Editorials

June 29, 2013
Water, Water Everywhere and Not A Civil Right Left Unviolated

The water is receding in Southern Alberta and most displaced residents are going back to the cleanup. Not the people in High River. Much of their community is sitting in standing water, many homes will never be habitable again and the frustration levels are extreme.
There’s a difference between High River and other areas that explains the residents’ attitudes. In Calgary, for example, Mayor Naheed Nenshi gave detailed, practical and useful updates of the developing situation, including reasons for actions being taken. In Medicine Hat, Mayor Norm Boucher shut up and let the extremely able Ron Robinson tell us what was happening, why areas were being evacuated and what he expected to happen.
Everything wasn’t perfect, of course. For example, volunteer coordination was lacking so a lot of volunteers had to find their own opportunities to help, which they did; and the flood information phone number was not updated, seemingly stuck on the message that the city wouldn’t be providing sand bags (good topic for the “lessons learned” meeting, I’m thinking). Overall, though, we had the benefit of a well-trained, hard-working and efficient civil service helping us. (All you people who resent the civil service and want to get rid of it, take note.)
And all without too many of the usual platitudes like “We can all get through this if we pull together”, blah, blah, blah. Cheerleading is OK if it’s accompanied by information.
This didn’t happen in High River. Authorities there didn’t give evacuees the details and reasoning for decisions made as the disaster wore on, instead opting to denigrate those who stayed in the community to protect their homes. The authorities also chose to stick with vague generalities about public safety, ‘optimal use of resources’ and the ‘be patient’ bromides, all the while preventing people from returning, even for a few minutes, to their homes to collect needed medications, pets, clothes and personal items.
Compounding the mess was the continued instability of the roads and other infrastructure. Once the water started to subside, rather than repair a few specific routes so that people could visit their property–even if they couldn’t stay in it anymore–the powers that be in High River chose, and are still choosing, to keep everyone out–with spike belts, no less–and, mostly, in the dark.
Bad situation. Bad feeling. Badly handled.
It gets worse.
Turns out that, in the course of breaking down doors with the excuse of looking for non-compliant evacuees, the RCMP has also been confiscating people’s guns, making sure that no situation will ever be out of the control of the authorities, whatever they deem to be ‘situation’ and ‘control’. The police say that if people can prove they own their guns, they can have them back.
Whoa! Interesting take on property rights by the RCMP: They break into your house, take your stuff, even if you’ve complied with the law regarding ownership and storage—sounds a lot like stealing, actually—and the onus is on YOU to prove it’s yours in order to get it back?? This doesn’t bode well for the rest of us.
If the police were hoping to diffuse the potential for the situation to become violent, they’ve over-stepped and over-reacted. No one but the RCMP was getting anywhere near those guns. Remember the spike belts?!
They’re also wrong. Because, in addition to ramping up the frustrations of tired and shocked people, the RCMP are now in the indefensible position of having stolen from homeless disaster victims. Like the RCMP hasn’t got enough on its PR plate, what with tasering people to death and perjuring themselves about it, sexually harassing hundreds of female members, ignoring suspicious pig farms and disappearing women for years, and whitewashing self-investigations.
Now, they’re treating a whole group of people like criminals-in-waiting, using the state of emergency to violate rights to privacy and property, and to search without probable cause.
The people of High River should sue the stripes off the RCMP. They won’t win, but they shouldn’t have to take this lying down.


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