An Unremitting sadness…

It is with some reluctance that I approached the possibility of revisiting the “Mass Casualty Commission” hearings. After all, I have written about it a couple of times already.

It certainly was not because of some sadistic desire to listen to Commissioner Lucki as she reiterated several times over, why she was asking for information about the guns used by Wortman. She clearly has been practising her evidence and she is clearly willing to stick it out. Her cover and well rehearsed story is of course that she was merely “disappointed”– in only that she gave the Minister’s office the wrong information. And it is for that reason, and that reason only why she was “frustrated” and chose to vent on April 28th in a meeting with the H Division Senior personnel, all while Supt. Campbell scribbled notes.

Judging by social media, many of you continue to follow and are watching the proceedings so there is no need to go over this well worn ground– you can decide who is telling the truth, even though at this point it seems obvious. Ms. Lucki even seems to have convinced herself of “her truth”, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Her oft repeated denials encased in characterizations: “I am a collaborative person”…”I am a glass half full person”…”I am not an angry person”…”I wouldn’t call anyone a liar, I just don’t think that way”…”I am not a hurtful person”. All good to know for a Tinder bio, but not of much substance.

What struck this writer besides the overwhelming sadness of the event itself, which permeates the hearings with unimaginable visions but that there is another sadness to all of this exercise. It is that we seem to be watching the grindingly slow disintegration of the RCMP as a viable and once formidable renowned operational police force. The fact that the Commissioner and other police officers were asked to dress in civilian clothes so that the very uniform of the Mounted Police would not re-traumatize the victim families was both ridiculous and telling at the same time. What is the overall message when the very sight of the uniform was decided by these three Commissioners as off-putting to the participants.

Commissioner Lucki’s evidence as expected and was for the most part banal and of little value; but it was illustrative in an un-intended way. It put on full display both the internal problems of the RCMP and the chasm which has been for years separating and pulling apart the fabric of operational policing. We, as members of the public, were given an albeit brief glimpse into the dark corridors (they are dark of course partly because everyone is still working from home) and the inner-workings of the RCMP in HQ Ottawa. No one in the management ranks, is usually willing to be forthright and honest in describing the day to day issues. Lucki was not the exception, but in trying to distance herself from “interference” charges, she inadvertently had to put her system on display.

First and foremost was the Strategic Communications group, who appeared to be on first flush not very good with communications and not very strategic. They were talked about often in the hearings and clearly form the centre core for the daily life of the Commissioner. It was patently obvious that Ottawa HQ is far from the land of operations and that “communications” is the God in front of which they all kneel. The transferring and movement of information is their primary product. In how and when they deliver this product of learned information is where they are awarded or chastised for the accuracy and flow of that information. They were and are constantly worried of the “media tracking negatively”. They worry about their “reputational risk” and they talk about “pro-active communications versus reactive” as if written on stone tablets. In this case and in particular with the reference to the media release of the gun information, the communication “experts” in Ottawa did not trust the H Division communication “experts”.

This whole story of Supt Campbell and his evidence of the meeting was butting up against the version of Commissioner Lucki and it completely originates from the Ottawa types being frustrated in their abilities to keep the “higher ups” in the loop about this headline dominating investigation. There was only one portion of the briefing which was needed by Mr. Blair and his office –their only interest was in using the the tragedy to politically further their gun legislation. There could be no other reason. Ms. Lucki was dismayed and expressed “frustration” that there were only three briefing notes in eight days. She went further and said by way of explanation that in her mind: “communications is as important as operational…”. She has said previously, she is just a “messenger”, she is not a “holder of information”. The vital and central question is who is she a messenger for?

What was also illustrated is that Ottawa HQ, just like the Federal government at large is the land of deflection. It is practised amongst layers and layers of bureaucrats, making it difficult if not impossible to pinpoint any culprit and serving to obscure any politically sensitive information. Ms. Lucki in her testimony continually deferred to others, maybe legitimately, as the layers of Ottawa are infinite and confounding even to those living in this rarefied environment.

She was apparently unaware that her chief media person Tessier who continually reported to her, had sent an email to H Division Lia Scanlon saying prior to the press conference: “Please tell me Darren is going to talk about the guns…my phone is blowing up here”. Ms. Lucki denied knowledge of any interest in this subject on the part of her press officer.

She could also not remember making a phone call, her one and only call ever to Chief Supt Chris Leather about the guns. “I don’t recall that conversation” she said simply.

Deputy Commissioner Brennan had previously testified that he “likely” told Ms. Lucki some of the details about the guns as their offices were close, and he would have just have walked down the hallway to her office. Commissioner Lucki said that couldn’t have happened because she was “working from home” on that day, as she was most days.

