An RCMP and federal government attorney became emotional on the final day of a public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting as she acknowledged the police response to the massacre was “far from perfect.”
Lori Ward, counsel to the Attorney General of Canada, delivered a final oral statement before the Mass Casualty Commission in Truro, NS, on Friday, which was heard this week by attorneys and participants.
The commission is leading the investigation into the frenzy in rural Nova Scotia, where gunman Gabriel Wortman burned homes and murdered neighbors, acquaintances and strangers on April 18-19, 2020, while driving a fake police cruiser. Twenty-two people, including a pregnant woman, were killed.
“In the face of such a tragedy, the urge to blame is strong and the person who bears ultimate responsibility is not here,” Ward said.
“He is taken out of the story and the focus becomes what others did or did not do to stop him. Those who are left behind and who were unable to prevent the violence are the center of anger.”
Ward said that while some things went according to police plans and training during and after the shooting, others “didn’t work as they should”.
She cites two examples that have been repeatedly put forward by lawyers for victims’ families during the investigation.
Ward said it was “clear” that the roughly 19 hours it took to find the Bond and Tuck-Oliver families at Cobequid Court in Portapique – where the violence began – was far too long.
“The anguish the families of those victims felt at the thought at the time is unimaginable, and we recognize that suffering,” Ward said in a cracking voice.
Likewise, she said the security of victim Gina Goulet’s home had been mishandled and “shouldn’t have happened.”
Goulet’s daughter and son-in-law have said no one told them when they could return to the house, and when they finally did, they discovered blood and a casing. They arranged for the house to be cleaned themselves.
Ward also said the problems officers had in the RCMP Bible Hill detachment using the police’s Pictometry mapping program, which is based on satellite imagery, show that it should be easier to access. Better GPS technology would have allowed more immediate response teams to go to Portapique, she said.
It’s also clear that radio communications were a problem, Ward said, as critical bits of information were not heard or rebroadcast to ensure the right people recognized them, such as how two victims of the Portapique shooting survived.
There were also issues with timeliness and accuracy with the social media posts sent by the RCMP, Ward said. The first tweet on April 18 called the incident a firearms complaint, which did not explain the seriousness of the situation. The next day there was a delay in sending information about the gunner’s fake cruiser.
“These are just a few examples of things the RCMP wish they could go back in time and change. Some involve training, equipment and resources, others are just human error. All are regrettable,” said Ward .
The families of many victims and others affected by the mass shooting attended the final week of the investigation to hear the latest comments, as they have done throughout the committee.
Volunteer firefighter Darrell Currie said the end of the public hearings Friday was a “day of exhalation” for him and many of the families who have often gathered around the same tables in hotels and convention centers around Halifax, Dartmouth and Truro since February to review the investigation. .
Currie and Greg Muise, the deputy chief and fire chief of the Onslow Belmont Fire Department, were both in their fire hall on April 19, 2020, when two RCMP officers opened fire on the building in their mistaken belief that they were firing at the gunman.
“You know the reason isn’t good that we’re all here together, but there’s definitely a good group of friends, and I mean that’s going to be hard to walk away,” Currie said outside the inquiry Thursday.
“But I think it will be a relief that this phase is over.”
Currie said it was important for him to come in person about 70 days into the proceedings to hear what was being said and to support the families of the victims. While it also seemed “somewhat therapeutic” to himself at first, Currie said the long days and piles of documents have become overwhelming.
While some family members have said they are left with questions and concerns, Currie said he learned a lot during the investigation and had the satisfaction of expressing his views when he testified with Muise.
“I got to say anything I wanted to say where many families haven’t had that chance,” Currie said.
Commissioners Michael MacDonald, Kim Stanton and Leanne Fitch also made their final comments on Friday, summarizing the testimonies, documents and panels held to address their broad mandate.
They have been instructed to look not only at the mass shooting itself, but also underlying factors such as domestic violence, access to firearms, police structures and emergency communications.
“After today, the commission’s public proceedings are over. But our work is far from done. While you may not hear from us very often, or see us in our day-to-day work, in the coming weeks and months we will focus solely on preparing and finalizing the commission’s final report,” Fitch said.
“We Commissioners have been given a great responsibility and we will continue to do our utmost to fulfill it.”
The report will be shared publicly by March 31, 2023 and includes guidance on who should implement each recommendation and when, Fitch said.