With floodwaters rising again, will Sun News Network renew its hysterical ‘gun grab’ attacks on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

Posted on June 19, 2014, 1:57 am
10 mins

Sun News Network columnist Lorne Gunter is presented an award by National Firearms Association President Sheldon Clare for his commentary on the so-called “High River Gun Grab.” (Grabbed from the NFA’s website.) Below: Floodwaters roar through High River last year. (CBC Photo)

Rain is falling and floodwaters are rising again in Southern Alberta.

A year less a day since catastrophic floods hit the nearby town of High River, population 13,000, local states of emergency were declared yesterday on the Blood Reserve, around the towns of Claresholm and Cardston, and in the areas of the cities of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

So, in the event that rescuers have to go door to door again this year, searching for trapped residents, what happens if they find some firearms lying around? Will the Sun News Network renew its campaign of vilification against the RCMP for the 2014 version of what its commentators repeatedly called the “High River gun grab”?

For a year now, a group of highly ideological, far-right political commentators employed by Sun News have been attacking the RCMP in highly inflammatory language, accusing the Mounties of “kicking down doors,” perpetrating a “gun grab,” being “obsessed with taking High Riverites’ guns,” and “focusing on disarming the civilian population” during the rescue effort that followed last year’s floods.

Each of the quotes in the paragraph above comes from a single column by Lorne Gunter of the Edmonton Sun. This was only one of several columns and a TV news documentary by Mr. Gunter saying essentially the same thing. Similar or identical phrases and sentiments appeared frequently in the work of other Sun commentators, including Ezra Levant, Rick Bell, Brian Lilley and even Monte Solberg, a former Parliamentarian who really ought to know better.

Throughout their seemingly co-ordinated campaign, High River was identified time and again as the epicentre of this supposedly sinister RCMP “gun grab” campaign.

It seems likely their goal of all this angry verbiage was merely to support the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in its wedge issue and fund-raising campaign based on exploitation of the unjustified gun-confiscation fears of a radical segment of Canada’s gun-owning minority.

There is no doubt Sun News Network’s “gun grab” campaign received plenty of attention in radical gun ownership circles, which already feel empowered by the Conservative Government’s destruction of the federal long-gun registry. Several organizations dedicated to ending all restrictions on firearms ownership in Canada widely circulated links to these articles.

Indeed, the National Firearms Association, which appears to model itself on the U.S. National Rifle Association, liked Mr. Gunter’s coverage in particular so much they invited him to their recent convention in Vancouver and gave him an award. That award, the NFA said in a news release that garnered little attention at the time, was given to the columnist “for his excellent series of work on Alberta’s High River Gun Grab.”

In his remarks to the NFA’s convention delegates, the release also said, Mr. Gunter spoke “about his work on the High River incident and his efforts to ensure that the issue continues to be an important news story.” (Emphasis added.)

The circumstances of what the Mounties really did during and after the flooding in High River are not nearly as clear or as apparently dastardly as the narrative promulgated by Sun News, a version of events that is now accepted by a large number of radical gun-ownership advocates, or, as they style themselves, Law Abiding Gun Owners.

When the floodwaters rose, the authorities, with the RCMP in the lead, went door to door through High River, looking for citizens trapped in their homes and getting them to safety. My guess is most people in High River were mightily glad to find Mounties, Fish and Wildlife officers, Canadian Forces soldiers and other rescuers on their doorsteps.

But sometime during that dramatic rescue, a police officer or someone saw a weapon in a home being searched, and this uplifting story of Canadians helping Canadians became a bizarre tale of suspicion, paranoia and hatred for the police.

Encouraged by Sun News in particular – but with lots of repetition through the rest of the mainstream media barking chain – this interpretation of events began with the claim the Mounties were violating due process by searching homes that were empty but not in flooded areas, grew into the notion they were searching for guns and not people, and eventually took on in some circles the quality of legends about black helicopters, planned takeovers of the Homeland by the United Nations and explosives planted in the Twin Towers on 911.

Believers in this theory accept with great passion the idea there was in fact a conspiracy, and they are extremely difficult to dissuade.

