Twenty two victims, nine men and thirteen women, all who were alive and well on April 18th, breathing normally, carrying on normal lives–all never made it to April 20th. Their lives quickly and unceremoniously extinguished, their deaths carried out with ferocity and a single-minded intent.
The exact reasons why, now forever locked in the deceased and decaying brain of a middle aged non-entity Gabriel Wortman.
Dressed in a police uniform, driving a mock up police car, this male transformed the symbolism of safety and security normally embodied by a uniform and the blue and red lights, into something much more sinister. The birthday party clown became the Joker.
The largest mass killing in Canadian history unfolded over two days, possibly prolonged by a series of disparate events and plausible police miscues. One of their own, a twenty year veteran police officer drove face on to her own death. Distorted bodies lined the houses and yards of this small unheralded Nova Scotia community of Portapique.
In the end ingenuity and perseverance did not bring down the shooter; he was brought down by a coincidence. The police and the suspect coming together by bizarre happenstance, at a local garage, where thankfully this time the police got the drop on the well armed killer.
From the very beginning there have been questions about the police and the response to the calls for help, both before the killings and during. The herd like media focused on the lack of use of the Amber alert which will likely prove to be a minor issue in the overall set of circumstances. Nevertheless, one can not shake the uncomfortable feeling that there are much deeper issues that were at play during those fateful 48 hours.
As the weeks following slid by, more questions both from the public and the family victims arose over how this individual, this denturist, who made false teeth in his normal working hours was constructing police cars in his garage, amassing weapons, and preparing for his armageddon. Violence was likely percolating for a number of years in the frontal lobe of Mr. Wortman so inconclusive evidence and analysis will occupy psychiatrists for years to come.
How had a person of such bizarre interests go undetected in such a small community? How is it possible that the local RCMP police could not have known about this person? Well, as it turns out, it sounds like they did, but the level of knowledge and any action they may have or should have undertaken is very much still in dispute.
The family background pointed to a history of domestic violence and abuse or as the new liberals now refer to as “intimate partner violence”. Reports surfaced of the public calling in– from the likes of Brenda Forbes who alerted them to his assaultive behaviour to his girlfriend.
Indeed a fight with a girlfriend may have been the spark that lit his anger— but this time the spark became a flame and the fire became one of increasing savagery throughout the night.
There were concerns raised about a collection of guns being accumulated but again, no apparent response by the police, to investigate an allegation that normally should trigger alarm bells.
During the night of killings, the police felt that they had cornered the suspect, only to find out that he simply drove out another way– to begin killing again.
Twitter was used to warn people, probably not the most reliable warning of an emergency, especially in rural Nova Scotia. An Amber alert would clearly have worked better, but an Amber Alert is not intended for such circumstances and by the time upper management cleared the administrative fog to clear the way for the alert, the suspect had been killed.
So for the next three months, the public demanded that a public inquiry be undertaken. After all, this was the largest mass murder in Canadian history.
The weeks went by and the Nova Scotia government— led by their Attorney General Mark Furey— seemed to be stalling or dodging the questions that were coming up on an almost daily basis. The added twist was that Furey was a Liberal politician, and, also a former RCMP police officer of some 34 years. He retired as a manager, a District Commander for Lunenburg County.
Both Furey and the Premier Stephen McNeil during those three months insisted repeatedly that they were “committed” to getting “answers” to the families of those killed, but neither publicly expressed any support for an inquiry or a review of the circumstances. Suspicions began to grow.
If Furey is to be believed, and that is a big if, during this three months, he and his Ottawa Federal counterpart, Liberal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair were “negotiating” and determining what was the best way to proceed. Apparently they were discussing “all the options” during this time, including a public inquiry.
As political pundits often note, emotionally driven inquiries are often political suicide. The RCMP has been taking body blows throughout this country for the last number of years and detailed prolonged exposure during an inquiry could and would have serious ramifications; not to mention the possible political fallout.
Old Bafflegab Bill Blair, overseer of the Mounties had to know that any negative impact on the RCMP would harm the re-election chances of the Liberals in the next election. Mr. Furey, a duly rewarded Mountie over the years may not have been eager nor relish the idea of throwing his former colleagues under the bus.
The decision of these two muddling master minds needed to both appease the victim families and the public, but also limit their exposure, and hopefully have the results exhumed in a politically opportune time. So how could they meet those demands while still limiting the damage?
Their decision on July 23rd was to have a three member panel “review”. Closed doors. No testimony under oath.
Even more hypocritically they jointly announced that the review should emphasize “contributing and contextual factors, gender based and intimate partner violence” and “police policies procedures” and “training for gender based intimate partnership violence”.
Hearing the mandate of this review gave one pause. Did we miss something? Did somehow the cluster of circumstances which led to this deadly killing spree all be attributable to domestic violence? Did the accumulation of guns, the accrual of fake police cars, the operational decision making, the shots fired at the firehall, all turn into an issue of domestic violence and the suggested resolution be further police training in domestic violence?
This is only understood when one considers that during these intervening months, some female protests had come about by women groups inferring that the mass murder was the result of inherent violence against women in society; pointing out that mass shootings almost always had a central theme of misogyny. These events were triggered, so this group proclaimed by the assault of the girlfriend and a history of violence between the two.
So, even though considering that the evidence of violence against women as a central theme was a bit of a stretch, it is safe territory for the Liberals. It is an intellectual territory where they are comfortable. It is a place where they can take a few body shots, but then fall back on to their righteous practised platform of support for women.
During the news conference where they announced the “review” the talking points were clear. To assuage the public they lauded the panel members as being, “independent” and “transparent” and “experienced”. The review panel was to issue two reports, one in Feb 2021 and the final report in August 2021.