The threat of COVID clearly played a bigger role in the Ottawa environment than in the policing provinces where one always had to go to work. COVID was oft mentioned by Lucki. A ready-made excuse for her ” not having sent her “Tiger Team” spin doctors to the scene in H Division which could have clearly helped to avoid the back and forth. She was “afraid we would bring COVID to Nova Scotia” was her reasoned decision.

This land of rehearsed un-accountability clearly was the reason for not taking notes at executive meetings. They are continually trying to avoid a detailed and therefore accessible written record of account. I have witnessed this in the corporate world and clearly it has enveloped the Ottawa mandarins. The meeting of April 28th was a glaring example. No one holding to the Lucki version of truth, all the Ottawa people took notes at this meeting. In H Division, C/Supt Campbell who comes from a background of operations took notes; the two fellow officers, Leather and Bergerman did not. Let’s face it, the only reason that Chief Supt. Campbell has been allowed free rein in this instance is that he took those notes.

Ottawa is also the land of “subject matter experts”. (Ms. Lucki confirmed she isn’t one–she is just a messenger remember). Most of these experts are short of operational or hands on experience. This is a world full of courses, “hundreds” according to Ms. Lucki, and it is where “table top” exercises are their reality. In this testimony and in others one heard an awful lot about the “Critical Incident Response” training, courses and command centres all designed to fill in for and ameliorate experience and geographical knowledge. In this vein, Ms. Lucki who is head of the Firearms Program admits that she actually knows “nothing about firearms”. Ottawa mandarins are the only ones who would understand this logic.

Lucki commended her employees and described them as “second to none in service delivery”. Then we had to listen to the fact that the Goulay family, was never notified of their mother being killed, that the crime scene of her death went unattended and unsecured, and then the family went into the house after it was eventually searched, they found evidence that had been missed–a bullet casing no less. Lucki’s response “I’m sorry that happened”.

When asked as to why she didn’t pick up the phone and call Lia Scanlon who had written the damaging letter calling her out on the April 28th meeting, she said that “I didn’t want to effect her wellness plan”.

When Lucki was asked about whether the police needed more education, higher academic standards such as the previous recommendation from another Commission, she said that she did not want to deter diverse applicants. “I’m trying to get people from Nunavut to join the RCMP” and better education “is a barrier”. She then pointed out that they have changed the entrance exam in order to facilitate entry and allow for “life experience”.

She talked about the lack of resources, an issue which has been around for decades, as if she had no control, but agreed that hiring for overtime was unsustainable and had a negative effect on the “work life balance”.

The level of the resourcing in H Division at the time of the incident was only spoken about briefly, but there were some startling revelations. Only two dog officers in the Province. That they already had borrowed 30-50 officers from out of the Province to attend to the fishing dispute were a couple of the examples.

She was asked about the fact that contrary to Section 6 of the Code of Conduct and Section 9.2 of the Conflict of Interest guidelines it is pretty clear that you are not allowed to hire “immediate family members”. When Chief Supt Janis Grey hired her husband retired Chief Supt John Robin or when CO Bergerman hired her husband Mike Butcher, also a retired Mountie, for the Issues Management Team for the Portapique commission she was asked if there were any consequences? No was the answer. Clearly Code of Conduct issues only apply to the low ranking members. It was often mentioned that Lucki is flying at 10,000 feet, above the details, therefore above reproach for any minutiae, so one would presume that the other high ranking officers are above the clouds as well, and they too are beyond reproach.

When asked if she thought that there should be some guidelines made up in terms of political interference, she felt that this was a good idea. Maybe a “mandate letter” she suggested which would explain the line in the sand to the incoming Commissioner and other officers. Are we to interpret this to mean that she could have had some needed guidance upon becoming Commissioner?

As she neared the end of her testimony she was asked about what recommendations she would be looking forward to from the Commission? Her profound response: “anything that will keep Canadians safe.” This scholarly response is coming from the woman who is heading a 32,000 person agency; overseeing 169 policing contracts; and the criminal and Federal responsibilities for the vast majority of this country. One lawyer described the management structure of the RCMP now as an “incomprehensible web”, “this big clump in the middle” of a very “dense management system”.

This agency is crumbling in plain view and by any measurement, weighed down by indifference to its central and core goals, consumed by appearance and an adherence to political survival. Everyone in Ottawa holding hands like Thelma and Louise, somehow indifferent to the consequences. One should also not hold out hope that this socially sensitive victim centred Commission will be the guiding light to significant change. One can expect many references to “community policing”, “counselling” and “coordination”.

It is all very sad.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons – Nick Fewings- Some rights reserved

“Given what we had…”

This simple, semi-apologetic phrase, has become the background theme weaving through all the testimony at the Portapique “Mass Casualty Commission” in Nova Scotia.

I have written previously about the Commission and the obvious misgivings which had surfaced after the government tried to review the twenty-two deaths in private. The government was deaf to the mass of public sentiment, did not predict the hue and cry and accusations of cover-up, but reluctantly in the end, gave in to its now current public format. But again, this was only after being pilloried in the press by the victim families.

