Canadians in the High River area of Alberta - many already "irate" at not being able to return to their homes after massive flooding last week - were shocked to learn late Thursday that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have seized a "large quantity of firearms" from their evacuated houses.
RCMP Sergeant Patricia Neely said that “Firearms that were unsafely stored in plain sight were seized for safekeeping,” but Sgt. Brian Topham told the National Post that officers forced their way into many of the homes because of "urgent need."
“We just want to make sure that all of those things are in a spot that we control, simply because of what they are,” Sgt. Topham said. “People have a significant amount of money invested in firearms … so we put them in a place that we control and that they’re safe.”
They will be returned to residents with proof of ownership after the evacuation order -- which is now into its eighth day -- is lifted, authorities say.
A kayaker paddles down a flooded street in High River, Alberta on Thursday, June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks. (Photo: AP)
Business owner Brenda Lackey told the Globe and Mail: “Now what they’re doing is looking for firearms and ammunition. How do they have the right to do that? What does that have to do with the disaster? ...This is martial law. What has happened to our country?”
"Absolutely incredible," she added.
Lackey's sentiment seemed to be pretty consistent with the rest of the frustrated crowd. Some of the members have apparently be threatening to rush the blockade in an effort to get back into their homes.
“We don’t want our town to turn into another New Orleans,” resident Jeff Langford told the National Post. “The longer that the water stays in our houses the worse it’s going to be. We’ll either be bulldozing them or burning them down because we’ve got an incompetent government.”
A woman in the crowd pointed out they can do more to repair their homes if they actually have access to them.
"We can do more there than we can out here," she said.
When an officer attempted to calm the crowd by saying "imagine if something happens to you [if I let you in]," a member of the crowd shot back: "Are we children? We're adults!"
Canada's Sun News has more on the story:
The Conservative Prime Minister's office has said in an email to the National Post that it believes the guns will be returned as soon as possible, and that "the RCMP should focus on more important tasks such as protecting lives and private property."
Ed Burlew, a lawyer and firearms specialist in Ontario, weighed in on the legality of the RCMP's apparent actions.
“This is without precedent, this is unreasonable search and seizure,” he said. “The entry was illegal, it's against the charter, it was unreasonable search and seizure. There's no judge that would uphold the evidence obtained through an illegal entry into a person's home.”