RCMP say they will start returning guns seized in flood evacuation
A flooded neighborhood in High River, Alta., Saturday, June 29, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Sunday, June 30, 2013 6:50PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 30, 2013 7:20PM EDT
Mounties in Alberta announced Sunday that they'll begin returning some of the guns they seized during searches of evacuated homes in this flood ravaged town.
An RCMP news release says that owners of guns that were seized should call police, and that an officer will call them back to make arrangements to have the weapons picked up.
The Mounties said earlier that they took the guns as officers searched homes in High River's flood zone to look for flood victims, pets and anything that might pose a threat to returning residents.
Any guns were removed from homes because they were not properly stored, said Staff Sgt. Brian Jones, who added that no charges are planned.
"There is no indication of that at this point in time. That wasn't the reason. That wasn't the intention," Jones said about the gun seizures.
"Our focus was on the search and rescue operations."
The move to take the weapons was condemned by the Prime Minister's Office, who said the Mounties should focus on more important tasks such as protecting lives and private property.
Critics took the PMO to task, saying the Harper government should not be dictating how the Mounties should conduct their operations.
Some evacuees were allowed into High River on the weekend, but part of the town are still under metres of water and it could be another five weeks before some people will be able to go home.
Jones said owners of guns that were seized can let RCMP hang onto their firearms if they can't return to their homes, yet. He said it's also OK if they want to store the guns with someone else.
"If the owner wants them and they have a place they can safely store them, we'll give them back," Jones said.
In a statement Friday, the RCMP said officers found that many gun owners had actually laid out their guns in plain view in order to move valuable possessions to higher ground in their homes.
Jones said some gun owners in High River were happy to hear that their weapons were safe.
Darryl Davies, a Carleton University criminology professor, considered the condemnation from the Prime Minister's Office to be highly inappropriate.
"It's completely and utterly inappropriate for the PMO to issue operational instructions to the RCMP," Davies said Sunday.
Have we arrived at a point in Canada where the PMO can interfere in criminal investigations as well?"
Davies said he thought it must be embarrassing for the RCMP to be admonished by the PMO in the media, and that it undermines the force's credibility and impartiality.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford defended the decision to seize the guns, although she noted she was disappointed to face questions about the issue, suggesting there were more important issues to deal with coming out of the flood disaster.
Jones said it was understandable that people in High River would be upset.
"The residents of High River have undergone a tumultuous experience," Jones said.