It is indeed a compelling story, but one laden with unfathomable and uncomfortable sadness, and the government was clearly reluctant to tell it. That reluctance is still there, reflected in the current set-up of the Commission who is casting a gauzy lens over the testimony. This is a watered down version of what normally constitutes an “inquiry” in the way it is structured, the way it accepts evidence, and the mind-set of the Commission members themselves.

It was predicted then and it seems to be coming to fruition now, that what happened in Portapique was both an abhorrent event, and an aberration; a set of circumstances that is not likely to repeat itself on any regular basis, and a series of events that most police officers through the course of their careers will likely never encounter and likely never anticipate.

The circumstances were unique but the police response as it is unfolding before the Commission points to the “system” and “structure” issues which have been plaguing the RCMP for many, many years. Could it have been be done differently, surely, nothing is ever perfect. Some would and could argue that there were no apparent problems in the police response, that they did the best with “what they had”. Before one delves into the possible problems in the police response, there are some other just as pertinent observations after watching several hours of testimony.

First and foremost, there is the Commission structure itself, which in this “inquiry” is clearly more an exercise in victim identification and the proffering of support more than a need to discern facts. The very name “Mass Casualty” seems to suggest something less than the horrific killing spree it actually turned out to be. The hushed hearing room tones, the condolences, prayers, tears, group hugs, all permeate the atmosphere of the Commission and all of those that come before it. The police, as is apparently the accepted belief in these times are now being included as victims. Unable to recover from having seen, heard or participated in that night of a thousand hours. Broken and deformed by violence, bodies laying on driveways, houses and cars in flames around them providing the only light. A never ending and surreal series of scenes fitting of a Pekinpah movie. However, when everyone is a victim, where does one turn, where is there any room for self-examination?

Is this Commission trying to expose or is it trying to ameliorate the circumstances. Are we trying to learn from the incident or simply trying to provide support and counsel. And that is where this Commission begins to shred, caught between the dichotomy of grief for all versus victim rage. The Commission espouses a “trauma informed approach”, clearly currently less interested in pointing a finger than giving a hug. This may work for those observing and for those support groups that surface endlessly when tragedy strikes. The problem is that it is not what the families of those slain want.

This approach has resulted in the Commission allowing group or panel testimony, remote video testimony, and declarations of fact that have been pre-determined by Commission investigators prior to the hearings. The Commission has ruled that police officers or witnesses with “bona fide wellness concerns” need to be accommodated –and should therefore not have to withstand the usual rigors of cross-examination by the lawyers of the victim families.

As a result, the families of the victims have now decided to boycott the hearings. From any viewpoint this could not be considered a good look or outcome for the Commission.

It has been announced that the Commission has decided that the evidence of Andy OBrien and Brian Rehill will be pre-recorded over Zoom; and only Commission counsel will be able to ask them questions. There is no reason given, as this of course is private medical or psychological information. S/Sgt Brian Rehill was the Risk Manager working in the Operations Centre when this file was generated. Sgt Andrew O’Brian was the Operations NCO for Bible Hill Detachment, the detachment which encompasses Portapique. Both these persons clearly played key roles and should under normal inquiry or civil circumstances be cross-examined. That said both could very well be suffering from psychological trauma. And therein lies the investigative dilemma.

S/Sgt Bruce Briers did testify and was the officer who took over from Rehill in the Operations Center at 0700 am the following morning. Briers testimony was concise, compelling, rational, and at times emotional. His early service was spent in Labrador and Newfoundland, once a polygraph operator and at the time of the Portapique incident had spent four years in the Risk Managers role. His responses to questions were professional and honest. Briers, became emotional when talk became what could have been done to prevent the whole disastrous set of circumstances– when he reflected back on what the community could have done prior to the incident.

In the hours of testimony that has been watched to date, suffice to say that all the officers testifying came across well and well-intentioned. They were honest in saying that night they were doing the best they could with “given what they had”. There was exasperation and futility expressed in some of their answers, and sometimes outright anger, that the system and the structure of the RCMP in their operations is flawed and that night mass confusion and exasperation had resulted in a delayed and confused response.

Again, not the fault of the officers involved, as Briers testified, they were being fed a fire hose of information that was being funnelled through a garden hose. The picture as told by Briers, by Cpl Mills the ERT commander, by Jeff West and Kevin Surette the Critical Incident Commanders, and by others was one where there was problems trying to establish a clear line of command, no unified reporting structure, and insufficient resources –all of which worked to the advantage of a mad man, a denturist, who in high school wanted to be a cop (according to a source), but now just wanted to kill.

These types of problems and issues of disconnect have all been heard before, through other inquiries, other Coroner’s inquests, and assorted criminal trials in one form or another over several years. All of course with the benefit of honed 20/20 hindsight. Too many in “command” working from an assortment of unconnected software programs that when the crisis hit and stopped being a “table top” exercise it distilled down to paper charts and felt markers and a flukey run-in with the killer at a gas station.

