Fifty Shades of Red

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.

Photo Courtesy of Indrid_Cold at Flickr Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved

To Heidi….

Once again, circumstances of the last number of days overwhelm our senses.  One struggles to piece together some rational thought when given such an illogical set of circumstances like those that occurred in rural Nova Scotia.

It is now clear that a single domestic abuse moment sparked in the mind of a seemingly, innocuous middle class denturist. It then ignited, and unleashed a firestorm of uncontrollable deep-seated rage. In an apparent need to destroy as well as wipe out the physical memories of his life, this disturbed male  needed to kill and burn. He needed to satiate this hunger on a byzantine trail of mayhem, a night of twisted terror, inhumane death, and hellish flames. Twenty-two people in six different communities stood in his way. 

The killing and the psychological need for destruction is not unusual, but the level of ferocity, the cold bloodedness and the instantaneous blossoming of the inner rage has rarely been seen before, at least in Canada. 

Even writing about these events it still somehow seems un-savoury and maybe premature, so it is with some reluctance that we even make some comment.

I am not going to join the chorus of former cops or “experts” who have apparently been seduced by the media to comment, seduced by the possibility of 15 seconds of fame. The audacity to think that they can offer some insight into a set of events without any knowledge of the circumstances continues to both amaze and distress me. 

Nor am I going to comment on the topic of the lack of an “Amber alert.” Each check of a residence turned up another body, another burned house, people lying in the street deformed by gun violence, their positions in death miming their last moments on earth. The officers personal survival, their minds struggling to make sense of the visual overload, would cause them to focus on the immediacy of it all. Their peripheral vision challenged.

An alert, at least initially, was likely far from the top of their minds.

To learn that it was later the next day when management, who needed to authorize such an alert, had to be prompted by the government and then that same management spent some time on the “wording”, is sadly unsurprising in this new age. Would it have saved lives, one will never know. Possibly, but it seems un- likely. 

My personal thoughts under these circumstances instead wander to how many random intersecting lives and circumstances all had to come together, and that they did so with such devastation.  A gathering of unrelated groups and their personal timelines; cops, civilians driving or walking down the street, a girlfriend tied to a chair, others huddled in their houses. A retired firefighter, two correction officers, a teacher, a 17 year old violin player and her mom and dad all united and forced into a human drama –by a cop loving or hating middle aged male who made a living by making dentures. 

 I safely sit thousands of kilometres away, on the other side of the country, in a peaceful spot on a lake, but drawn to an affinity to people I do not know and will likely never meet. The difficulty is that I can picture Constable Heidi Stevenson as if she was standing beside me; I can hear her voice, see her laugh. All cops know a Heidi.

I started my career in rural New Brunswick, in the Miramichi. It was much like rural Maritime Nova Scotia, my Portapique could have been the small fishing village of Baie Ste. Anne; Loggieville New Brunswick, your Wentworth Nova Scotia. Our night patrols like theirs covered a large swath of small often disparate villages, wrapped in endless forests or farmers fields. Often at night, we would be policing with two or three vehicles covering a vast geographic area of responsibility.

Rural policing is not the same as city or municipal policing. They are distinct entities that offer different perspectives and experience. Of course, there is crime everywhere, but in rural Canada it comes at a different pace, it is in a different rhythm. Domestic violence, impaired driving calls, and traffic accidents dominate in these often  placid and bucolic villages. Crime when it happens still is talked about, pedestrians still stop and watch as an ambulance or fire truck goes by–crime is still largely an abnormality.

If you are a police officer in these rural areas in a relatively short time, you are able to identify the problems; the individuals who are always driving drunk, the ones who are always abusing their spouses. People lose lives in hunting accidents and traffic accidents, not normally in drive-by shootings. In the rural areas you believe you know where the problem is, in the city you have no idea where danger could lurk. There are too many people, too many nameless faces. In the city you are more on edge.   

In rural Maritimes the calls are often intermittent, unlike the scroll of complaints in the city—often endless hours go by without a call. Mindless hours are common, often spent driving down seemingly endless roads, street lighting spare and halting. Continual meetings with fellow officers in the wee hours, sitting car to car, stifling yawns and talking about other things. 

Of course At 10:26 pm that changed for these H Division officers. The intersecting life lines, the fate of circumstances were about to take on a pathological tenor. Could they have predicted it? No. Could they have prevented it? No. Could they have reacted differently? Maybe, but also not likely. 

There will be questions and arm chair quarterbacks second guessing for weeks and months to come.

The Commissioner of the RCMP will implore all to seek mental help and consolation, sending out reams of material of being “there” for the members to support them in their grief and any future fears.

There will be some voices imploring for better training, for better gun laws, for a re-jigging of authorizations for Amber alerts. Psychologists and sociologists will examine the women hating characteristic which is being found as a commonality in similar situations. A group of feminists are already arguing for a full inquiry to demonstrate that misoginy was central to the eruption of violence.  

The RCMP investigation will concentrate on the weapons and how he obtained them, how he got a police uniform, or how he managed to deck out the Ford Taurus. They will promise to “review” what they could have done better. 

The SIRT group will examine the police exchanges with the suspect. They will find the shooting justified. How could they not? The SIRT group will also examine the rather bizarre shooting at the Onslow Fire Department which seems to be headed to an embarrassing finding.  

Were there any parallels to the Moncton police shooting? The only similarity may be the unpredictability of the event followed by the chaos.  

It’s possible that all this future introspection and pontificating will lead to some good. My guess is that none of it will really change anything. 

Why? Because these are events that defy definition and solution. You will always have limited resources in the small towns, you will always revert to being human in times of unbridled stress. You always react viscerally in these types of confrontations.

Some training would have kicked in, some muscle memory may be in evidence, but these are bare and raw human experiences which but for the grace of some possible higher authority few people will ever have to confront. Everyone reacts differently, their ingrained tools are what comes to the fore. 

The ability to react, the ability to see through the swamped senses, to keep your head when confronted with the unexpected is what separates policing from other first responders. A firefighter or a paramedic drive towards the known, any hint of danger allows them to fall back. No one believes them to be the enemy.

In policing, one is always driving into the unknown. In policing there is the consistent chance that you are being hunted, that you are the ultimate enemy.

I have no idea how these officers reacted or individually dealt with the unfathomable, but I am certain that they dealt with it as  best they could and individually did what was humanly possible. 

In the meantime, the aftermath to these events is predictable.

Empathy and prayers will inundate the Stevenson family, from around the country and the world. Locally, meals will be delivered, neighbours will share a bond of unmentionable grief; flowers will spray intersections and fence lines for all of those who lost their lives over those many kilometres of sadness. 

The media will take every opportunity to intone “community” grief and constantly push the rhetoric over the lack of an Amber alert. They will push and cajole all of those that they connect with to come on and broadcast their feelings of grief to a national audience. If you can cry on camera the better the footage.

I am just as certain that Gabriel Wortman deserved to die. No matter his eventual diagnosed torment and the uncontrollable demons that devoured him.

I disagree with the Prime Minister and the CBC— everyone should know his name–at least every police officer should remember his name.

But, what will last for me, what will stay with me indefinitely is that on that day– Constable Heidi Stevenson ran towards the fire.  

She did not know she was heading into a pit of madness, she did not know that she would be making the ultimate and unthinkable sacrifice. 

Your brothers and sisters now stand in solemn silence and salute you.

You were a cop.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons by Jan Kalab…Some Rights Reserved