February 5, 2001 Issue Full Text
The mysterious Mr. Frohike

B.C. gun owners are threatened by a federal official abusing confidential information

by Shafer Parker

Former firearms instructor Lowe: His certification was snatched after he criticized the RCMP.

EXPERIENCE has taught Cranbrook, B.C., resident Rick Lowe, 45, that hard knocks should be expected for gun enthusiasts who openly oppose the new Firearms Act. Mr. Lowe has been a certified firearms instructor since March 1994. But his teaching career ended last year after he wrote a couple of letters in late March 2000 to the Cranbrook Daily Townsman calling for an investigation of the local RCMP detachment. Mr. Lowe was inspired to write after police admitted in court they had used false information to obtain a warrant that allowed them to search the home and seize the guns of James Buck from nearby Wardner, B.C.

Mr. Lowe's call for an investigation was based on the decision rendered by Cranbrook provincial court Judge Don Carlgren. After ordering police to return Mr. Buck's guns, the judge stated in court that they had shown a "complete and utter disregard for the niceties of the law and the rights of the accused."

Stung by Judge Carlgren's comments, Cranbrook police issued a report that insisted the officers had "acted in good faith...based on the new Firearms legislation." Then somebody decided Mr. Lowe should be punished. On April 19, A.J. (Tony) Heemskerk, Chief Firearms Officer (CFO) for British Columbia, wrote Mr. Lowe a letter advising that his designations as a Canadian Firearms Safety Course and Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course Instructor in B.C. were being revoked. "You have consistently demonstrated a lack of support for the Firearms Act and have demonstrated an unprofessional attitude towards my office and staff," Mr. Heemskerk wrote.

A former soldier who now serves as an industrial first-aid attendant and builds computers in his spare time, Mr. Lowe was surprised his teaching certificate was revoked by the CFO. "It's upsetting to realize you can be removed as a firearms instructor merely because you've been critical of mistakes made by the local police," he says. He admits that local firearms officer Dennis Johnson may have other reasons to dislike him. Two years ago he led the fight to stop local RCMP officers from illegally charging a fee to renew gun-carry permits. And he successfully challenged Mr. Johnson's initial refusal to register a Basque .380 automatic pistol he had purchased in 1998. Mr. Lowe secured the registration only after offering proof that at least 11 other Canadians had been allowed to register the same weapon in other jurisdictions, and he threatened to take Mr. Johnson to court. "But I can assure you," he says, "that I never criticized the Firearms Act when acting as an instructor."

His last assertion is backed by Cranbrook lawyer Neil Robertson, who wrote a letter to Mr. Heemskerk on Mr. Lowe's behalf shortly after he lost his certification. Mr. Robertson's wife had attended a safety course taught by Mr. Lowe, Mr. Robertson stated, and he had accompanied her to most of the sessions. "I have never heard Mr. Lowe demonstrate a lack of support for the Firearms Act," he wrote, "nor have I heard him display any sort of an unprofessional attitude toward your staff or office...During the course...certain of the attendees expressed strong opposition to many aspects of the Firearms Act." Mr. Lowe was entirely professional in his responses, saying simply that while any citizen is entitled to his views, the Firearms Act is the law of the land and must be obeyed by anyone wanting to legally have and use firearms in this country.

Ten days after Mr. Lowe lost his safety instructor's certification, he received an e-mail from an Albert Frohike that made reference to his teaching certificate revocation, even though the information had not been made public. Mr. Lowe does not know Mr. Frohike, although a person using that name has developed a reputation for frequenting firearms news groups on the Internet and submitting individuals who express opposition to the new Firearms Act to flaming (an all-out verbal attack via e-mail or in a chat room), or mail bombing (submitting a person's name to hundreds of Internet sites so that dozens of useless e-mails flood the person's computer each time they go on line).

Whoever sent the e-mail flames had to have insider knowledge, Mr. Lowe concludes. "The only people who could have known that I lost my teaching certification should have been the CFO, seconded police officers working within the CFO's office in Victoria and, I suppose, local Firearms Officers."

Nothing else happened for several months. But this past October someone mail bombed Mr. Lowe. He then filed a B.C. Privacy Act request to find out what the CFO had in his file. He discovered that a particular RCMP constable, who cannot be named while under investigation, is currently working for the CFO in Victoria and has for years monitored Internet postings by Firearms groups. He also found that Cranbrook firearms officers had corresponded with this constable about his behaviour in particular--even, at one point, sending the Victoria office a copy of a letter to the editor of the Townsman with a notation that it was written by Rick's father, Richard James Lowe.

But most curious of all was the discovery that in an e-mail sent by the RCMP constable to CFO Heemskerk, statements Mr. Lowe had sent only to the mysterious Mr. Frohike were being quoted verbatim. "In my view this pretty much establishes that Albert [Frohike] is the one responsible for these harassing e-mails and fraudulent subscriptions," Mr. Lowe says.

Late last fall Mr. Lowe gave the RCMP the information he had gathered, and the police, in turn, have asked Mr. Heemskerk to investigate the possibility that someone in his office is harassing the public. But until the investigation is finished, says B.C. CFO spokesman Barry Salmon, it would be inappropriate for anyone in the Victoria office to comment. Mr. Salmon insists the CFO is committed to maintaining client confidentiality within the gun-registration system. But he is not sure what will happen if Mr. Heemskerk finds that confidentiality has been breached. "I can only say that it will call for some kind of response," he says.

It should, says Peter Kearns, part owner of Kearns & McMurchy, an Edmonton gun shop that recently went bankrupt. Mr. Kearns, who has also served as vice-president of the National Firearms Association, has himself been a victim of Mr. Frohike's flames and mailbombs. Not only did the mystery e-mailer know Mr. Kearn's driver's licence number and social insurance number, but he knew details about a lawsuit Mr. Kearns has filed in Federal Court against Canada Customs, alleging the illegal seizure of a shipment of guns. And when Mr. Kearn's dealer licence had several clauses revoked last year, Mr. Frohike knew about it days before any official communication was received.

But it was the threats of physical and sexual violence against Mr. Kearn's family that scared him most. Not only did Mr. Frohike declare that his victim would someday "kneel" before him, he boasted that he had visited the gun shop and stood within two feet of his wife. He also told him, Mr. Kearns says, that he "had me in his sights" and that I should therefore "be careful" when starting my "shiny red SUV."

Mr. Kearns believes that Mr. Frohike has had dealings with Alberta CFO George Reid, not only because of his evident knowledge of Mr. Kearn's personal information, but because of the way government lawyers reacted last month when records of any communications between the two men were requested for the upcoming trial. "We had a court date [for the customs lawsuit] for late December," he says. "But when we asked for the correspondence records, the feds cancelled. I don't know when we're going to court."

The treatment he and Mr. Lowe have received should warn the public, Mr. Kearns says. "If what we believe about Frohike is true," he says, "it means that normal Canadians have their access to firearms controlled by someone who can only be described as a low-life psychotic. He is using his position to punish every single offensive remark."

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