07/05/2013 04:55 EDT | Updated 09/04/2013 05:12 EDT

RCMP seizure of High River guns sparks probe

The head of the commission for public complaints against the RCMP says a probe has been launched after Mounties seized guns from evacuated homes in the aftermath of flooding in High River, Alta.

Ian McPhail, the interim chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, announced the "public interest" probe on Friday.

"Given the concerns expressed by some members of the public and the ensuing media coverage of RCMP actions in High River, the commission will examine whether the members' actions complied with all appropriate policies, procedures, guidelines and statutory requirements," the independent agency said in a release.

RCMP said they went door-to-door in sections of High River that had been evacuated due to the catastrophic flooding that hit southern Alberta in late June. Police said they were searching for victims of the flooding, but they also took firearms they said had been left in homes.

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RCMP officials said at the time that hundreds of weapons that had been left out in plain view and not secure had been taken to the High River detachment.

"It's no different than Slave Lake, to seize firearms or to secure firearms that are in plain view," RCMP Insp. Garrett Woolsey, said on June 28, referring to the Alberta community swept by fire in 2011.

The police action prompted a demand from the Prime Minister's Office that the RCMP give the firearms back to their owners as soon as possible.

A gun owners' group, the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, was sharply critical of the RCMP's actions, calling it proof of a "not-so-hidden agenda" to take guns away from responsible gun owners.

The RCMP said on June 29 that they had begun returning the firearms to High River residents as they were allowed back into their homes.

Earlier in the day, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson requested that McPhail consider a "chair-initiated complaint." That, Paulson wrote, would allow the complaints commission to investigate RCMP actions in High River, “to assess if they were well founded, reasonably executed and in accordance with our policies.”

In his Friday letter, Paulson said he is proud of the RCMP’s community response to the terrible flooding in High River.

"I am quite concerned by the sharp criticism that has arisen in the media with respect to the gun seizures from evacuated homes," Paulson wrote.

"Naturally this is quite troubling to me, and I am sure to you, as indeed it must be to many Canadians, who wonder what was going on in High River."

Paulson said he is committed to co-operating with investigators.