For years the RCMP has covered under-funding, inexperience, and under-resourcing with a series of one-off solutions. They add layers and layers of supervision as a form of compensation for inexperience and sporadic training. If the experience or skill set is not there, give a course or a webinar to cover it off. Centralize, de-centralize and the integration of resources have all been initially prompted by a need to cover off a fundamental shortfall, whether it be in resourcing or experience.

Software and technology as part of the communication and reporting systems has proven no different. The inability to orchestrate uniformity has led to multiple systems; CAD, PROS, CIIDS, MWS, and Pictometry. Municipal forces don’t necessarily share with the Federal force, and some RCMP Provinces are different from other RCMP Provinces. As an example, Halifax city police use Versadex instead of PROS or PRIME to report. Therefore for Portapique, the RCMP had no direct access to the Halifax file information. Layers of software programs, multiple data bases, multiple avenues to access, none of them synthesized into one coherent product.

Then add a radio communication system that is not capable of being 100% effective, dead spots, no cellular coverage. The original attending members excited, shouting without pre-announcing themselves, protocols always forgotten in the mad need to be heard.

Jeff West and Kevin Surette were the “Critical Incident Commanders” assigned to the file. A “scribe” for the Commander was assigned as protocol dictated. They were both from out of the area, in fact Surette was a 2 or 3 hour drive from Portapique. Suffice to say they had no personal or direct knowledge of the geographic area of Portapique.

The Critical Incident Commanders have their own command triangle and falling under them is the ERT team, and the Crisis Negotiation Team. After ERT comes the uniform officers, the General Investigation Section and the Major Crime Units. It was at 10:42 pm that S/Sgt Halliday the Acting Operations Officer calls for ERT and the Critical Incident Team. As the calls went out, others now got involved on the periphery, and included, the District Commander, the District Policing Officer, and the District Advisory NCO (the “Danco”) S/Sgt Addie MacCallum. A call to Air Services in Moncton tells them that the helicopter is “unavailable”. Of course.

For a number of years now, all of policing management has fallen in love with the term and idea of a “Command Centre”. The bigger the event the more Command Centers. (As an example, during the Olympics there were no less than three Command Centers)

Often they are large trucks, RV’s and the like, all suitably emblazoned with the logos and community minded sponsors. Or they pick a community hall, a firehall to accommodate the sure to be descending legion of experts and expertise. In this case they chose the Great Village Firehall (they had initially picked the Bass River Firehall but then realized it was in the “hot zone” and had to change locations).

The Critical Incident team arrives at the Firehall at 0100 hrs, more than two hours after the initial call. They initiate their “critical incident package”. In the beginning they are working off portable radios, awaiting a base station to arrive, and in fact often have to stand beside a window so that they have radio coverage. Their planning and tracking tool consists of a series of white boards and felt markers or as Commission counsel likes to refer to as “The Boards”. They have no laptop with them.

The ERT team first goes to the Command Post. The Critical Incident commanders worry about needing to make a firm radio announcement that they are now “in command”. There seems to be much confusion on the air waves at this point, one frustrated officer pointedly asks “who is in command here?”.

The Critical Incident Command strategy comes from their training in “SMEAC”. Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Command. This is police operational manual and acronym strategy at its finest, and this stuff makes most operational police officers ears hurt and eyes water. It makes sense in a classroom and rarely translates to efficiency.

Of course, none of this is the fault of the officers involved, West and Surette were doing what they were taught, it is what they are told is the latest thinking in a time of crisis, it is part and parcel of the “National Course Standards” after all.

It is clear that the whole mobile command centre structure needs to be re-thought. Is it time for a fully suited-up command centre that is available on a permanent basis, one equipped with all the technology and a set of unified technology programs?

Secondly, one needs to get rid of all of the supervisors. The operational triangle, with uniform at the base is now upside down. It is top heavy, bureaucratic, inflated, all at the expense of the base which is the front line. The uniforms, the actual first responders need to be made into the priority, the heavy end of the hammer, where the most experienced and skilled are promoted, reside and prosper. The supervisors or those that need to be in control in these type of situations needs to be pushed down to the lowest level, no different than the theory of quick response developed under Columbine.

Gabriel Wortman came to an end, because he ran out of gas in the stolen vehicle he was driving; and because of some keen observations and commendable actions of a dog man and an ERT member, Ben MacLeod and Craig Hubley who were travelling together, and had also stopped for gas. Hours and hours of terror came to an end about twenty seconds later.

Wortman was not stopped by the structure or the organization that had been put in place to apprehend him. He was stopped by luck and coincidence. Cpl Mills of the ERT team in testimony called it a “broken organization”. He was referring to the treatment of his team members after the incident, but he just as easily could have been referring to resourcing, communication systems or the organizational structure impediments.

