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Crime

Mass shooting inquiry: Two senior Mounties exempted from cross-examination

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HALIFAX — Two lawyers are criticizing a decision Tuesday to allow senior RCMP witnesses to avoid cross-examination before the inquiry investigating the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

The lawyers, Tara Miller and Josh Bryson, represent relatives of some of the victims gunned down by a killer disguised as a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP cruiser on April 18-19, 2020.

The federal-provincial commission of inquiry has agreed to provide special accommodations for three senior Mounties when they testify about command decisions they made as the tragedy unfolded.

Two of the Mounties, Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill and Sgt. Andy O’Brien, will face questions from commission counsel via Zoom calls that will be recorded and broadcast at a later date. Participants and lawyers who wish to observe their testimony must remain off screen with their microphones muted while each Mountie is speaking.

No reasons were given for the special arrangements as this information is considered private information that typically deals with physical or psychological health needs, the commission said.

Miller said she disagrees with the decision not to allow direct cross-examination.

“It will erode trust in this process and the evidence that will come out of it for these key witnesses,” said Miller, who represents a relative of Kristen Beaton, a nurse and pregnant mother who was fatally shot while sitting in her car in Debert, N.S., on April 19, 2020.

Last week, the Nova Scotia RCMP issued a statement saying the inquiry would be violating its own rules if Mounties who endured trauma were called to testify without some form of accommodation. The inquiry’s mandate calls for it to adopt a trauma-informed approach.

Bryson said he could have cross-examined Rehill and O’Brien without causing trauma. “I’m very disappointed in the ruling by the commissioners to be removing our meaningful participation in the evidence of these two key participants in this inquiry,” he said.

He said Rehill is the “most integral witness to this inquiry,” as he was the first critical incident commander to oversee officers dispatched to Portapique, N.S., where 13 people were killed on the night of April 18, 2020.

Rehill was the RCMP’s risk manager at its Operational Communications Centre in nearby Truro, N.S. When the centre received 911 calls confirming an active shooter was on the loose, Rehill immediately assumed command.

“He (Rehill) made the key decisions,” Bryson said in an interview Tuesday, adding that the senior Mountie should face questions about what he did to contain the killer on the first night.

As well, Bryson said Rehill should be asked about why there was confusion over who was in charge, given the fact that O’Brien and another Mountie — Staff Sgt. Al Carroll — were also issuing orders over the police radio that night. Though he was off duty and had consumed four alcoholic drinks, O’Brien retrieved his portable radio from the detachment — with the help of his wife — and joined in offering direction to responding officers.

According to the commission, participating lawyers such as Bryson and Miller will be asked to provide questions for Rehill and O’Brien by Thursday at 4 p.m. The commission’s lawyers will then plan their questioning, which is expected to take place on Monday and Tuesday, beginning with Rehill.

Once that round of questioning is completed, participating lawyers will be asked if they have any further questions.

Meanwhile, Carroll — former district commander for Colchester County — is expected to testify Thursday via a live Zoom call. He will be provided with breaks during his appearance, the commission said Tuesday. He could face direct cross-examination.

The National Police Federation and the federal Department of Justice had requested that O’Brien and Rehill provide their information by sworn affidavit and that Carroll testify in person with questions asked only by commission counsel.

The commission confirmed Tuesday it received a total of six requests for accommodations. One request was rejected and the commission agreed that two other witnesses could testify as part of a panel. Those witnesses were not named.

“Accommodations are intended to ensure that the commission receives the best information possible from witnesses,” the commission said in a statement. “Since witness accommodation requests involve sensitive personal health information, the commission will not share any specific individual private information about these requests.”

On April 27, the commissioner leading the inquiry, Michael MacDonald, issued a decision saying RCMP Const. Vicki Colford could provide a written affidavit instead of testifying in person.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 24, 2022.

Michael MacDonald and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Calgary police charge teen accused of trying to hire someone to murder another youth

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Calgary police are accusing a 16-year-old of trying to hire someone to kill another youth.

Police say in a release that they began investigating last month after getting a complaint.

After a six-week investigation, police say officers gathered enough evidence to support charging the teen.

Staff Sgt. Colin Chisholm says the allegations are disturbing and police are thankful they could investigate before anything tragic happened.

The teen was arrested on Tuesday and is charged with counselling to commit murder, breach of a court order and possession of marijuana.

The suspect cannot be named under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

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Alberta

Alberta judge finds man guilty of manslaughter in death of one-year-old son

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By Daniela Germano in Edmonton

An Alberta judge has found a man guilty of manslaughter in the death of his one-year-old son as well as of assaulting his young daughter.

The man’s lawyer argued in court that the father should be found not criminally responsible for his son’s death in November 2019.

Rory Ziv argued that a severe sleep disorder put the man from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., in a state of automatism, which made him incapable of understanding his actions when he killed his son and injured his daughter, who was five at the time.

There is a publication ban on identifying the girl because she is a minor.

The man testified at trial that he has no memory of hurting his children, saying he fell asleep on the couch while caring for them. He said he dreamt he was being attacked and awoke to find that he injured his children.

A sleep expert also testified at trial after examining the man two years following the boy’s death. Dr. Colin Shapiro said he found “thumbprints” of parasomnia, a disorder in which people do things while asleep that they are unaware of, such as sleepwalking.

Shapiro testified he saw multiple arousals during the man’s deep sleep.

The man was initially charged with second-degree murder, but the prosecution asked the judge to consider a verdict of manslaughter instead.

Crown attorney Sandra Christensen-Moore said at trial earlier this month that evidence suggested the man was intoxicated at the time of the attack, which would affect his ability to form the intent needed for second-degree murder.

In announcing his verdict Wednesday, Justice John Henderson said it was more likely that the accused was suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms from his opioid addiction and lashed out at his children.

Court heard that the man has a history of substance abuse with cocaine, alcohol, heroin and prescription opioids. He admitted to self-medicating his back pain with heroin and illegally obtained Percocet.

Henderson said the man got into an argument with is partner the day of his son’s death and threw a plate in the woman’s direction because they did not have enough money for him to buy cigarettes.

“Certainly there is no doubt on the evidence that (the man) was having serious sleep difficulties and serious back pain at the time of these events,” the judge said.

“I’m also satisfied that the evidence is very clear that he was experiencing other stressors, including financial issues and relationship issues. He was also experiencing significant symptoms of heroin withdrawal.”

But Henderson said the defence was not able to prove that the man was in a state of automatism when he attacked his children.

“While I am satisfied that there is some evidence that could potentially support the conclusion of automatism, when I consider the totality of the evidence, I find it is not possible to come to that conclusion.”

The father is to be sentenced at a later date.

The judge said the man, who was prone to explosive outbursts, adapted his story about what happened the day of his son’s death as a way to rationalize his behaviour.

Henderson said such rationalization was most evident in the “evolving story” of the man’s dream of being teleported and attacked by a shadow creature during which he was trying to protect his children.

“This story did not exist for more than one year after (the boy’s) death and it only began evolving thereafter.

“The story was crafted to satisfy a narrative that would lead to a conclusion of automatism.”

Henderson noted that a forensic psychologist testified that the man had unresolved anger issues.

The judge said the man became overwhelmed by his situation and burst out in an aggressive and disproportionate manner when striking his children.

“I conclude that this explanation is for the attack is much more likely than the conclusion of automatism.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

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