Indeed, encouraged by the Sun News Network campaign, many residents in the High River area, the conservative politicians they elect to represent them, and Conservative MPs in other parts of Canada are now calling for a commission of investigation into the RCMP’s conduct – which, it is said here, would cost us a fortune, but would at least likely clear the air about just how silly some of these theories are.

Supporters of Alberta’s Wildrose Party even tried to suggest former Premier Alison Redford was behind the alleged grab. (This theory doesn’t account for the fact she would have been too busy at the time measuring the windows of her Sky Palace luxury suite for new curtains.)

Now, this whole narrative never really made a lot of sense. For one thing, all levels of government were pretty busy at the time with legitimate rescue, reclamation and restoration of property and services in the immediate aftermath of the floods.

Notwithstanding the fact that not every house in the town was flooded and most doors were locked, only 300 people remained in the town, and those in defiance of a provincial order, so the place was largely abandoned. Doesn’t it make sense that the authorities would want to collect firearms left in the community – even those properly secured in safes – to prevent them from falling into the hands of anyone prepared to exploit the disaster?

And it is reasonable for genuinely law-abiding citizens to wonder what role this unjustified year-long Sun News campaign played in creating the conditions in which a murderous gunman, reported to be obsessed by hatred of police and fear the Mounties in particular wanted to seize the weapons owned by Canadian LAGOs, killed three police officers and injured two others on June 4 in New Brunswick.

I am not suggesting the goal of the commentators behind this campaign was to foment violence against Mounties. I expect all the Sun News columnists were as shocked as were other Canadians by the Moncton assassinations.

Nevertheless, this is a fair question that deserves to be asked. Even if our conclusion is that it did not, surely is reasonable to wonder if this irresponsible and barely credible stream of attacks on the conduct of the Mounties during a natural disaster one year ago has the potential to unleash more mayhem against Canadian police officers in the future.

This is especially so now that we face similar natural conditions in the same region.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

12 Comments to: With floodwaters rising again, will Sun News Network renew its hysterical ‘gun grab’ attacks on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?

  1. jerrymacgp

    June 19th, 2014

    In all fairness, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to draw any connection between the High River flood controversy, and what happened in Moncton. I think what we will learn, as the wheels of justice eventually grind along, that the individual who carried out that massacre had a previously undiagnosed and untreated serious mental illness, and did not need any event based in reality to set him off.

    However, allow me to make one observation based on simple logic: if RCMP or other rescuers in High River found unsecured firearms in flooded-out or evacuated homes, then the owners of those firearms were, by definition, not law-abiding, since the law mandates safe secure storage. Removing unsecured firearms from abandoned buildings, including private homes, is simply prudent. I suppose if they actually broke into a locked gun safe to remove the contents thereof, there might be some reason to complain, but if that really happened, then that homeowner should just take the RCMP to court (or to the Public Complaints Commission).

  2. Joe

    June 19th, 2014


    I bet it was solicitor general Jonathan Dennis.

    • Mac

      June 23rd, 2014

      It was not Denis, the fine gentlemen who ran the emergency operations in High River, finally admitted that the order was given at the local level on 21 June.

  3. June 19th, 2014

    You wrote:

    “My guess is most people in High River were mightily glad to find Mounties, Fish and Wildlife officers, Canadian Forces soldiers and other rescuers on their doorsteps…”

    Well, not really. Most of the people rescued were people who stayed behind and didn’t want to be. They might have been better off (since the alternative was having no water, sewer, power, food, etc. for two weeks), but eventually that was dwarfed by the botched and overly long delay getting back to our homes. There’s plenty of people who did evacuate who would prefer not to, next time. Possibly including my partner and I.

    There were, in fact, a number of weapons seized (it wasn’t just a couple), and some unjustifiably (i.e. properly secured). There were also several not seized, so Sun is indeed off on that point. In the chaos of the moment, the seizures were just as chaotic as the rest of the process. There was ineptitude, certainly, coupled with the concerning images of military moving in. We did tend to feel the evacuation was heavy-handed, and did all return home to busted-in doors. So there were certainly badly-managed things for Gunter to exploit.

    What it *wasn’t* was a miscarriage of justice that dwarfed the flood itself. Everyone pushing that story has been guilty of attempting to deflect the anger over poor decision-making (largely attributable to the Mayor at that time and local collaboration), poor preparation, a poor alert system and a flood diversion program that actually made it possible for the flood to swamp the entire town.

