There stood the veteran Mountie on the side of an Alberta highway, while a sex offender and 10-year-old kidnapping victim sat, calmly, in a Dodge Caravan parked in front of him.
The van had been speeding slightly (allegedly away from a mall where the girl was nabbed an hour or so earlier) when the officer pulled it over - a potential lucky break for police who would soon have been searching for the missing girl.
But it was nearly an opportunity missed _ and the RCMP is now investigating whether the officer could have even accessed the man's criminal history.
To issue a ticket, which he did, the officer would have to run the licence plate number. The RCMP computer would spit out a lot of information - the van's make and model, whether the car was ever stolen and the owner's basic information, RCMP say.
If there was any cause for suspicion _ and there were few, if any, because the frightened girl stayed quiet _ the officer could run another search, call or radio his dispatcher to pull the criminal history of the owner, according to the RCMP.
The in-car police search engine, however, isn't perfect. It produces a list of criminal records for similar names and ages, in case information was slightly off.
If the computer was used and if the officer had sifted through those results during the traffic stop near Airdrie, Alta., on Thursday evening, he may have noticed a sex-crime conviction for the van's alleged driver. At least one other province, Ontario, uses software that would instead pop up an obvious warning for a serious offender.
The computer or dispatcher should have revealed the same criminal history that prompted the RCMP to issue a warning four months earlier about the driver, who had had sex with girls and women aging from age 10 to 42. The RCMP at the time called the man a potential public threat.
But that information apparently didn't come to the officer's attention _ either he didn't seek it out during the routine stop, or it wasn't available. The officer, whose name hasn't been made public, wrote a ticket and sent the driver on his way.
"The information of the suspect was on the police information system, but we don't know if the member had that information at the time," said Sergeant Tim Taniguchi, a spokesman for the RCMP in Alberta.
Critics say the check should be automatic.
"This was a minimum job. He did the minimum amount of work, didn't take it to the next level," said Bill Pitt, a criminologist at Edmonton's MacEwan University, who made his comment based on the assumption that the officer had the record available to him.
"If he had, the [record]would have been there. And [the ordeal]would have ended right there."
Fortunately, the case ended well - the "spooked" man took his speeding ticket, turned a corner and dumped the girl at a nearby McDonald's, police say.
By the time police were called to the restaurant, the girl's father was still searching for her at the Calgary mall, 20 kilometres away.
Police credit the officer's actions, even as they investigate.
"I think it's fair to say this [officer]went a long way to protecting the safety of this victim, just by spooking him, by stopping him and causing the offender or suspect to rethink what he was or wasn't going to do," Airdrie RCMP spokesman Robert Frizzell said.
Nevertheless, police have been inundated with questions as to why the record didn't pop up for the traffic officer, who has two decades of experience with the police.
"That's going to go in the same grey area of the ongoing review," Constable Frizzell said.
According to police, the ordeal began about 6:30 p.m. at Calgary's Deerfoot Mall. The girl was shopping with her father when she got separated. A man pretending to be an officer said she was caught shoplifting, and told her to follow him.
She momentarily obliged, before questioning the man, police said. He then grabbed her and carried her to a vehicle.
After being found at the restaurant, she was taken to a children's hospital for an examination. Police don't believe she was seriously assaulted.
"That's the exciting part about this story - she's a very brave little girl who is doing very well," said Inspector Grant Miller, head of the Calgary Police Major Crimes Unit, which is investigating the abduction case (though the traffic stop happened on RCMP turf).
Calgary Police issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant for 43-year-old John Francis Dionne. Late Friday night, they announced he had been arrested and charged with kidnapping, child abduction, assault, robbery and impersonating a police officer.