Once again, look to the top if one wants to assign blame, not to the men and women working the shifts.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Chester902 – Some Rights Reserved.

The “Casualty Commission”

The Mass Casualty Commission has finally begun public hearings in Nova Scotia. Two long years since the tragedy of Portapique, a night of infamy when twenty-two people were killed over an agonizingly long thirteen hour period; the perpetrator driving the back gravel roads– his victims pre-determined, his justification firmly contained in his own mind. His thoughts and twisted goals now locked forever by his glory seeking death in an innocuous Irving gas station parking lot.

Two years in our lives would seem more than enough time one to conduct and complete any serious criminal investigation. After all, the one and only suspect was dead, albeit with numerous crime scenes but all conclusively tied to him forensically. However this is government, so we are just now at the stage of public witnesses and the tendering of what this 38 person Commission has found to date. Barbara McLean who is the Director of Investigations, even went so far as to say that the investigation is “ongoing” despite having collected thousands of documents and taken numerous statements numerous times from all involved.

These particular public hearings are to go for a further several months with the final report not due to be completed until November 2022. Some observers allege that the length and breadth of this investigation is in itself, by design, structured to mute the outrage. Time, or the buying of time, being the best governmental tool to dilute an upset public.

It began on February 22nd and the public record of it goes up to March 9th as this is being written.

Former Supreme Court Justice Michael MacDonald began the hearings with the usual thanks to the Indigenous for allowing it to take place on their “un-ceded territory”, which if nothing else signals to all that we are indeed involved in a governmental hearing. This is followed by a daily tribute to the victims with a listing of all of their names. Day after day this tribute will be repeated and over time runs the danger of becoming more political governmental theatre than substance.

The majority of the first day was an orientation, which then evolved into a panel discussion on the psychological impacts of the events on Nova Scotians and on the rest of Canada. This panel, which consisted of a therapist, a psychology professor, and the President and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. There were a few others, but suffice to say they were there to continue and extend that mantra of all of us having been victimized by the events in Portapique. The Commission felt that part of their mandate is a need to help us “normalize and validate emotions people have felt or have been feeling”.

This somewhat incongruous start continues into the next day which begins with another panel discussion this time designed to “introduce the communities”. This second panel consisted of Chief Sidney Peters who spoke about the Indigenous causes(Chief Peters specializes in Agricultural and Housing Programs); an Anglican Rector Nicole Uzans; Alana Hurtle, the head of the Rotary Cares Committee; and Mary Teed, a social worker.

The rather bizarre use and questionable need for these panels was summed up by a Global News reporter who asked during a question and answer session what these opening remarks and panels had to do with the questions uppermost in the minds of the families. He asked pointedly: “Do you feel that you have lost the families?” While another reporter asked the more obvious: “Whats the point of the panels?” A Halifax Chronicle reporter, clearly miffed at two already long days listening to pointless and mostly irrelevant commentary, asked whether if it was “necessary” to hear what it was like to be living in “rural” Nova Scotia.

It was suffice to say a rocky start.

One would be remiss at this time to not outline the nature and make up of the Commission. If one ever wanted to see a liberalized government structure in full bloom, this is your opportunity. One must also keep in mind that the Commission was formed after some reluctance by the Attorney-General for Nova Scotia and only after pressure arose from the victims families.

The Commission themes play consistently like bad Muzak. There is obsessive talk of victims, the constant strum of words like “working together”, “safer”, “stronger”, “shared understanding”, and a “shared purpose”. In his opening statement head Commissioner Michael MacDonald says with grandeur that one of the goals of the Commission is to make “sure that it never happens again”.

The other two primary Commissioners are Leanne Fitch, the retired seven year Police Chief of the Fredricton police department; who in her opening statement talks of her work in community policing, dealing with what she deemed the “most vulnerable”. The third Commissioner, Dr. Kim Stanton, a lawyer and academic speaks to making the world “safer”, and the commission leading to a “shared understanding” and a “shared purpose”.

Then there is the rest that make up the Commission. There are the Commission Directors: eight of them. Then there is the Commission Team which consists of a further 27 individuals; nine of whom are lawyers. One thing that sticks out, in fact it is rather striking, is the number of women on the Commission staff. Twenty-seven of the thirty-eight are women, thereby making up 72% of the Commission (22% of the RCMP in Nova Scotia are women). I honestly don’t know what that means or whether it will have any bearing on the outcome– one can only hope. The assigned seven “investigators” are all men.

Did I mention there were a few lawyers? The ones mentioned above just work for the Commission; then there are the lawyers for the victim families, the Federal Justice Department, and lawyers for the National Police Federation to name just a few. Those logging 8 hour billable days may be the only group which will survive this lengthy process.

