Ottawa and Alberta governments are using solicitor-client privilege to hide the truth about RCMP rights violations after 2013 flood in High River
COVER-UP OF RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN HIGH RIVER FORCED ENTRIES
On August 7, 2014, a telephone poll of all listed phone numbers in High River, Alberta showed that 53 percent of High River respondents would refuse orders to evacuate their homes in the event of another flood. On September 9, 2016 another telephone poll of all listed phone numbers in High River produced similar results: less than half of High River residents trust the RCMP to protect their homes and property in the event of another emergency evacuation order. No newspaper has reported the results of these polls (or the other two telephone polls conducted for the National Firearms Association) and no government has bothered to conduct an independent poll to verify or clarify these results.
Why is the trust in the RCMP specifically, and the government in general, still broken among High River residents? Because the whole truth has never been fully disclosed to High River residents, the public and the media explaining how hundreds of troops (RCMP officers and soldiers) went so out of control in High River in the days following the 2013 flood, violating their Charter rights to privacy, their rights to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure and their fundamental property rights guaranteed under the Canadian Bill of Rights and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many important questions remain unanswered
- Why did the RCMP kick in doors so many doors damaging 2,210 homes in the process and costing taxpayers more than 2.3 million dollars (so far)?
- Why did the investigation into the seizure of 609 guns from 112 homes by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP (previously called the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP) not disclose extent and cost of the damages caused by the RCMP?
- Who ordered the RCMP to kick in doors to so many High River homes over so many days?
- Why did the RCMP keep right on kicking in hundreds and hundreds of doors and searching homes when there is no record of them finding persons in distress and in need of rescue ‚Äì lots of records of pets being rescued but not people?
- Why are their no records of the RCMP kicking in doors to High River businesses?
- Why was no one in the RCMP or government been held accountable for these rights violations?
- Why did no one apologize for the RCMP’s outrageous conduct in High River?
- Why did newspapers not cover the High River reports by the Alberta Property Rights Advocate recommending better protection for property rights in emergency evacuations or his questioning the RCMP’s legal authority for kicking in doors in High River without the Minister’s approval?
- Why is High River the only town (out of 30 Alberta towns that declared local states of emergency in the 2013 flood) where police kicked in the doors to homes and searched those homes without warrant?
- What are the consequences for High River residents if trust in the RCMP is not restored?
- And finally, why are the federal and provincial governments going to such great lengths to keep these records of rights violations in High River a state secret?
Access to High River rights violation paper denied
Below are details of seven cases where the federal and provincial governments are trying to keep the rights violations away from public and media scrutiny. Links to the actual documents are in the highlighted sentences.
- On February 5, 2017, I filed an Access to Information request with the Federal Justice Department for copies of all the records they had explaining why the Charter of Rights and Freedoms didn’t protect the privacy rights and property rights of the residents of High River from having their homes forcibly entered, searched without warrant and property seized also without warrant. On November 7, 2017, the Justice Department released 117 pages of 972 pages of records they discovered and refused to release 669 pages citing solicitor-client privilege. I filed this complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada on December 3, 2017.
- On May 20, 2017, I filed an Access to Information request with the Federal Justice Department asking for copies of records documenting all the legal questions federal government department and agencies asked regarding the legal authorities and justification for the forced entries of High River homes, the unwarranted searches of and unwarranted seizures from High River homes violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights. On October 25, 2017, the Justice Department provided a one-page response denying release of any of these records citing exemptions for ‘personal information’ and ‘solicitor-client privilege’. I filed this complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada on November 3, 2017.
- On June 27, 2017, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General asking for a copy of a ‘legal authorities paper’ entitled ’‘The Local State of Emergency-Mandatory Evacuation Order Police Officer Authorities’’ written by Peter Mackenzie and any follow-up records referring to this paper. On July 28, 2017 Alberta Justice and Solicitor General FOIP office refused to release four pages of records citing ‘Privileged information’. On August 29, 2017, I filed this complaint with the Alberta Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. On October 6, 2017, Jill Clayton, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner requested an unredacted copy of the ‘legal authorities paper’ from the Kathleen Ganley, Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.
