On Friday, August 24, 2007, I had an experience with a few members of the Dawson Creek detachment of the RCMP that I believe the public should be aware of. It had to do with their incorrect knowledge of the laws regarding the transportation of unrestricted firearms (hunting rifles) and the potential illegal treatment of legitimate law abiding citizens who legally use and own firearms. I have reason to believe that others who are not thoroughly familiar with the appropriate legislation may have been unfairly charged and may have lost their personal property and need to be aware of that.
To set the scene, Jim Kassen and I were heading from Jim’s residence east of Pouce Coupe to hunt moose for the afternoon and evening off the Wangler Road approximately 40 miles west of Dawson Creek. Our plan was to go hunting as soon as we finished some business in town. (We both had a valid hunting licence and a valid Moose Species Licence.) I am retired after some 32 years with the federal government, most of which were in management, and Jim Kassen is the recently retired President of Northern Lights College. While completing our business in town, we were pulled over by two RCMP constables in a cruiser with lights flashing. Jim had inadvertently driven straight ahead on 103rd Ave from the left hand turn lane in front of the Co-op during the very busy pre-noon traffic rush which was exacerbated by the closure of the traffic circle. As soon as Jim saw the lights of the police cruiser in the rear view mirror, he pulled into the first available parking spot while the cruiser pulled in behind. The cruiser blocked Jim’s truck as well as blocked west bound traffic flow on 103rd which was extremely busy. Jim got out of his truck but was ordered back into his vehicle by one of the constables who approached the driver’s side window and advised Jim of the reasons for the pull over, i.e., he didn’t turn left from the left turn only lane. The constable then noticed that there were two hunting rifles (non-restricted firearms) between the passenger and driver’s seats. Both rifles were unloaded with the actions open and the officer could clearly see this. Her manner changed immediately, she ordered Jim out of and to the back of his truck while I remained in the passenger seat with my seat belt on. The constable inspected both rifles asking where the locking mechanisms were and I advised that they were not required as both Jim and I had valid Possession and Acquisition Licences (PAL) and at least one of us was in the vehicle at all times. She then proceeded to take the firearms from the vehicle. At that point I asked what she was doing. She advised that she was seizing the firearms as they were not properly locked up for transportation and that Jim and I would be charged under the criminal code for not meeting safe transportation requirements. At this point I introduced myself advising that I was a federally certified Master Firearms Instructor fully knowledgeable in the legislation and regulations regarding the transport, storage and use of all firearms. I explained that our two non-restricted firearms met all legal requirements for transportation in an attended vehicle and that if she took the firearms it would be and is in fact theft of private property that was being transported legally. Furthermore to take the firearms without a lawful reason was an abuse of her authority.
In order to meet all legal requirements for transportation of non-restricted firearms in this case:
1. The firearms must be unloaded – both of our firearms were unloaded and as additional safety features, but not required by law,
a) the actions were open so any third party who knew anything about firearms could see they were unloaded and not in the battery or ready-to-fire position.
b) the firearms were kept below the dash and out of view so anyone walking or driving by would not be alarmed. The firearms could only be seen if someone came up to the vehicle and looked down. This, by the way, is a common method for local firearms owners and hunters to transport their firearms.
2. The vehicle must be attended by at least one individual who has a valid PAL or POL – in our case both of us had valid PALs and were in attendance. If we left the vehicle which was a pick-up truck, the firearms would have to be placed out of sight and the area they are in must be locked (for example covering the firearms with a blanket or jacket and locking the cab of the pick-up.) It is not a legal requirement that a non-restricted firearm be disabled by a locking mechanism while it is being transported.
3. The firearms should be registered even though the time frame legally requiring registration of non-restricted firearms has been extended by the current government until May, 2008. – Regardless both our firearms were registered.
The constable stated that she knew the firearms laws and had several charges pending for firearms offences of the same nature. Neither Jim nor I offered any resistance with the exception of my request that she return the firearms to us, that we did not authorize her to take them, and that the firearms met all legal requirements for transportation. Regardless, she took both firearms to her vehicle. She verified the firearms registration, our PALs, our driver’s licenses along with the fact that both Jim and I had no criminal record (either serious or misdemeanor) and had been law abiding our whole lives. After confirming this she also called a back up squad car even though there were two constables present and we were following all direction given and were not involved in any illegal activity. While this was occurring, traffic was delayed on 103rd and the general public had to assume there was a major police take down of what must be a couple of dangerous criminals. Meanwhile I remained in the passenger seat of the truck with my seat belt on.
After the back-up car arrived, the constable came back to our vehicle and advised Jim she was letting him go on the traffic violation but would not release the firearms because she was charging us with unsafe transportation under the criminal code and that her immediate superior had confirmed the charge. I again advised she was incorrect and that the firearms must be returned. At this time I removed my seat belt and went over to her and the other two constables and advised her once more that she was mistaken and that she should return our firearms. She asked for proof of the legislation and regulations which I had at my home in Vernon but not with me. I suggested that we go to her office and pull up the Canadian Firearms web site which was set up and is maintained by the RCMP. I advised that the legislation and regulations are accessible there. While she seemed to be unaware of this site she agreed to try this.
Jim and I drove to the RCMP station where we were confronted by the seizing constable’s immediate supervisor who proceeded to berate us for telling his constable that she was wrong and abusing her authority. He also reiterated that we would not get our firearms back and that we would be charged under Section 87 of the Criminal Code of Canada. I again stated my experience and background as well as certification and that we had done nothing wrong and wanted our firearms returned. I also asked to bring up the RCMP’s Canadian Firearm’s website. He refused, dismissed us, and was closing the reception window when I requested a meeting with his superior.