So with all these lawyers one can make a few predictions. It’s going to go longer than necessary. Secondly, the gut wrenching truth, the bare truth, will be softened and weakened by a layer of protection over the various interests that may feel, or imagine, they have some exposure.

Running in the background and outside of the Commission are a couple of civil cases the lawyers for whom are present, and would more than relish some damning information to come out of these hearings. One is being brought by the victims families, and the other by Lisa Banfield who is suing over the suspect Gabriel Wortman’s $1.2 million estate.

Maybe, this is being too harsh or cynical, after all this is not a criminal proceeding. This is, in the words of the Commission mandate “…is not designed nor intending to determine guilt or assign blame”. They are there to work “in a restorative way”. They are there to “restore a sense of safety”, to insure that there is “public safety in our communities”.

To outline the investigational narrative this Commission is using what is termed “Foundational documents”. Although Roger Burrill, the Commission counsel, states that they are “foundational” and not “determinative”. The use of these “Foundational documents” is not common.

In a criminal proceeding one would tell the narrative with the presentation of evidence and witnesses usually in some form of investigational order. In this instance, they are only using witnesses in their words to “fill in the gaps” left by the Foundational documents. They are also vetting out crime photographs and you will not hear all of the 911 calls in their entirety. This they explain is so that they don’t victimize the victims once again; even though this policy clearly flies in the face of a fulsome disclosure. Our sensitivity as a Nation according to this Commission precludes us from knowing all the details, as gruesome as they may be and as uncomfortable as that may make us.

So far, three foundational documents have been shown– twenty-seven more are coming.

There are twenty-seven proposed witnesses up to this point in time and those witnesses will eventually include Commissioner Lucki, A/Commissioner (retired) Lee Bergerman and C/Supt Chris Leather. That will happen when they get around to the foundational document entitled “Command Decisions”. That testimony should prove slightly more interesting than a panel on whats it like to live in rural Nova Scotia but that may show my personal bias.

The first two foundational documents now on record pertain to the events in Portapique on April 18th and April 19th 2020. These are the base events from which all else will follow. The first officers responding, the calling of ERT, the trapped kids in the residence on Orchard Beach Drive. Even abbreviated, the circumstances facing the officers who arrived thirty minutes after the initial call and their subsequent ninety minutes spent together in the dark, not knowing where the suspect was, or even the extent of his damage will awaken the senses of every police officer listening.

Csts. Patton, Beselt and Merchant, were the only police in this man-made Hades. The house fires lit their way as they stumbled across bodies lying bloodied and unmoving in a yard or gravel driveway. Their senses over-loaded and in the end even though reacting as an “active shooter” procedure, can do nothing but “hunker down”. They deserve all our credit.

The original caller, Jamie Blair, calls 911 at 10:01 pm on that fateful night, witnessed her husband Greg being gunned down on the porch. She will die a short time later as Wortman comes after her and kills her in cold blood. The phone call ending.

The heroes will likely be the four children who huddled together in the basement of 135 Orchard Beach Drive, two of which, ages 9 and 11, had witnessed their parents being murdered. The two escaped to the McCauley residence.

Earlier Lisa McCauley an Elementary school teacher, had guarded the bedroom door, her children trembling behind her. She was shot through that door. When Wortman enters the bedroom, unaware of the children behind her, he shoots her once again.

The horror of those thirteen hours and the single mindedness of someone capable of such extraordinary violence is numbing to even listen to.

It is indeed unfortunate that this Commission is off to a less than auspicious start. Their desire to project empathy and understanding seems to overwhelm them, and thus may overwhelm the ability to get to any meaningful dialogue or expose what may have gone wrong. Legalistic and bureaucratic niceties seem destined to dull the edge of this inquiry. Future months of interminable testimony could prove more banal than enlightening.

There will be the predictable complaints of manpower, broken communication, and the odd moment of embarrassment. It seems likely that the lack of police investigation in the early days of Wortman, those days preceding his violent crusade, his domestic abuse, and his gathering of offensive weapons and building replica police cars will likely prove more damning than a lack of a Provincial wide Alert. The evidence of Lisa Banfield will undoubtedly give us a glimpse into a crazed man. Maybe it was all predictable, but these psychological breakdowns usually defy our current ability to understand.

This Commission is not designed to assign blame so blame they will not find.

In the end, Government Recommendations will flow with abandon from an over wordy eventual report, and they will all likely be dealt the fate of most government recommendations.

Making the families endure another eight months of this may in fact be the real re-victimizing– the families despair likely to be replaced with ever mounting frustration.

The rest of us may all be just another “casualty”… but stay tuned.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by mrbanjo1138–Some Rights Reserved

Darkening Clouds

There is a storm brewing on the East coast of this country, but unlike the usual storms that gather over the Atlantic and then spiral into the rugged coastline with pounding rain and high winds— this is a political storm –but of potentially equal force and potential damage. It is a perfect storm of deceit and ineptitude, the clouds having been salted by the senior ranks of  the RCMP.  

