In their final word, families of Nova Scotia shooting victims call commission ‘rudderless’


Would have. Could have. Have.

The final written submissions for the Mass Casualty Commission are full of suggestions, requests and recriminations about how the events of April 18-19, 2020 and their aftermath could have been handled differently.

The shooting in rural Nova Scotia left 22 people dead along with the shooter, who was ultimately killed by police. Public hearings into the mass shooting, which began in February and continued through September, have already heard many of the claims raised in written submissions.

Lawyers representing the families of 21 of the victims gave their final words to the commission to reiterate their concerns about issues such as disclosure about the police response.

There are two recurring themes about this: that the RCMP improperly warned the public as the shooter, Gabriel Wortman, went on a rampage, and that there was not enough information provided to victims’ families or others. members of the public in the aftermath to find out if their loved ones had survived.

An RCMP car is seen near a memorial exhibit in Portapique following the mass shooting in April 2020. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Lawyers for the family of Gina Goulet, the shooter’s latest victim, have gone so far as to say that if police had better warned the public, she might have survived.

The families, through their lawyers, have also expressed skepticism about implementing the commission’s recommendations to improve RCMP performance. They cite the failure to act on recommendations stemming from past mass casualty events in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, and Moncton, New Brunswick. In these two cases, all the victims were gendarmes.

« rudderless » commission

Lawyers from Patterson Law, the firm that represented most of the families, criticized the commission itself. They said it seemed « rudderless » at times, touching on topics not directly related to the April 2020 rampage. then felt marginalized by certain procedures.

“It is important to note that victims and survivors of crime should not be infantilized by the police or shielded from information under the guise of being ‘trauma informed,’” Patterson Law wrote.

Their memoir says the families questioned why certain witnesses — particularly Wortman’s wife, Lisa Banfield, and senior constables, including Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill and Cpl. Rodney Peterson – were given special treatment during their testimony, which prevented a more effective interrogation, according to the lawyers.

By denying them the chance to question Banfield directly, some of the conspiracy theories surrounding his role over the weekend have gained traction, the lawyers say.

RCMP Staff Sergeant. Brian Rehill testifies before the Mass Casualty Commission via a pre-recorded interview with commission attorneys on May 30, 2022. (Radio Canada)

The families also feel that the trauma-informed lens was not applied in the same way, the brief states.

And in dissecting the RCMP’s perceived shortcomings over the weekend, Patterson Law noted, « One cannot forget that the attacker was ultimately thwarted by an empty gas tank and coincidence, not some master strategy. .

Other groups weigh

Special interest groups that won standing on the commission used their final submissions to advance their cases one last time.

For example, the Canadian Firearms Association reiterated its view that tougher gun control laws would have had no impact on this weekend’s outcome, as Wortman got his weapons illegally and never had the necessary documents. In contrast, the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control has written that in its view, arming people for their own protection does not reduce violent crime.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Police Association, which represents municipal police forces across the province, argued that the RCMP shouldn’t even be involved in rural policing.

« Complex national and international investigations require a national police force that is focused on these tough and challenging public safety issues, » the police association wrote in its brief, « not issuing speeding tickets in rural Nova Scotia ».

The association also said the failure to ask its members for help over the weekend was a serious miscalculation.

Constables had said they were concerned people would mistake their cruisers for the replica vehicle Wortman was driving. The association notes that cars driven by either municipal police force would not have been mistaken for an RCMP police car.

Complaints against the shooter

A coalition made up of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, Wellness Within and the Women’s Legal and Education and Action Fund also questioned the credibility of some witnesses who testified, in particular Const. Troy Maxwell and Const. Greg Wiley.

Maxwell was assigned to investigate a complaint filed against Wortman in 2013 by his then-neighbor, Brenda Forbes. She told the panel that she exposed Wortman for assaulting Banfield and possessing a stash of illegal weapons. Maxwell disputed this, saying he was called out for a drive-by complaint.

Both Maxwell and Forbes appeared somewhat shaky in their testimony, the coalition wrote in its brief, but Forbes came across as more credible, while Maxwell appeared to favor expediency over safety as he dealt with a hearsay complaint. say of aggression.

As for Wiley, he’s visited Wortman about 16 times and says he’s never seen anything untoward.

But coalition lawyers say that because he had developed a friendly relationship with Wortman, he was not the right person to investigate a complaint about an officer’s safety or a complaint that Wortman had threatened to kill his father. Wiley took Wortman at his word that all he had was a pellet gun and an unusable musket.

The BC Civil Liberties Association and the East Coast Prison Justice Society also used their final submission to address what they consider to be credibility issues with Wiley, saying he « could not explain why he remembered specific details of his interactions with the perpetrator but could not recall receiving a request to investigate him. »

« He ended his testimony with a lengthy rant about the accuracy of the transcript, freedom of the press and the creation of a ‘media dead time wedge,' » the association wrote.

Lawyers for the association also wrote that as a wealthy white man, police relied on Wortman to investigate complaints against him.

While these are the final submissions from participants, the final word will come from the three commissioners when they release their report in March.



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