Police chief says RCMP didn’t ask for help or give full information on mass shooting
TRURO, N.S. — A police chief testified Monday that during the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting, he wasn’t asked by the RCMP to send officers, though they were trained in responding to active shooters and were among the closest to the rampage.
Chief Dave MacNeil of the Truro Police Service told a public inquiry that the normal protocol for the Mounties in the nearby detachment would have been to request help before he dispatched any of his 36 officers.
Three Truro officers were on duty on the night of April 18 when the shootings started at about 10 p.m. in Portapique, 40 kilometres to the west. But MacNeil told a commission lawyer that as the killer in a replica police car continued his murders over 13 hours, the RCMP didn’t ask him to provide personnel.
The inquiry has heard that four Mounties from the Colchester division, the rural county surrounding Truro, were the first to respond to the initial shootings in Portapique, and by the time backup arrived from other RCMP detachments at about 10:45 p.m., the killer had escaped out a back road.
MacNeil testified that if his force had been asked, he would “definitely” have called in officers as needed. He said they were trained in responding to active shooter scenarios, had carbines in their cars and were trained to use them.
The lawyer for the inquiry also asked MacNeil about having just three people on duty rather than the normal five, and MacNeil responded this was due to a COVID-19 policy aimed at reducing staff exposure to the virus. However, he added, “we could have very easily had more people in” if requested by the RCMP.
The veteran chief also said that when he reached out to RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather at 9:50 a.m. on April 19 to offer assistance, Leather emailed back saying, “It sounds like we may (have) the suspect pinned down in Wentworth. Will be in touch.” In fact, the gunman was not pinned down, and in the next half-hour he would drive through Truro undetected.
According to a summary provided by a public inquiry on Monday, the gunman entered the town at about 10:11 a.m. and was gone nine minutes later, passing within blocks of two local officers. It says officers had received descriptions over an hour before then of what to watch out for.
The summary notes that Cpl. Edwin Cormier of the Truro Police Service was on duty at that point, overseeing constables Dan Taylor, Jason Reeves and Thomas Whidden.
It also says RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers had contacted Cormier to inform him the killer was in “a fully marked, newer model … looks like a Ford,” replica RCMP vehicle. By then, the call number on the side of the car had also been circulated.
At 8:51 a.m., Cormier radioed all the constables on his shift and updated them on the information he had received. One of the officers said in an interview with the inquiry last month he was “unnerved” at the prospect of encountering the replica vehicle.
“I had his face (from a photo), but at the time I’m like, ‘That’s not good enough,'” Taylor said. “I felt like whoever it was could probably get the drop on me unless I had my gun pointed at every cruiser that came in the parking lot.”
During cross-examination, the lawyer for the union representing RCMP members asked MacNeil why a senior officer wasn’t called in the early hours of April 19 after police received three “Be On the Lookout” notices warning that an armed and dangerous suspect had been involved in an active shooting.
National Police Federation lawyer Nasha Nijhawan said the RCMP notices provided “a lot of information,” but MacNeil replied that the notices didn’t tell Truro police what danger existed for the town itself. He took exception to the lawyer’s suggestion that Truro should have been better prepared.
He said there had to be “a lot of catastrophic failures” for the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, to be able to get to Truro from the scene of three of his killings that morning in Wentworth. “For you to suggest today that we should have this (lockdown) in place, yeah, great, in hindsight, but there had to be a lot of things go wrong for this guy to get from Wentworth to Truro.”
An RCMP dispatcher did eventually phone Truro police asking that they lock down the town, but by that time, Wortman had already passed through and was on his way toward Halifax.
Audio transcripts indicate confusion from Truro police over what the lockdown request meant. “Uh, when you say shut down, what do you mean?” Cormier asks.
“Well I don’t know if you need, uh, maybe you can do some, some roadblocks on the main,” RCMP dispatch supervisor Kristen Baglee replies.
Truro police Insp. Darrin Smith also spoke with Baglee, who confirmed that the replica police vehicle in a photo distributed earlier was loaded with weapons.
She then mentioned, as she had to Cormier, that the gunman also could be driving a white Ford pickup truck that had been seen leaving the Glenholme, N.S., area. “That’s one of the vehicles that hasn’t been located that’s associated to him,” Baglee told Smith. Smith radioed the information to all Truro police members.
In an interview with the inquiry, Smith expressed his bewilderment with the RCMP’s information and request to lock down. He said he thought at the time that the response wasn’t co-ordinated and that the request was made out of “panic” and the need to “just do something.”
“It was all over the board, all over the map so to speak,” Smith said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2022.
— With files from Keith Doucette and Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press
Lawyer tells Alberta’s highest court review board biased in de Grood’s case
A family member of five slain students holds a heart sign with their names on it following a court decision in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Alberta’s highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision on the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Ritika Dubey in Edmonton
Alberta’s highest court is being asked to overturn a review board decision that confined a man to a supervised Edmonton group home after the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party.
The lawyer representing Matthew de Grood argued Wednesday the review board’s decision was biased, citing what she described as political interference from Alberta’s former justice minister.
“The appellant says, ‘I think the conclusion about me is wrong. The board’s conclusion is incorrect and not supported by evidence,”’ Jacqueline Petrie said before the Alberta Court of Appeal. “He says there’s no significant evidence that he’s a risk.”