The eye of this metaphorical storm is over the normally quaint and rural Portapique area of Nova Scotia; now a place in time grounded in infamy as being the centre for the biggest massacre in Canadian history. Twenty-two persons murdered, gunned down, their houses burning around them. All of it seemingly non-sensical, but at the same time carried out with a deliberation characteristic of all mad men. A gun wielding, police obsessed, denturist. Charlie Manson with a banal Canadian  twist. 

The questioning residents of Portapique have since the beginning of that long night in April have been desperate in their need to understand, both on a personal level and on an organizational response level. Their aggravation continues to mount as to the process now underway designed to provide those answers— is failing them. 

The RCMP and the Commission designed to investigate have now become front page headlines in their own right. Lawsuits have been launched against the RCMP by the victim families and despite this raised sensitivity, the Mounties have now managed to put more fuel on the fire of a possible cover-up. 

The response to the 911 calls during the night of April 18, 2020 would and probably should  always be a matter of after the fact examination. No matter how prepared or unprepared any responding agency may have been, the night of terror was clearly unprecedented in scope and human toll. A thorough and concise examination of the response should be undertaken, as painful as that may be, because it is only from that can one learn. Any hope for soothing of the now pointed and partially warranted anger is by necessity predicated on the truth being revealed. Even if that truth hints of negligence. 

With a cursory viewing of the public information now available, there is almost no doubt that the response by the police that night was flawed— whether it be by police action or police inaction, albeit in extremely trying circumstances. So we should expect in any review, to hear the usual combination of malfunctions that are obvious to even the most casual observer in this current RCMP world: inexperienced police officers, a shortage of manpower, miscommunication, and a lack of supervision . 

It is equally likely that hiding behind those officers on the ground and their eventual testimony, will be the RCMP senior executive, likely claiming that the fog of communication hindered them in their duties. 

Sixteen homes and vehicles ablaze, distorted bodies strewn on driveways, scenes that would befit the darkest recesses of a Tolkien novel. The sensory overload of graphic and gruesome detail will form part of the explanation and this will engender some understanding of what the officers were facing. 

Those that have now been assigned to review that night’s operational decisions which were made in minutes and sometimes seconds will be given the luxury of hindsight, after poring over documents in excruciating detail and reviewing and re-reviewing audio. They will then likely pronounce that the police should have gone left not right, that they should have foreseen what was unseeable in the moment. Undoubtedly, they will recommend further training. 

There are two primary and signifigant areas of concern in terms of the response by the RCMP. One is encapsulated in  the history of Gabriel Wortman, the perpetrator who spent years building up an arsenal of guns, imitation police cars and police uniforms. 

Mr. Wortman was convicted in 2002 of assault. In 2010, he was investigated for threatening his parents, who who in turn told the police of his gun collection and advised them of his desire to kill a cop. In 2011 Truro police forwarded a report on the “tip” they had about Wortman, which prompted a visit by the RCMP but no further action. 

In 2013, the most damning information was provided. A couple of retired ex-military personnel got to know Wortman who showed them his illegal weapons and was seeking assistance from them to obtain more. They were also aware of his abusive relationship with his girlfriend. They reported it to the police, who told them they would “check on it”…and then added that there was “probably nothing we can do”. 

Did the police “write off” the files rather than conducting a full and complete investigation? If they did, the real squirming will begin then and any explanation will likely be completely unsatisfactory to anyone listening.

The second area of major concern which has already caught the public attention in full glare is the fact that no warning was disseminated through any in place public warning system, in particular one which could have gone out over everyone’s cellphones. Instead the RCMP “tweeted” 10 times throughout the night and they have already stated relied on local media to pick up their “tweets”. In addition, the information they provided was sparse and only hinted at a “firearms” complaint. Would a better warning system saved lives? No one will ever know for sure. 

The seemingly always defensive senior Mounties of Nova Scotia have been maintaining that they did not have enough satisfactory information on the suspect until the next morning, long after many people had lost their lives. 

Well, guess what? They were lying and have now been proven to be lying. The small satirical magazine operating in the Atlantic area “Frank” magazine, in a report by Paul Palango, has managed to obtain three 911 calls from that evening where the RCMP was told that the suspect was  a “denturist” in the area, that he was “driving a police car” and they provided his name. Two of the three 911 callers were minutes later killed. The third caller was a 12 year old boy, who survived. His call is gut wrenching but he was in control, some say better than the dispatcher who handled the call.

It would be 8 hours later that the RCMP would finally identify the suspect Wortman by name and that he was driving an imitation police car. 

When the story in Frank magazine began to surface the RCMP doubled down —saying that they didn’t have “enough” information to make an announcement.

