Comment #1: Every resident of High River had a reasonable expectation of privacy when they left their home to escape the ravages of the flood. The firearms seized by the police were neither exposed to the public nor abandoned in a public place. The RCMP officers kicked in their front doors breaching their Charter protected right to privacy and their right to be safe from unreasonable search and seizure.

A peace officer may seize any evidence which he observes by use of one or more of his senses from a lawful vantage point
• R. v. Fitt, 1995 CanLII 4342 (NS C.A.)
• R. v. Lauda, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 683, 1998 CanLII 804
• R. v. Jackson, 2005 ABCA 430

Q2Comment #2: The RCMP officers were not in the homes lawfully therefore they were not in a ‘lawful vantage point’ and consequently had no right to seize anything in the High River homes.

If an officer is on a premises lawfully and observes items believed to be illegal, it is lawful for him to seize the items.
• The Queen v. Shea (1982), 142 D.L.R. (3d) 419 (Ont. S.C.)
• R. v. Hébert (1990), 60 C.C.C. (3d) 422 (Que. C.A.)
• R. v. Grenier (1991), 65 C.C.C. (3d) 76 (Que. C.A.)

Q2Comment #3: The RCMP were not on the premises lawfully and almost all the firearms they seized were legally stored and rightfully owned. Testimony and reports from the High River residents who had their homes vandalized prove that many seized firearms certainly were NOT in ‘plain view’. Additionally, how could they ‘believe them to be illegal’ unless they haD access to the complete firearms data base at the time they illegally searched each and every home? As one veteran RCMP officer explained to me: “The plain view doctrine applies to contraband – not legally owned property.”

Q2Comment #4: There was completely legal, far more effective way to search for survivors in High River; namely, thermal imaging technology because: The use of thermal imaging known as Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) is not a form of search. The heat radiating from the house provides limited information about what is going on inside and virtually no information about the person core biographical information. The emanations exist on the outside of the house and so are exposed to the public.
• R. v. Tessling, 2004 SCC 67, [2004] 3 SCR 432

Q4Comment #5: Maybe kicking in doors without a warrant could be excused in the first day or two of the flood but certainly not when the RCMP kicked in more than 1,200 doors in days five, six and seven after the flood waters were receding and the National Defence determined there was no further threat to life after June 24, 2013 and the RCMP admitted that they had ‘completed’ their search of all the homes in High River.

Q3 – How many firearms were removed from homes?

RCMP RESPONSE: During the course of the residential searches, RCMP seized 609 restricted and non-restricted firearms.

Q3Comment #1: The RCMP members had no warrant and had not received any other legal authority to kick in the more than 1,900 doors in High River and therefore had no right to seize any of these firearms.
Q3Comment #2: On July 28, 2013, the RCMP reported to the media that they only seized 539 firearms during their illegal searches of more than 1,900 High River homes. So what is the right number of firearms seized: 603 or 539?

Q4 – How many firearms were removed from a locked closet, cabinet, box, case or room?

RCMP RESPONSE: Firearms were not removed from locked cabinets, closets or cases unless specifically requested by the property owner to do so.

Q4Comment #1: I think you will find testimony from many High River residents that dispute the veracity of this RCMP response.

Q5 – How many of the removed firearms had some form of trigger lock, cable or other locking device?

RCMP RESPONSE: This information was not captured in most cases. There was one report of a firearm documented as having a trigger lock.

Q5Comment #1: At least this response is honest in that they didn’t record the number of firearms they seized with trigger locks because these firearms were “safely stored” in accordance with firearms regulations and it would be even more embarrassing for the RCMP than it already is.

Q6 – How many of the removed firearms had the bolt removed or otherwise disabled?

RCMP RESPONSE: A shotgun with a trigger lock and a .22 rifle with the bolt removed were seized from the same residence. These are the only two instances that we are aware of.

Q6Comment #1: Months after saying repeatedly that they only ‘secured’ firearms the RCMP finally admit that they actually ‘seized’ them!

Q6Comment #2: We have reports of them seizing trigger-locked long-guns – 11 from one residence. Click here to see the documentation.

Q7 – What procedures are in place to ensure that the firearms removed are returned to their rightful owners?

RCMP RESPONSE: The seized firearms were taken to the RCMP High River Detachment where they were catalogued and subsequently stored. A PROS file was opened on each address. Although the return of firearms did not begin until June 30, 2013 as it was the first full day that the portions of the town were open to residents.

A team of members having experience and knowledge in the area of firearms and firearm legislation were assigned the role of returning firearms to their rightful owners as soon as circumstances would permit.

Due to the extenuating circumstances of many people not having access to documents within their homes, which would show proof of having a valid firearms license for the class of firearms being returned, a flexible return policy was initiated.
1) Proof of personal residence of the location where the firearms were recovered
2) Proof of valid firearms license and
3) Government issued photo identification.

Where the firearm owner could not provide proof of a valid firearms license, the individual was queried through CFRO to determine if they did possess the proper license for the firearms being returned.

Q7Comment #1: There is that word ‘seized’ again in the first sentence of this response and the public was repeatedly told by several RCMP spokespersons at the end of June that the firearms weren’t seized, they were ‘secured’. If the RCMP are going to concoct a story about 1,900+ searches as seizures without a warrant, they should at least all be reading from the same script.

