"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 has called for a moment of silence before opening his Liberal party's annual conference later Friday.
The four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers had been investigating a farm near the village of Rochfort Bridge in northwestern Alberta when they were shot, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes said. The four and the suspected gunman were found in a Quonset hut late Thursday, Oakes said.
A government source told The Canadian Press the suspect killed himself after shooting the officers. State-run CBC-TV identified the gunman as 46-year-old James Roszko and said he had a long rap sheet, including the use of illegal firearms and sexual assault.
"It's my sad duty to inform you that four members of the RCMP were killed today in the line of duty - four brave, young members," said Bill Sweeney, commanding officer of the Mounties in Alberta.
"The loss of four police officers is unprecedented in recent history," Sweeney said. "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."
The Northwest Rebellion was an unsuccessful attempt by indigenous rebels to establish an independent nation in the northwestern frontier.
One of the four officers killed Thursday was a young constable who had been on the job for only two weeks, Canadian Press reported. Another was a 33-year-old ace marksman who entered the service with his twin brother.
Police have not officially released the names of the officers but family members confirmed that 29-year-old rookie Constables Brock Myrol and Leo Johnston were among the dead.
David Myrol, an Edmonton lawyer, said his cousin Brock was part of a close-knit family, which is devastated by his death.
"We'll be asking questions about what happened," he told the National Post newspaper. "There's no doubt."
The officers were armed only with handguns. Some have asked why the officers didn't have better backup and how all four could have been killed by a single gunman.
Sgt. Rick Oncescu of the Calgary RCMP said two SWAT teams were called into the area and Mounties from surrounding jurisdictions also responded when the four officers didn't respond to radio calls Thursday afternoon.
Maj. Scott Lundy, a spokesman for Edmonton Garrison, said the military received a request from the RCMP for assistance early in the afternoon. He said two armored personnel carriers, an ambulance and about 20 military personnel were dispatched from the military base.
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said she would consider tougher penalties for growers in a proposed marijuana decriminalization bill. The Liberal Party is preparing to debate a resolution that asserts legalizing pot would curb drug dealers and organized crime.
By Beth Duff-Brown