Frank magazine being a small player and having “scooped” all the major media outlets in Canada, knew that they would be questioned as to the leak authenticity; so they actually produced the 911 tapes, in all their gruesome detail. All the major media outlets, their noses clearly out of joint on this scoop, criticized Frank for publishing the audio calls, none initially went after the fact that it was proving that the RCMP had been lying throughout. 

With no escape possible now from their story what did the H Division RCMP do? They actually sent out an internal memo to the members of their Division that they should “refrain” from “reviewing the article or its recordings as they are sensitive and could be triggering”. They were in the process of “actioning wellness resources” for all those Mounties who now have been exposed to hearing the tapes. 

It gets worse, Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman in charge of H Division, issued a statement that they will be “investigating the source of the recordings” and any “related offences” that “may have occurred  with respect to unauthorized release, possession and subsequent publishing”.  The reporter Paul Palango is no novice, as he is a former reporter for the Globe and Mail and MacLeans magazine. It is likely that he will be prepared for this shoot the messenger attitude of the RCMP. 

So that we understand fully. Faced with their lies, the RCMP reaction is to give the H Division members a group hug –and then vow to go after the reporter and his source.  

Along comes the illustrious Mass Casualty Commission. (Its very name should give you a hint where the focus of this Commission is aimed) condemned the media report by Frank magazine because of the damage it would do to the victims. Again, no mention of what the story was actually exposing. 

This Commission has been tainted from the start. Originally the Nova Scotia Justice Minister, Mark Furey, a former RCMP officer, wanted to have an “Independent Panel Review”. After a public outcry by the families of the victims there was  a reluctant agreement to form a joint Federal Provincial public inquiry. 

The Commission is headed by former Supreme Court Justice J. Michael MacDonald, and he is joined by seven women Commissioners. The head of “investigations” is Barbara McLean a former deputy with Toronto Police Service who has been lauded by theToronto Police Service for her “significant outreach to the LGBTQ community”.  The other Commissioners are in charge of things like Mental Health and Community outreach. 

If you lean to any kind of conspiracy theories, it would be very easy to argue that the overall aim of this Commission and the RCMP is to thwart any raw truth telling. This group seems designed to focus on the victims, the laying of wreaths and apologies, not on the suspect and the police response. After all, according to H Division, all the cops are victims too. 

This Commission is not due to report until November 2022, again, maybe by design, it will likely be after any  Federal Election and Portapique is a fading memory in this limited attention span nation. 

Wait, there is more,. 

There is little doubt that there is a couple of genes missing in the DNA of those anointed as white -shirted Mounties. In their lifelong pursuit of patronage and “double dipping” retirement opportunities they have become blind to possible conflicts of interest which may arise from it. It comes of course, from never having to answer to or be measured by outcome.

So now, they find themselves once again in front of the media scrambling to answer how the spouses of RCMP H Division Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman, and Halifax RCMP Commander Janis Grey are working for the RCMP— and had been now seconded to the Commission as investigators. Bergerman and Grey are two senior officers who will likely be front and centre for accountability in the Portapique incident. By their relationships they will have insider knowledge of anything coming out of the Commission investigation. 

Bergerman’s husband, is once retired Mike Butcher, who follows Bergerman to Halifax, nicely gets hired into a contract for the RCMP, and then they assign him to assist with the Commission.

Janis Grey’s husband is C/Supt John Robin. You remember him, he was in charge of IHIT, when  the Surrey Six file was in full swing. It was under his leadership that officers Attew and Brassington were allowed to party and have sexual relationships in Montreal with the gangster girlfriends. Well Mr. Robin shortly thereafter left IHIT, arrived in Ottawa with his wife Grey and then followed her to her last promotion to in charge of Halifax RCMP. He too was then seconded to the Commission. 

All these officers mentioned are known to this writer. It is difficult for me personally to find fault with their credibility as investigators or their capabilities, but they are missing that vital gene which most people have. They are so wrapped in the RCMP sense of entitlement and have been recipients of the RCMP largesse for so long that they can’t even see the problem. 

All of these officers, if they wish to retain an ounce of credibility should step aside or take a leave of absence until this Commission is underway and completes its work. Their very presence and their actions to date demands that they try and restore this inquiry to some level of credibility. They owe it to the survivors and their families. 

Meanwhile the RCMP and Ottawa will try to weather the  heavily buffeting of the narrative which will be coming from the commission witnesses. They will ask for forgiveness. They will claim that they will and can do better. They will also claim that they have already implemented the recommendations of the eventual report. 

The RCMP have become professional apostles of apology and proponents of the theory that everyone is a victim– even them.

They will in the end have to paper over the pending lawsuits with non-disclosure agreements and cash.  Avoid further scrutiny but keep telling the victims that they mourn for their loss. 

The biggest casualty for the Mass Casualty Commission, in the end, may be the actual truth about what happened. 

Photo Courtesy of Flckr Commons by Groupka -Some Rights Reserved