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Lost emails and unexplained delays: Mass shooting inquiry uncovers new RCMP snags

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By Michael MacDonald and Keith Doucette in Halifax

The inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia has revealed two new RCMP miscues that delayed a warning to the public that the killer was driving a replica police car.

In both cases, the commission of inquiry concluded the lapses could not be adequately explained, though it did offer some theories of what went wrong.

The inquiry has heard that on the night of April 18, 2020, officers were dispatched to Portapique, N.S., where they discovered an active shooter had killed several people and set fire to a number of homes. In all, 13 people were murdered in Portapique that night.

But by early the next morning, the killer had yet to be found. Investigators were unaware he was behind the wheel of a car that looked exactly like a marked RCMP patrol car when he escaped out a back road the night before.

The Mounties received a full description of the vehicle after the killer’s spouse emerged from hiding in Portapique at 6:30 a.m., and relatives of the woman provided a photo of the vehicle, which was forwarded to the RCMP at 7:27 a.m.

But that photo was not shared with the public until almost three hours later, a fact that has been the subject of much speculation and public outrage.

In an evidence summary released Tuesday, the inquiry disclosed for the first time that the photo was supposed to be immediately forwarded to Lia Scanlan, the RCMP’s director of strategic communications, but something went wrong.

In a previous interview with commission investigators, RCMP Staff Sgt. Addie MacCallum said he forwarded a photo of the killer and a photo of his replica car to Scanlan before 8 a.m. He also recounted how he specifically asked if she had a photo of the car, and she replied that she did not.

“So I sent her a picture of the car,” MacCallum told the commission.

The commission later determined the photo of the killer made it to Scanlan, but the picture of the car went elsewhere. The evidence summary, known as a foundational document, says investigators found that MacCallum sent a second email with both photos at 8:10 a.m.

“It is unknown whether the 8:10 a.m. email and attachment were received by Lia Scanlan,” the document says. “Ms. Scanlan told the Mass Casualty Commission that she was not aware of the perpetrator’s replica RCMP cruiser before 8 a.m.”

Notes that Scanlan took that day say nothing about the photo of the car.

At 8:54 a.m., the RCMP posted a tweet that included a description and a photo of the killer, as well as confirmation that the 51-year-old was armed and dangerous. There was no mention of the vehicle.

Previously released documents and testimony have confirmed there was discussion among senior Mounties who believed that releasing information about the replica vehicle could cause public panic and put police in danger.

“Whether or not there was a decision made at the command post to delay the release of information about the replica RCMP cruiser, it appears the preparations for such a release were underway shortly before 9 a.m. on April 19, 2020,” the foundational document says.

That’s when Cpl. Jennifer Clarke, an RCMP public information officer, emailed Scanlan to provide details about the vehicle. Clarke was told “pull something together” for MacCallum’s approval.

By 9:40 a.m., Clarke sent a draft tweet with a photo of the vehicle to MacCallum, but he did not respond. MacCallum had left the command post in Great Village, N.S., to join the pursuit of the killer, who had been spotted in Wentworth, N.S., where he had fatally shot Lillian Campbell while she was out for her morning walk.

Clarke then contacted Staff Sgt. Steve Halliday, who approved the tweet at 9:49 a.m. But the tweet wasn’t sent until 10:17 a.m., 28 minutes after Halliday granted authorization. No explanation is provided in the foundational document.

The Mounties, however, were dealing with a full-blown crisis at the time. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., a series of 911 calls confirmed the killer had resumed his rampage. Soon after the RCMP learned of Campbell’s death, they were told that a body had been found next to a burning home in West Wentworth, N.S., about six kilometres away.

And just after 10 a.m., police learned of the shooting deaths of Heather O’Brien and Kristen Beaton, who was pregnant at the time. Both were killed on Plains Road in Debert, N.S.

On another front, the commission is looking into what happened after 9:11 a.m. when Chief Supt. Chris Leather, the RCMP’s second-in-command in the province that morning, sent an email requesting a copy of an internal alert sent to police about the suspect and his car.

According to the commission, an investigation is ongoing into Leather’s role “in relation to the release of information about the replica RCMP cruiser.”

During an earlier interview with the commission, Scanlan explained that Twitter has become the RCMP’s main means of communicating with the public over the previous eight or nine years. She noted that she used Twitter to inform the public in June 2014 when a man fatally shot three Mounties in Moncton, N.B., and remained at large for 28 hours.

The Mounties have faced criticism for using Twitter to alert the public during the Nova Scotia mass shooting because the social media platform is not popular among those who live in rural settings and requires constant monitoring to be effective.

When two Mounties fatally shot the killer at a gas station north of Halifax at 11:26 a.m., the RCMP sent out a tweet at 11:40 a.m. saying the “suspect in the active shooter investigation is now in custody.”

Scanlan said the term “in custody” was used because that’s what the communications team was told at the time.

“We didn’t care,” Scanlan said in her interview in September 2021. “We were just told it was over, he’s in custody … so we put it out. There wasn’t like waiting, let’s confirm that he’s dead.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2022.

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Author Salman Rushdie attacked on lecture stage in New York

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CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. (AP) — Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked and apparently stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who rushed the stage as he was about to give a lecture in western New York.

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

State police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck and was flown to a hospital. His condition wasn’t immediately known. The moderator at the event was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

A bloodied Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest.

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. He is a former president of PEN America, which said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.

Rushdie “has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.

His 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Often-violent protests against Rushdie erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.

Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack.

A bounty of over $3 million has also been offered for anyone who kills Rushdie.

The death threats and bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a round-the-clock armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

He has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, saying in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.

In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors to their century-old cottages unlocked at night.

Police said a state trooper was assigned to Rushdie’s lecture.

The Chautauqua center is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before. Speakers address a different topic each week. Rushdie and moderator Henry Reese were set to discuss “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”

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Associated Press writers Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; and Jennifer Peltz in New York City contributed to this report.

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Crime

Wanted man cut through fence to cross U.S. border with children: Border Patrol

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United States Border Patrol says a convicted Canadian sex offender drove through a barbed wire fence to cross the intentional border with two children and their mother.

U.S. border patrol says agents found a cut fence near the Turner Port of Entry between Saskatchewan and Montana.

Mounties in Saskatchewan issued an Amber Alert for the boy and girl Monday and it was extended into South Dakota Wednesday.

Benjamin Martin Moore, who is 50, was taken into custody in South Dakota soon after.

The seven-year-old girl and eight-year-old boy, as well as their mother, were with Moore.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirm that Moore, as well as the mother, remain in custody.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

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