Independent office disputes RCMP’s version of fatal Buehler shoot-out

Damage to a bridge at Windfall Creek, down the West Canoe Forest Service Road along Kinbasket Reservoir. The intentional damage, by chainsaw and fire, left the road impassable after a shoot out with the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team in September.
Damage to a bridge at Windfall Creek, down the West Canoe Forest Service Road along Kinbasket Reservoir. The intentional damage, by chainsaw and fire, left the road impassable after a shoot out with the RCMP’s Emergency Response Team in September.

by KORIE MARSHALL

A new report calls into question the “shoot out” that took the life of John Buehler and injured his daughter over 19 months ago on the west side of Kinbasket Reservoir.

According to a news release on Sept. 17th, 2014, the Independent Investigations Office received a report from RCMP that Emergency Response Team members had been involved in “an exchange of gunfire” between police officers and an adult male. The release said two adults sustained gunshot injuries; one man died at the scene, and one woman was receiving medical attention.

The RCMP has never made a public report about the incident, though at the time, the Vancouver Sun reported that RCMP Insp. Ed Boettcher said police were maintaining a stakeout of a cabin on Kinbasket Reservoir after receiving a complaint two people were living there illegally. When some officers came to relieve their colleagues on the watch, the man and woman spotted them and the man fired shots. Boettcher said police returned fire and the man was killed while the woman was injured and taken to hospital.

On Friday, April 22nd, The IIO announced it was referring the case to Crown counsel, saying their investigation “identified no independent evidence to suggest the exchange of gunfire took place.”

The IIO is the province’s watchdog for RCMP, and is called whenever police are involved in an incident involving death or serious harm. The IIO either makes a public report, or makes a report to Crown counsel. The latter occurs when the Chief Civilian Director of the IIO considers that an officer may have committed an offence.

The latest news release stresses that the IIO does not make a recommendation on whether charges should be approved, or what charges Crown counsel should consider. In order to approve charges, the Criminal Justice Branch “must be satisfied that an offence may have been committed, and that the commission of an offence can be proven in a court beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The IIO says that under these circumstances, no public report will be issued and no further information will be provided by them to the public.

John Buehler was known to be squatting in a local family’s trapping cabin in a remote area of the Canoe Valley, about 50 kilometers south of Valemount, in September 2014. Local RCMP confirmed in mid-September that they were actively looking for Buehler after he didn’t show up in court on Sept. 4th.

Buehler was facing charges stemming from a stand-off with RCMP on June 19th, 2014, after police received complaints that someone was using six aggressive German Shepherds to block access to recreational trails. That stand-off ended peacefully, and the dogs were temporarily seized, but later released to Buehler. Firearms were also seized, as well as food and other supplies that had been stored in the local trail association’s equipment shed.

When he didn’t show up for court on Sept. 4th, Crown prosecutor Geoff McDonald told Judge S. Keys he was sending RCMP to see if Buehler was stuck down the West Canoe Forest Service Road, as he may have been trapped by a recent washout at the 10 km bridge. McDonald confirmed to the court at the end of the day that police had been able to reach the spot where Buehler had been camping, and his daughter’s vehicle was there but Buehler was not, so the judge issued a warrant.

An armoured police vehicle, an unusual sight in Valemount, and a police helicopter were in the Valemount area for a few days before the shooting. A hunter in the area at the time told the Goat his group received an armed guard to dismantle and evacuate their camp at the Saddle Lakes area. He told the Goat there were at least 50 cops, “armed to the teeth” and a procession of about 20 RCMP vehicles, including horse trailers and ambulances heading down the west side road.

Earlier this month, Buehler’s daughter Shanna pleaded not guilty in Valemount Court to seven charges including threatening to use a weapon, pointing a firearm, unauthorized possession of a firearm, and break and enter. The charges stem from the day she and her father were shot. Earlier charges sworn against Shanna in September 2014 have been dropped by the Crown.

Shanna has elected trial by judge and jury, and a preliminary inquiry will be held in Valemount. If approved, the trial will be held in BC Supreme Court, which sits in Prince George.

The IIO was set up in 2012, and the goals set up for the organization by the Chief Civilian Director are to conduct competent, thorough and unbiased investigations; to complete the investigations in a timely manner; and to ensure transparency through public reporting.