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RCMP commissioner asks for probe into Alberta gun seizures

RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson appears at a Commons status of women committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

One week after a top local Mountie defended the decision to seize guns from flooded High River, Alta., the RCMP commissioner has asked for an investigation.

At the request of Commissioner Bob Paulson, the RCMP's own watchdog will review police actions in High River, a town south of Calgary that was worst-hit by last month's flood.

During a nine-day evacuation, RCMP officers searched buildings throughout town and said they seized "several hundred" guns that were not locked away as required. The Mounties say they did so to prevent the guns falling into the wrong hands, and would return any legal weapon.

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The RCMP say some gunowners thanked them, but the move sparked an outcry. Even the Prime Minister's Office weighed in, saying "the RCMP should focus on more important tasks such as protecting lives and private property."

Mr. Paulson ultimately requested the investigation in a letter Friday to the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, which is set up as an independent agency. "While I am very proud of the heroic response of our members and employees (many of whom were personally impacted) in helping the community stay safe during this disaster, I am quite concerned by the sharp criticism that has arisen in the media with respect to the gun seizures from evacuated homes," he wrote.

In calling for an investigation into his own agency, he asked commission chair Ian McPhail to "investigate our actions in High River to assess if they were well founded, reasonably executed and in accordance with our policies."

Mr. McPhail announced shortly after Mr. Paulson's letter was made public that he would indeed investigate, as per Mr. Paulson's request.

At a news conference a week earlier in High River, a day before residents were allowed to begin returning to town, RCMP Inspector Garrett Woolsey played down the move, saying it's "not remarkable" and had been done during other disasters. Many of the guns appear to have been left out by families fleeing the flood, he said.

"It's almost as if some of these places are frozen in time," he said. "That's the bottom line in a case like this – we secured these firearms only for public safety reasons."

In his letter, Mr. Paulson assured Mr. McPhail that the RCMP will provide "all information you might require" for the investigation. The commission didn't say when it expects the investigation to be completed.

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Premier Alison Redford has dismissed the gun seizure issue, saying she hopes "we can focus on more important matters at hand." Opposition leader Danielle Smith, who is also the MLA representing High River, welcomed the investigation, and said gun seizures "damage the trust residents have for their leaders and will make future disaster situations more difficult to manage effectively."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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