LSA presents Alberta's Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis

Talk by Honorable Jonathan Denis, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General: 2013 High River Flood, Police oversight and the law surrounding firearms

11 March 2015

The University of Alberta, Faculty of Law, was privileged to have the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Honorable Jonathan Denis, speak about the 2013 High River floods, and the considerable amount of coverage that surrounded it. The Law Students Association would like to thank the Minister for taking the time to speak to students at the faculty of law about this topical and controversial issue.

According to the Minister, the attention surrounding firearms began on Dec 7, 1995, when Bill C-68 became law. Fast forward to June 20 2013, when the Town of High River began to flood. By the afternoon of June 20th a mandatory evaluation was ordered, and by June 21st flooding had extended even further. There were 600 air rescues by the afternoon, and the RCMP evacuated 28 people. At the peak of the disaster 65 people were missing. It ended up being the most costly disaster in Canadian history. The Minister acknowledged the first responders and RCMP for doing an outstanding job in ensuring the safety of all persons.

4,666 homes and businesses were searched, 754 of which required forced entry. In total, 609 firearms were removed from homes. Since that time, any damage done by the forced entry has been repaired, and all firearms have been returned to their rightful owners (save for those situations where the owner did not want the firearm). Section 248 of the Criminal Code permits the RCMP to seize firearms in plain view, and requires that the seizures are reported to a justice. Firearms are also regulated by the Alberta Emergency Management Act. In addition, the RCMP has a common law duty to protect and preserve life.

After hearing of the firearms seizure, the Minister wrote a letter of inquiry with 3 particular questions - 1) whether the firearms were being stored or if they were confiscated or seized, 2) if there is a plan to communicate for the public, and 3) if there is a process for proof of ownership of the firearms.

Following the flood, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP began an investigation of the incident, and an interim report was released on February, 12 2015 (available at The Minister outlined some of the major findings including:

  • While the Criminal Code permits the RCMP to seize firearms in plain view, they did not report the seizures to a justice and therefore failed to comply with the legal requirements

  • Note keeping during the disaster was scant and inefficient

  • The RCMP was not given particular direction by the government on how buildings were to be entered

  • There was not a strong communications strategy implemented, resulting in ineffective operations

There were also several recommendations including implementation of a standardized emergency response including a communications plan and note taking guidelines.

The Minister also dispelled the allegation that leftover data from the now-abolished long gun registry was used to determine which homes contained firearms. In addition, he addressed some of the upcoming legislative changes, including major reforms to provincial court civil division such as increasing the limit up to $100,000, and more importantly allowing summary trials to increase access to justice. The Minister's entire talk is available online (