Four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers were shot and killed during a raid on a marijuana-growing operation in rural Alberta on Thursday, in one of the bloodiest days in the history of the national police force, a senior official said.
A suspect in the shootout that erupted inside a large farm building that police were investigating also died when he turned his rifle on himself, said Bill Sweeney, commanding officer of the RCMP in Alberta.
“The loss of four officers is unprecedented in recent history in Canada. I’m told you have to go back to about 1885 in the RCMP history during the Northwest Rebellion to have a loss of this magnitude,” Sweeney told reporters in the town of Mayerthorpe, about 90 miles northwest of Edmonton.
The Mounties’ names were not released. They were described as junior members of the force that has long been one of Canada’s most famous national symbols.
In the late morning, the officers, armed with handguns, entered a large metal hut as part of a stakeout that began the night before when they came under fire from what police said was a man armed with a rifle.
In response, the force called in its SWAT team and major crime units and closed the airspace over the area. It requested the Edmonton city police department helicopter as well as armored personnel vehicles from Edmonton’s armed forces base.
In mid-afternoon, police surrounding and stormed the building only to find the bodies of the officers and the suspect, Cpl. Wayne Oakes said.
The suspect may have entered to find the officers inside, then opened fire, Oakes said.
Police have been cracking down on illicit marijuana “grow-ops” that have sprung up across Alberta. Many of the operations targeted by the so-called police “Green Teams” are said to be connected with organized crime.
“The issue of grow-ops is not a ma-and-pa industry as we’ve been seeing for a number of years. These are major serious threats to our society and they are major serious threats to the men and women on the front line who have to deal with them,” RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli said in Ottawa.
The federal government has angered police organizations and U.S. officials by planning to introduce legislation that would decriminalize marijuana possession.
It has been 120 years, during the long rebellion by Metis and Indians in western Canada, since so many national police officers have been shot and killed.
In 1963, four were killed in a plane crash in Yukon. In 1958, five died when their boat sank in Ontario.
In a statement, Prime Minister Paul Martin said: “Canadians are shocked by this brutality, and join me in condemning the violent acts that brought about these deaths.”