- Alberta Justice and Solicitor General had been denying the very existence of the above ‘legal authorities paper’ since my May 5, 2014 request for all records related the 2013 warrantless entries and searches of more than 4,000 High River homes following the 2013 flood. Following an investigation of my complaint to the Alberta Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (who found in my favour) the Commissioner’s office recommended I file another FOIP request specifically requesting a copy of the ‘legal authorities paper’ referred to in an e-mail exchange on June 25, 2013 between RCMP Assistant Commissioner Marianne Ryan and Alberta Deputy Solicitor General Bill Sweeney. As recommended, I filed another FOIP request on August 17, 2015. On December 16, 2016, Alberta Justice responded: “a thorough search for records has been conducted by JSG and did not yield any responsive records on the subject matter you are seeking.”On December 27, 2016, I wrote the Alberta Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner complaining that the Alberta Justice did not conduct an adequate search for the records. On July 23, 2017, I wrote a letter to Alberta Information Commissioner Investigator Sinclair Watson providing him with the actual title and name of the author of the legal authorities paper I was seeking: ’‘The Local State of Emergency-Mandatory Evacuation Order Police Officer Authorities’’ written by Peter Mackenzie, now Assistant Chief Crown Prosecutor. On October 18, 2017, the Investigator for the Office of the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner sent me his report dismissing my complaint and agreeing with the Alberta Justice that they had in fact conducted an adequate search for the ‘legal authorities paper’. Didn’t anyone at Alberta Justice read their answer to my FOIP request they sent to me on July 28, 2017? (see Item C above).
- Alberta Justice already admitted on July 28, 2017 (in item C above) that they had a copy of the ‘legal authorities paper’ I requested but refused to give me a copy because they claimed it was ‘privileged information’. However, during the fall of 2017 Justice officials had somehow convinced themselves and the Investigator with the Alberta Office of the Information Commissioner that they couldn’t find said paper when I had requested it previously. Consequently, on October 24, 2017 I filed this Request for Inquiry with the Alberta Office of the Information Commissioner On December 7, 2017, the Alberta Office of the Information Commissioner wrote advising that the anticipated date for the completion of the Commissioner’s review is now September 5, 2018.
- Only July 7, 2017, I filed an Access to Information request with the Federal Justice Department asking for a copy of the ‘briefing note’ and ‘talking points’ prepared for the Minister of Justice with respect to a “Report on High River incident’. On September 7, 2017 I received a response from the Department of Justice advising that the four pages of relevant to my request were ‘exempt from release by virtue of sections 23 [solicitor-client privilege information] of the Access to Information Act.’ On October 8, 2017, I filed this complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada.
- Meanwhile, back at RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa they have been thwarting all my attempts since August 2014 to get a copy of the ‘legal authorities paper’ referred to above. Interesting to note that not once did the RCMP use the exemption ‘solicitor-client privilege’ as their colleagues in the Department of Justice did. On September 14, 2017, I wrote this letter of complaint to the federal Information Commissioner.
Although Public Safety Minister Goodale hasn’t answered my High River letters to him since his appointment, he obviously knows that Charter rights of High River residents were violated following the 2013 flood because he did not allow the RCMP to repeat the mistakes they made to berepeated when Fort McMurray was evacuated during the fire in 2016. Here is what the Minister said on May 8, 2016:
- Minister Goodale: “The RCMP have been conducting a door-to-door inventory in Fort McMurray quite literally going to every doorstep to simply check on the state of the property and so forth and they expect to have that inventory completed by probably the end of the day today.”
- The media then asked: “Minister, the RCMP, during the floods in Calgary and High River the RCMP… there was some controversy over doing that inventory, the gun grab, that kind of thing. Are there any safeguards in place to, you know, allay the concerns of any residents of Fort McMurray who might be worried about the same thing [happening here]?”
- Goodale: “I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that problem.”
- Media: “Why?”
- Goodale: “Because the RCMP will be following the law very closely and they will be making sure that, uh, that all of people, that everyone’s individual rights will be properly respected.”
What good can come from keeping these records secret?
Trust cannot be restored among High River residents by keeping the truth from them using exemptions in Access to Information and Freedom of Information Acts. Trust cannot be restored without telling High River residents why our Charter of Rights and Freedoms did not protect them from this egregious violation of their right to privacy and their right not to have their homes entered without lawful excuse or authority followed by the unlawful search of their homes and unwarranted seizure of private property from a number of those homes. No good can come from continuing to hide these records from the people of High River.
Release the records or call a judicial inquiry!
If you think that a judicial inquiry is the only way to bring an end to this four and a half year coverup of the rights violations in High River, please consider joining the other 1,836 persons supporting my petition on Change.org.
THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS IN CANADA EXPLAINED
John Robson is a documentary film-maker, a columnist with the National Post, commentator-at-large for News Talk Radio 580 CFRA in Ottawa and an Invited Professor at the University of Ottawa. He holds a Ph.D in American history from the University of Texas at Austin.
John’s work is all crowd-funded and anyone wishing to support it should visit johnrobson.ca and click the “Yes, I’ll help!” button and make a monthly or one-time pledge.
Rights and Freedoms Bulletin No. 209