TORONTO -- Canadians were stunned yesterday over the slayings of four Mounties during a raid on a marijuana farm in a rural western hamlet, the deadliest attack on Canadian police officers in 120 years.
Flags were flying at half-staff in a nation that prides itself on far fewer acts of gun violence than the United States.
''Canadians are shocked by this brutality and join me in condemning the violent acts that brought about these deaths," Prime Minister Paul Martin said. He called for a moment of silence before opening his Liberal Party's annual conference yesterday.
The four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers had been investigating a farm in Mayerthorpe, a hamlet of some 1,300 people in western Alberta province.
Corporal Wayne Oakes said the bodies of the Mounties and the suspected gunman were found in a Quonset hut on the farm late Thursday. A government source told The Canadian Press the suspect killed himself after shooting the officers.
''The loss of four police officers is unprecedented in recent history," said Bill Sweeney, commanding officer of the Mounties in Alberta. ''I'm told you have to go back to about 1885 . . . during the Northwest Rebellion to have a loss of this magnitude."
The Northwest Rebellion was an unsuccessful attempt by indigenous rebels to establish an independent nation in the northwestern frontier.
The suspect was identified by police as 46-year-old James Roszko. Authorities said he had a long criminal record, including the use of illegal firearms and sexual assault.
Oakes said the Mounties were investigating reports of stolen property and marijuana on Roszko's property, and authorities said they did find a marijuana-growing operation in progress. They were armed only with handguns, officials said.
Some have asked why the officers did not have better backup and how all four could have been killed by a single gunman.
The officers were identified as Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon, Lionide Johnston, and Brock Myrol.
Sergeant Rick Oncescu said two SWAT teams were called into the area and Mounties from surrounding jurisdictions also responded when the four officers did not respond to radio calls Thursday afternoon.
A woman played ''Amazing Grace" on bagpipes as children laid flowers yesterday at the flagpole in front of the RCMP headquarters in Mayerthorpe.
''This is something that happens in Hollywood, but it never happens here," Albert Schalm, the town's mayor, told CBC-TV. ''I think it will change the community. It will just make everybody more aware that there are drug problems, even out here in rural Canada."