10 minutes later I was ushered in alone (Jim was directed to remain in the reception area) to meet with the Senior Officer in Charge who’s first position, based on information from his subordinates, was that we were going to be charged. However, he was open to my describing the circumstances of the firearms and the legal requirements for transportation. He also had a brochure in his possession from the RCMP’s Firearms Centre which identified the transportation requirements for both restricted and non-restricted firearms – the Dawson Creek detachment in error was applying the restricted requirements to non-restricted firearms. Restricted firearms (handguns etc.) must meet a much higher level of security for their transportation such as disabling by a locking mechanism and be in a locked opaque case, not to mention additional paper work requirements. With the brochure in his possession as well as confirmation from the police help line it was confirmed that I was right and that neither Jim nor I had done anything illegal regarding the transportation of our firearms. The Senior Officer in Charge advised that our firearms would be immediately released and he apologized for the mix-up. I went out to the reception area and waited with Jim for the return of our firearms. I felt we all learned something: – justice can be obtained by standing your ground, persevering, and being assertive when your rights have been violated; the Dawson Creek RCMP now have a clearer understanding of what constitutes safe transportation and law abiding citizens will have nothing to fear; and most importantly, a senior member of the force have proven that he was open to protecting the rights of honest law abiding citizens – after all we are human and errors do occur.
Everything had been resolved and the matter was finished to everyone’s satisfaction or so I thought. The supervisor brought our firearms out to us and I thanked him. You can imagine my shock when he bluntly stated to Jim and I that we would have been treated a lot worse than we were had he been present at the time our firearms where confiscated. Apparently in his mind citizens are not allowed to advise RCMP or object when their rights are being violated and/or the RCMP actions are wrong or illegal, and anyone who questions them will be treated severely. This belief is so ingrained that he made the statement to Jim and me together in the RCMP reception area which has a security camera that monitors and records. At the end of the day, nothing was learned and nothing was gained! I am gravely concerned that this kind of behavior and treatment of honest citizens will continue if these attitudes are not addressed.
What occurred was wrong on so many levels:
The role of the RCMP is to enforce the laws of the land, not to create their own laws. If they don’t know the firearms laws that have been in place for 15 years and slightly updated 9 years ago in a community with a significant number of firearms owners and hunters, what other laws are they ignoring or applying inappropriately or illegally?
- This is an area that attracts hunters from all over the province as well as all over the world. The activities of firearms owners and hunters contribute substantially to the local economy. Mistreatment, false charges and harassment will all have a negative affect. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for citizens in a court of law and therefore should not be an excuse for the RCMP. It’s a fine line between being ignorant and acting ignorantly – in this case the seizing constable and immediate supervisor crossed the line which leads me to believe that this occurs as a matter of habit, not as a very rare or once in a life-time situation.
- By the constable’s own statement she has seized firearms from several other owners for the same reasons. Many people do not have the knowledge, the will or the communication skills to defend themselves and may have lost or will lose their property even though they have done nothing wrong. In our case the replacement value of the 2 firearms is approximately $3,000.00.
- When did it become illegal for a law abiding citizen to advise the RCMP that they are wrong and that their actions are wrong? When pointing out an error, omission, illegal action, etc. why should honest law abiding citizens be openly intimidated? At the time of the threat the supervising officer had admitted that a mistake in interpretation had occurred, been ordered to return the firearms, but at the last moment added his intimidating comment.
- At least 7 to 8 person hours of RCMP time and equipment was spent trying to prove that Jim and I had done something wrong instead of simply applying the law as it stands. A simple look at the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms website, either the “legislation and regulation” section or “brochure” section would have provided concrete proof of Jim and my innocence (a 5 to 10 minute exercise at most). Surely this time could have been better spent on highway patrol or investigating criminal activities such as break-ins or drug gang activity. But then of course law abiding citizens, especially seniors who can’t move very fast, are much easier targets.
- How can the RCMP earn and maintain respect when they treat two retired seniors the way they did even though we posed no threat and were involved in no illegal activity? If they can treat us the way they did, I believe this can happen to anyone and probably has happened many times to law abiding citizens in the Dawson Creek area. What right does the RCMP have to treat two retired seniors as criminals in an active public place (seizing their firearms, calling for back-up, impeding traffic) when they have done nothing wrong or illegal with their firearms. Our only fault was to state our innocence and to advise the RCMP officer that her actions and information were wrong. I was raised to respect the RCMP, and I call many active and retired members friends. When I conduct a course (CORE or Firearms Safety) I always stress respect for enforcement as they have a legitimate job to do. At this stage I can only say that my respect for the RCMP was severely shaken on the 24th of August, 2007 and it is only people like the Senior Officer in Charge that allow me to believe there is still some hope.
I wrote this letter hoping that it will be a catalyst that prevents others from being treated as we were, or at the very least residents of Dawson Creek will be better prepared to defend themselves when dealing with the institution that is responsible to protect law abiding citizens.
J.C. (Jim) Parfrey
7044 Nakiska Drive
Vernon, B.C. V1B 3M5
Telephone: (250) 275-6316
Cell: (250) 306-9460
It is in your best interests to learn what the transportation rules are. Read the info sheet on the Canadian Firearms Centre website. It was suggested in a comment to the previous posting on this incident that you carry a copy of this info in your vehicle at all times. Not a bad idea.