The mandate was to look into the “causes” and “circumstances” but that it should be based on “restorative principles” and also “trauma informed”. There was emphasis on gender based violence and that the strongest need was to “inform, support and engage victims”.
Mr. Furey laid it on thick, addressing the victim families and intoning that they, the Liberal government, would “walk with you through every step of your healing process” as the families clearly had been “injured physically and mentally”. He closed his statement by reading the names of all the victims, conjuring up images of the fall of the twin tours during 9/11.
After the two concluded their initial prepared statements, there were a series of phoned in questions from the National media, which focused in on the fact that the ordered “review” was not what the victims wanted. They wanted and were demanding a public inquiry after all, so why this? The second often voiced complaint in the questions was that there was no ability to compel testimony of witnesses. Blair answered this by saying that he had “directed the RCMP ” to cooperate “with the review. This clearly assured nobody.
So, for the next 30 minutes as they continued to answer the same questions, we watched Blair and Furey dance the two step explanation of “independence” “integrity”. Their single explanation as to why not a public inquiry — it would take too long.
This was coming from the dance partners who waited three months to figure out anything at all.
Who were these Review Board members who were “independent” and would be “transparent”?
First, heading the review was to be Michael J. MacDonald a Chief Justice of Nova Scotia. As Chief Justice he was heavily involved in the Nova Scotia Access to Justice Coordinating Committee and promoted several judicial outreach initiatives to engage the Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities. All laudable, but to think that he was coming from anything but the Liberal spectrum would a be a bit of a stretch. He had a history of championing for victims, so he would be in perfect concert with this slanted mandate of “restorative” principles.
Number two. Anne McLellan a former four term MP, who served in the Cabinet as Public Safety Minister, Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. To say that this “academic” and “politician” was “independent” is clearly laughable. She is one of the few Canadian parliamentarians to have spent her entire career as a cabinet member in Liberal governments under Chretien and Paul Martin.
Justin Trudeau in 2019 after the Liberal party did not win any seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan hired her as an “advisor”.
Apparently this ethically challenged Federal government does not see conflict of interest even when it hits them on the head, so bubbly Blair spouts the ridiculous view of her being “independent” from the Federal government.
Finally, the third review board member is Leanne Fitch, who clearly was chosen so she could appear to be representing the policing aspect. Ms Fitch was a police officer for 34 years, rising to Chief in that bustling city of Fredericton, New Brunswick. She was the first openly gay female who served as the Fredericton Chief. The Fredericton police department has 113 officers, smaller than Richmond or Coquitlam Detachments of the RCMP.
She had been leading the agency when the four officers were killed in Fredericton. Also, while under her tutelage a number of Fredericton police officers were outed for alleged misconduct, and the administration was found to have broken New Brunswick Official Languages Act. Interestingly, in an interview with the CBC she felt that “she doesn’t expect the force to ever be the same after the shooting”. She too likes to stress victimization.
Ms Fitch was also investigated by the NB. Police Commission in 2016, but the nature of the complaint and the findings were never revealed. It may be telling that a few weeks before the announced investigation, two officers had been fired from the force and three other officers were facing criminal charges. One of the females charged alleged that officers “have lost confidence in the leadership of the Fredericton force”. In the same news conference police union president Cpl Shane Duffy suggested that the police force “has created a difficult, if not poisoned, work environment for the police officers there”.
So that in total is the three who according to these two governments represent “independence”, “transparency” and “expertise” needed for this “review”.
Unfortunately for these two governments, the ruse didn’t work.
The general public saw through the hypocrisy which was oozing through this “review” announcement. The protests resumed– led once again by the victim families. They marched on the Truro police office, again demanding a public inquiry.
The Federal government bowed to the political pressure on July 28th, a mere five days after their “review” announcement,; changing their minds and deciding that a public inquiry would be held instead.
Mr. Blair announced the change in heart through social media (not willing to take questions this time), saying “We have heard the call from families, survivors, advocates and Nova Scotia members of Parliament for more transparency…”.
Apparently, they had been deaf for the first three months.
They also announced that the three individuals on the review, will now be proclaimed Commissioners of the Inquiry — no need to return their company cars.
Mr. Furey now also has seen the light and even had the audacity to say that this was what he wanted all along.
So why this bumbling and stumbling attempt at a “review” instead of a public inquiry?
There could be only one conclusion. It was a hardened cynical political attempt to divert and mollify the rising victim voices, while clearly hiding their political backsides.
Both governments realized that any review, probe or inquiry is going to raise some serious political questions of the RCMP and their Provincial counterparts. Not so much at the individual member level —but at the broader and deeper administrative and management level. Blair and Furey should be ashamed of their contrivance.
This now public inquiry has the potential to strike at the deep-rooted problems in the RCMP. Training, seniority, supervision, levels of manpower, and emergency response will all be called into a tear stained and emotionally charged examination that will no doubt be covered live by all the television media.
The Commissioners will still try to distill the anger, but it will be difficult when everything is exposed to the public eye. The Province, as the contractual overseer of the RCMP will share in the fecal laced blame that will be thrown at the proverbial khaki and blue wall.
Broadly, in a couple of years, we will likely find that the officers that night were trapped by the insanity of a killer– but also a Federal system which has been letting them down for years.
Commissioner Lucki will resign (retire) just in time for the Liberals to claim they are now sweeping with a clean broom and that all the recommendations are already being implemented. They will conclude any future news conference with an apology to the victims families. They will pay out a civil suit.
After all, they have become very adept at the art of supplication and living with the numerous shades of embarrassment– the shades of red that surely are going to come from this protracted examination.