Mass shooting investigation: RCMP come under scrutiny for late issuing public warnings

Although police were aware that victims had been killed and an active shooter may still be on the run, the RCMP issued a seemingly innocuous tweet at 11:32 p.m. saying officers were investigating a “complaint of firearms.” fire” – a relatively common event in a rural area. setting.

Additionally, a series of 911 calls and eyewitness accounts had made it clear that the killer was driving a car that looked like an RCMP patrol car. But this information was withheld from the public until the next day, mainly because the gendarmerie could not confirm what they had been told or simply could not believe it, the inquest heard.

According to testimony and documents released by the commission, the RCMP considered issuing a more detailed public warning that night, but never did.

Shortly after midnight, however, RCMP officers received the suspect’s name and photo. And at 1:09 a.m., police across the province were notified of an “ongoing active shooter incident” involving an “armed and dangerous” suspect associated with an “old police cruiser.”

According to the commission’s investigation, the RCMP’s discussions of “media messaging” took on new urgency the next day around 7:30 a.m. when police received a photo of the killer’s replica cruiser and learned that it was full of weapons and could be found anywhere in the province.

At that time, the RCMP Chief Superintendent. Chris Leather got involved in public messaging, according to a recently released evidence summary.

In personal notes he provided to the inquest, Leather confirms he spoke with Lia Scanlan, director of the Nova Scotia RCMP’s Strategic Communications Division at 7:43 a.m.

“Information made public – tweets,” his notes say. “Photo and name – not there yet.”

At 8 a.m., Staff Sgt. Addie MacCallum was asked to talk to Scanlan about writing a press release with photos of the suspect and his car. But there was a one hour delay, which has not yet been explained.

Nearly 10 hours after the shooter killed his first victim, RCMP released their first tweet declaring an “active shooter situation” in Portapique at 8:02 a.m. But the tweet didn’t mention the suspect’s name or anything. either about his getaway car. Moreover, he did not specify that he was on the move.

Relatives of some of the victims argued that if the RCMP had provided public warnings sooner with this key information, several lives could have been saved.

At 8:04 a.m., the RCMP issued an internal alert to its members that the suspect was potentially using a fully marked Ford Taurus police car and could be anywhere in the province. The same message was then sent to all police departments in the province.

At 8:54 a.m., RCMP sent out a tweet containing a photo identifying 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman as a suspect, but there was still no mention of his car.

The inquest heard that just after 9 a.m., Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers contacted Staff Sgt. Al Carroll to ask if a press release was coming on the car. Carroll, the Colchester County District Commander, later responded, “It was considered to give a release regarding the vehicle, but the decision was made not to.”

It is still unclear who made this decision. At least one senior officer claimed that no such decision was made.

According to a summary of evidence released on May 13, the commission is currently investigating “whether the public release of replica information about the RCMP cruiser was at any time delayed or denied, by whom and why.”

Senior RCMP officers told the inquest they were hesitant to release details about the vehicle because they feared such information would panic the public and flood the 911 system.

“It’s an illustration of the RCMP not trusting public common sense,” said Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University School of Law in Halifax. “There’s no doubt there would be a bit of a panic…but I think they should have had a bit more faith in the common sense of the public.”

Regardless of the RCMP’s justification, questions remain about what happened after 9:11 a.m. when Leather, the RCMP’s second-in-command in the province that morning, sent an email requesting a copy of the alert sent to the police about the suspect and his replica vehicle.

According to the commission, another investigation “is underway into the role of the chief superintendent. Leather… in connection with the release of information on the replica RCMP cruiser.

Scott Blandford, a former police sergeant in London, Ont., said he couldn’t say whether RCMP chief superintendents should be involved in public communication, but he said involving police chiefs in press releases was not the practice when he was with the London Police Service.

“Typically, the incident commander is the senior officer on scene, and only in exceptionally rare circumstances is it overruled by a senior officer,” said Blandford, who teaches police at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.

The inquest heard that a draft tweet showing a photo of the cruiser replica was approved at 9.49am. But again, there was another unexplained delay.

It wasn’t until 10:17 a.m. that the RCMP sent out a tweet showing a photo of the car. This key warning came 12 hours after constables were first notified of the vehicle, and more than two hours after they received the photo. By then, six other people had been murdered that morning.

Two constables shot the killer at a gas station north of Halifax at 11:26 a.m. At the time, police were developing an Alert Ready emergency message to be sent to radios, televisions and cellphones across the province. But the message was never sent.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 5, 2022.

“With files from Michael Tutton.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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