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 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 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, 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 David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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