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Police chief says RCMP didn’t ask for help or give full information on mass shooting

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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

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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.”

___

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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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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