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The town flooded, and the police came in, evacuated the population … and then confiscated the residents’ guns out of their empty houses.
The residents of High River, Alberta, population nearly 13,000, are still awaiting authorities’ permission to return to their homes. Dozens have been engaged in a standoff with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at a checkpoint at the edge of town since floodwaters prompted a forced evacuation last week.
Several news sources report tensions are high since news broke police have also been gathering residents’ firearms.
“I find that absolutely incredible that they have the right to go into a person’s belongings out of their home,” resident Brenda Lackey told the Calgary Herald. “When people find out about this, there’s going to be untold hell to pay.”
“This is the reason the U.S. has the right to bear arms,” said Charles Timpano at the checkpoint, where he and others have gathered to demand reentry into High River.
Video of the standoff can be seen below:
The police, thus far, insist the gun confiscation is only for the citizens' safety and that the firearms will be returned.
"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. Brian Topham told the Herald. "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."
Alberta Premier Alison Redford defended the action: "I think what we need to understand is these are exceptional circumstances. … In an emergency situation we need to have our police ensuring there is law and order."
The RCMP further released a written statement explaining owners wouldn't want their firearms to "fall into the wrong hands" during the evacuation and pledging to return guns to owners "as soon as practically possible."
The statement said the guns were found "in plain view" during search and rescue operations, a potential problem for some of the owners, since Canadian law requires handguns to be stored in locked vaults or containers. Other guns in storage require trigger locks or other disabling measures.
Yet Solicitor General Jonathan Denis has suggested the owners aren't likely to face prosecution.
"My personal view is we have to consider the context we're dealing with," Denis said in an interview Friday. "I wouldn't be surprised people took guns out of their lockers so they wouldn't get flooded."
He added, "I will work with the RCMP to ensure there's an orderly return of property."
Sgt. Topham told the Herald the confiscated guns have been inventoried and are secured at an RCMP detachment. He would not specify how many firearms had been confiscated, only that "a large quantity" had been taken because they were "left by residents in their places."
The guns will be returned to owners after residents are allowed back in town and they provide proof of ownership, Topham added.
CBC News reports local officials have announced some residents will be allowed to return to their homes on Saturday.