Q7Comment #2: The RCMP could have avoided this whole expensive mess if they had done what police did in thirty other flooded communities – even the ones that had to be evacuated. Knock on doors in the search for survivors, leaving the front doors intact and let the people back into the town as soon as the water started receding. Tell everyone again, why wasn’t that done in High River? Why were High River residents kept out of town and homes behind barricades and spike belts for four more days? Why and how were High River homes selected for search and seizure operation by Special Tactical Operations Teams?

Q8 – How many homes were in the secured area?

RCMP RESPONSE: The entire town was under an emergency evacuation order.

Q8Comment #1: The RCMP failed to answer the question and the answer they did provide seems to indicate that they thought the emergency evacuation order gave them a right to do whatever they wanted to the High River residents and their homes. A warrant would have been the prudent action to take by any police force contemplating breaking into nearly 2,000 homes and seizing hundreds of firearms and destroying hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition.. Please tell everyone again why the RCMP didn’t take this first prudent step in any one of the seven or eight days they kicked in peoples doors and violated their Charter rights?

Q9 – How many homes in the secured area were searched?

RCMP RESPONSE: 4,666 buildings, both residences and businesses were searched.

Q9Comment #1: How many homes were searched using the smash and grab method, how many using locksmiths, and how many were searched where the doors had been left unlocked? How many businesses were searched using the smash and grab method, how many using locksmiths, and how many where the doors had been left unlocked?

Q10 – What criterion was used to determine which homes were searched and was the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) used?

RCMP RESPONSE: As stated above, it was determined that ALL homes were to be searched for residents that remained. A planning meeting was held at the Town of High River EOC on June 21 at 0606hrs. At this meeting the Director of the High River EOC deemed the search for missing persons or in houses to be a high priority. On the recommendation of the Site Commander for the High River EOC, the Director of the Town of High River EOC. Fire Chief agreed to a systematic door to door search of every residence in town. At this meeting, it was made clear that it could not be determined with any degree of certainty that any area of town had been searched and deemed to be clear. Therefore all houses would be searched.
No, CPIC was not used for that purpose.

Q10Comment #1: Who exactly “determined” that ALL homes were to be searched? We have been informed by a person who was at this June 21st meeting that a complete “CPIC dump” was ordered for the Town of High River.

Q10Comment #2: Please provide a copy of the minutes of this meeting including handouts and recommendations, and, finally, the names of the officials who made this order; namely,
• Director of the High River EOC
• Commander for the High River EOC
• Director of the Town of High River EOC

Q10Comment # 3: Please provide copies of the documents showing that the above persons had a proper delegation from either the Minister or the Town Council in order to even begin to exercise such authority including legal documentation proving that a “residence” is included in the definition of a “building” under the EMA.

Q10Comment #4: Even if High River Town Council properly delegated some authority under the Emergency Management Act to the above noted persons, such delegated authority is to be exercised under Section 24 “in the operation of an emergency plan or program”. Please provide a copy of any and every “plan” and “program” in effect in High River on June 21, 2013. Please provide documentation showing particulars of how, when and by what decision makers it was adopted, and under what legislation. Note that such a prepared plan or program is necessary under the Act in either ss. 19(5) or 24(1)(c) for delegates – such as the RCMP – to wield any EMA powers.

Q11 – How many personnel were involved in searching the homes?

RCMP RESPONSE: The exact numbers are not known. Search personnel included teams comprised of RCMP, DND and representatives of utility service providers such as ATCO and Fortis. At the peak of deployment on June 23rd, not specifically assigned to the Search, were 238 RCMP and 310 DND members.

Q11Comment #1: Looks like there are more witnesses to the RCMP break and enters and unwarranted searches and seizures for the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP to interview: ATCO and Fortis employees who watched what the RCMP search teams did and what they said and how they acted when they did it.

Q12 – How long did the search take?

RCMP RESPONSE: The Search Plan was initiated early morning, June 21st and completed on June 24, at approx. 2247 hrs.
Q12Comment #1: This is not true! Click here to see page 27 of the RCMP response.

The e-mail on this page dated June 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm from RCMP Superintendent Frank Smart states: “As of 1500hrs today, RCMP led by STO have completed the physical search of all homes in High River(with the exception of a small amount in quadrant 8 which is underwater). Houses\Buildings 3,337 – Forced Entries 674 – People located 303.”

The e-mail states that as of June 24, there were only 674 ‘forced entries’ but RCMP Staff/Sgt. Ian Shardlow admitted at a public meeting in High River on September 5, 2013 that police had in fact kicked in the doors of more than 1,900 homes in High River – more than 1,200 more forced entries than reported in the RCMP e-mail. Also there is no mention of firearms being seized in this e-mail and yet on June 28, 2013 the RCMP reported to the media that they had seized 539 firearms during these break-ins (Note: The RCMP’s answer to Q3 above states they seized 609 firearms). We can only conclude that reason they didn’t report the number of firearms seized in this e-mail was that most, if not all the firearms were seized after the threat to human life had ended on June 24 and before the RCMP started allowing some of the residents of High River to return to their homes on June 29, 2013.