    And it made for a convenient distraction from the question of whether it was global climate change that made the 2005 “one-in-a-hundred” flood look like a noonday shower.

  4. Athabascan

    June 19th, 2014

    Correct me if i’m wrong, but weren’t all those firearms returned to their rightful owners?

    What the right- wing media calls “gun grab” I call “secured temporary storage.” I don’t get it. Who in fact was outraged by the RCMPs prudent serve and protect actions aside from right-wing pundits?

    How many High River residents did this inconvenience? As far as I can tell, the RCMP did them a favour by rescuing their beloved firearms.

    • Chris

      June 20th, 2014

      Substitute the words “gun” and “guns” in this post with the words “computer” and “computers” and then read again. What if the cops decided to gather up everyone’s computer, you know, for safe-keeping? And what if the police decided to power-up all those computers that they collected, only to check for water damage, mind you? And what if they happened to open a few file folders on those computers and found, by accident and only under good intentions, that one of those residents was a labour leader who was organizing an illegal wild-cat strike and then had that labour leader arrested?

      If the entire town was under water, evacuated, surrounded by the army, and patrolled by police, then there is no reason for them to be entering homes to collect guns or computers or late tax bills, or anything. (My reply applies equally to the current privacy bill the Feds are trying to ram through. Any governmental body MUST get a warrant from a judge to enter our homes and computers looking for things.)

      • V. Jobson

        June 22nd, 2014

        Chris, that is a bad analogy, because computers are not dangerous weapons.

        • Mac

          June 23rd, 2014

          Really, what about child pornography sites, terrorist blogs, online stalkers, bullies and corrupt governments. Computers are very dangerous weapons in the wrong hands.

    • Melnibonean

      June 21st, 2014

      How did they know which homes had firearms and which did not? The registry was ordered destroyed by law and the RCMP – a police force – must be the first to obey the law, wouldn’t you say?

      Many firearms were in safes that were cracked open by 2 local locksmiths on orders of the RCMP. Why?

      The remaining firearms were all properly stored as required by law. I already posted the requirements. The RCMP had no business seizing them if they were properly stored.

      Not all firearms were returned. Many firearms were damaged in transport. No compensation was or is being offered.

  5. Melnibonean

    June 20th, 2014

    jerrymacgp…..you are incorrect on 2 items. 1) The Firearms Act states that Non-Restricted firearms must be stored i) with a secure locking device, such as a trigger lock or cable lock (or remove the bolt) so the firearms cannot be fired; OR (and this is the important part), ii) in a cabinet, container or room that is difficult to break into. It’s not both. It’s either/or. Now, the courts have already ruled that a house is considered to be a room (albeit a rather large one) and so having a non-restricted rifle out in the house (but not in a safe…..those are for restricted firearms) does indeed obey the law.
    2) The RCMP went back to many homes several times. The RCMP went to dozens of homes that were not affected by any flood and who’s neighborhoods were bone dry. The RCMP requested and received CF members to accompany them with the battering rams used in Afghanistan for use on homes. CF personnel reported what was going on to their CO who ordered them back to base instead of continuing this “help”. The RCMP then went and retained the services of 2 locksmiths who were to open gun safes so that the firearms could be “secured”.

    All of this is public knowledge and has been sworn to by the parties involved or we have emails by the parties involved to prove the timeline.

    Furthermore, the RCMP appears to have targeted specific homes for their “checking to see if everything is all right and wait a second I see a rifle here” inspections. The probability of the homes targeted containing rifles vs not containing firearms is astronomical unless they used the Long Gun Registry – a database who’s destruction was mandated by law and that the RCMP is in charge of enforcing.

    Too many questions to be answered, and if the RCMP simply answered them, or explained them, it would go a long way towards settling this and restoring the public’s trust. But they prefer to stonewall instead.

  6. Graham Gilchrist

    June 22nd, 2014

    My old boss had something in his 2014 report. It is on the Property Rights Advocate’s website.

  7. Mac

    June 23rd, 2014

    I bet the residents of High River were not so “mightily glad” to find their doors kicked in and that someone had been rummaging through their homes.
    The fact that you hate guns and gun owners, Climenhaga, doesn’t mean that you have a clue what actually transpired in High River.


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