De Grood, 31, was found not criminally responsible in 2016 for the killings two years earlier of Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Kaitlin Perras, Josh Hunter and Lawrence Hong because he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time. Petrie said de Grood has been stable on medication, is at low risk to reoffend and should be allowed to live with his parents while being monitored under a full warrant.
She argued the review board misunderstood medical evidence during the September 2022 review, which deemed de Grood a significant risk despite the assessment showing improvements. She said the board is supposed to recommend the least onerous disposition compatible with public safety and did not do that for de Grood.
The defence lawyer has said the review had been influenced by former justice minister Doug Schweitzer, who weighed in on de Grood’s case in October 2019 after the panel allowed de Grood to transition from institutional care to a supervised group home.
He has been under supervision at a group home. His case is reviewed by the Alberta Review Board yearly to see whether he can transition back into the community while maintaining public safety.
Petrie pointed at de Grood’s “exemplary record,” and that he has been “compliant to the (medical) treatment team.”
“Nobody knew he had schizophrenia (at the time of the stabbings) and needed medication.”
Crown prosecutor Matthew Griener said the board considered a conditional discharge but dismissed it, citing a relapse in schizophrenia symptoms in 2021.
Griener said de Grood’s relapses were brief and happened at the hospital, providing an early window for medical professionals to intervene.
Justice Kevin Feehan said de Grood may be low-risk, but the consequences of even one relapse could be significant.
Reading from an expert’s report, Feehan said: “A low risk to offend doesn’t mean the reoffence would not be severe.”
Some family members of the victims drove from Calgary for the hearing.
Segura’s mother, Patty, said the last nine years have been about de Grood and his rights.
“He should be thankful that he ended up NCR (not criminally responsible) rather than end(ing) with five life sentences for murdering five people,” she said. “He should not be appealing.”
Hunter’s father, Barclay, opposed a potential full release.
“The idea that he wouldn’t be monitored for the rest of his life seems to defy logic, it doesn’t make any sense,” said the father.
Hunter’s mother, Kelly, said the family has had “no healing.”
“We do this every year, at least once. Now, this is the second appeal,” she said. Barclay
Hunter said although there are attempts to reintegrate de Grood into society, he hopes the man is not left on his own with an absolute discharge.
“Regardless of what they say, he killed five people. If that doesn’t stand on its own as a risk factor, then I don’t know what does.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
Canadians want revenge on Bernardo, but that’s not how prison works: ex-official
By Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa
One of the architects of the law that governs Canada’s prison system says it’s understandable people want revenge on killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo, but that’s not what the prison system is designed for.
Mary Campbell also says it is regrettable the Correctional Service of Canada has not been more transparent in how it handled the matter — which the law allows it to be.
Campbell, a lawyer who retired from her role as director-general of the corrections and criminal justice directorate in the Public Safety Department in 2013, said that without question Bernardo’s crimes were horrific.
Broadly speaking, the corrections system has a mandate to rehabilitate offenders.
Politicians from all parties and levels of government have decried Bernardo’s transfer from a maximum-security penitentiary to a medium-security prison in Quebec.
News of the transfer was confirmed last week by the lawyer for the families of two of his victims, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, who want him sent back.
Both teenage girls were kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by Bernardo in the early 1990s. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the death of Tammy Homolka, who died after being drugged and sexually assaulted. Tammy was the 15-year-old sister of Bernardo’s then-wife Karla Homolka.
Karla Homolka was released in 2005 after completing a 12-year sentence for her role in the crimes committed against French and Mahaffy.
Bernardo admitted to sexually assaulting 14 other women. He has been declared a dangerous offender and is serving a life sentence.
Bernardo has spent 30 years under maximum security, which Campbell said is a long time for any offender.
And while she understands why people want to see him kept there, she said the criteria for transferring an inmate to another penitentiary “is not based on revenge.”
“We, as a country, gave up torture quite a while ago, ” she said in an interview Tuesday. “And we’re pretty critical of other countries that engage in torture.”
After the news broke, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he thinks Bernardo should be locked up for “23 hours a day,” while Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to enact changes that would force those who are convicted of multiple murders to serve their entire sentence in maximum security.
The correctional service is reviewing the decision to transfer Bernardo. Under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, inmates are given security classifications based on factors including escape risk, which inform where they serve their sentences.
In the case of Bernardo, who is now in his late 50s, the correctional service says a move to a medium-security prison poses no risk to public safety.
The reason behind his transfer, however, is a mystery, with the federal correctional service saying it is “restricted by law” in what it can divulge.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Canadians are owed an explanation as to why Bernardo was transferred.
Tim Danson, the lawyer representing the French and Mahaffy families, said he was not given the information because of Bernardo’s privacy rights.
Campbell said the law spells out that the commissioner of the country’s prison system has the power to disclose to victims a summary of the reasons for the transfer of a particular offender, in cases where it is determined their interest outweighs any invasion of the offender’s privacy.
She said the commissioner can also choose to release information under the federal privacy law in cases where they determine the public’s right to know overrides an inmate’s privacy.
“When (the Correctional Service of Canada) says they can’t release details because of the law, that’s not entirely accurate,” she said. “There are exceptions.”
“It is unfortunate that CSC maybe hasn’t been a little bit more transparent, explaining things.”
She added that there are more than 20,000 other people serving a sentence in Canadian prisons and jails, and the rules have been designed to apply broadly.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2023.
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