High River Gun Grab Repercussions

August 10, 2014 11:25 pm

August 10th, 2014 – Lorne Gunter, Edmonton Sun

You know what is likely to be the worst consequence of the Mounties’ misbehaviour in High River last summer? Canadians will now be less likely to heed an evacuation order in the face of an impending natural disaster.

Many will see the RCMP’s widespread use of the emergency as an excuse to break into hundreds of private homes as a huge breach of trust (which it was). And if they can no longer trust police to respect and protect their private property, they will refuse to leave.

During last summer’s horrendous flooding, local and provincial emergency managers told High Riverites, in effect, “Get out and save yourselves.” All but 300 people in the town of 13,000 listened to that advice and moved to higher ground.

But how many more would have stayed behind if officials had added, “By the way, while you’re gone there’s a better than 50/50 chance Mounties are going to boot down your front door, trudge all over your house with their muddy boots, search high and low (including in lots of private places where no survivor could possibly be hiding), take your property without a warrant and leave your front door off its hinges when they depart”?

Under those circumstances, it’s not hard to imagine many thousands staying behind.

In the immediate aftermath of the High River flood, and the revelation that Mounties had kicked down over 1,900 doors (out of 3,337 homes in town), I received nearly three dozen emails from readers across the country vowing never to evacuate if faced with a similar crisis.

These folks all claimed they would take their chances with Mother Nature ran then leave their homes unprotected from marauding police officers.

Since then, I have often wondered just how deep that sentiment runs? Now thanks to a poll conducted among High Riverites, we may have a glimpse at an answer.

In a telephone poll of 444 residents of the small, foothills city, conducted earlier this week for the National Firearms Association (NFA), nearly half of High Riverites claimed next time they would not leave.

To the question “Knowing what you know today, if High River had another flood would you obey an evacuation order?” 44 per cent answered “no,” they would “disobey.” Another 39 per cent insisted they would comply.

If the undecideds are dropped out of the results, 53% now insist they would dig in their heels and ride out the raging waters.

Even the NFA concedes the poll results are “trustworthy but tentative.”

In the face of a real disaster, I have my doubts whether that many residents would actually ignore officials. Yet even if just half that many – or only a quarter – hunkered down rather than leave town, that still 3,000 or more versus the 300 (two per cent) who stayed in June 2013.

And even if no more stayed next time, the NFA’s poll shows just how badly broken is the relationship between townspeople and Mounties.

Who can blame them?

In the first 72 hours after the Highwood River overflowed its banks, Mounties forcibly entered nearly 700 homes looking for survivors. Then in the two weeks after that – once the immediate threat to life and property had subsided – RCMP officers kicked down an addition 1,200 or 1,300 doors.

Although Mountie brass denies it, officers’ actions give every indication they were on a hunt for civil firearms – something a state of emergency does not give them the power to do. And they were so obsessed they wouldn’t wait for locksmiths.

So, perhaps the most dangerous outcome of the High River gun grab is that it has made more Canadians willing to risk death in a disaster rather than trust police.