Confusion over RCMP leadership roles marked early investigation of N.S. mass shooting
Confusion over RCMP leadership roles marked early investigation of N.S. mass shooting
When a man disguised as a Mountie started killing people in northern Nova Scotia two years ago, there was considerable confusion over who was in charge of the RCMP operation, newly released documents show.
The public inquiry investigating the tragedy has also heard, in testimony on Monday, about the "chaos in communications" that ensued on April 18-19, 2020, when 22 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history.
In a summary of evidence about the RCMP's command decisions, released Tuesday, the inquiry was reminded that the first indication of trouble came at 10:01 p.m., on April 18, 2020. That's when Jamie Blair, a resident of rural Portapique, N.S., called 911 to report that her husband had just been shot by a man with "a big gun."
As the gunman broke into her home, Blair reported just before she was shot dead that the attacker had a "decked and labelled" police car but was not a police officer.
At the time, Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill was the RCMP's risk manager at its Operational Communications Centre in nearby Truro, N.S., Following RCMP protocol, he immediately assumed command.
Within the next 30 minutes, as reports came in about more fatal shootings, Rehill engaged the RCMP's critical incident command structure and he reached out for help from four other staff sergeants: Steve Halliday, Addie MacCallum, Al Carroll and Jeff West.
The 130-page document includes excerpts of an interview with Halliday, who made it clear that he believed he was in charge of the "overall operation" when he arrived at the RCMP detachment in Bible Hill, N.S., at about 11:30 p.m.
But Halliday, the district's operations officer, told an inquiry investigator that he decided to leave Rehill in control of resources as "ad hoc incident commander."
In an interview with the commission last year, Rehill said it was his understanding that he would be the "initial critical incident commander" until West, a trained critical incident commander, arrived.
As well, there was another RCMP officer providing direction that night: Sgt. Andy O'Brien, the Bible Hill detachment's operations non-commissioned officer. Though he was off duty and had consumed four alcoholic drinks, O'Brien later retrieved his portable radio from the detachment -- with the help of his wife -- and joined in offering direction to investigating officers.
The question of who was in charge in those crucial early hours was addressed in an earlier occupational health and safety report, which found the RCMP had breached the federal Labour Code by failing to ensure employees had necessary supervision.
In a March 29 report, investigator Lorna MacMillan said general duty officers were operating in an "environment of confusion as to who had command and control of the situation."
MacMillan concluded the supervisors' training "did not provide the competencies required to allow supervisors to manage an unfolding critical incident such as an active shooter in a large outdoor, rural environment."
Testifying before the inquiry on Tuesday, Halliday said he didn't see confusion in leadership during the early response.
As he drove towards Truro from the RCMP offices in Stellarton, Halliday said he didn't hear excessive radio traffic as O'Brien and Rehill spoke to the first three officers advancing into Portapique, though he added he wasn't listening constantly.
Halliday testified that when he arrived at the RCMP offices in Bible Hill, MacCallum was busy looking at maps of the area, and Carroll was tasked with strategies to contain the area. He said it made sense to keep Rehill as the main voice on the radio to the front-line officers because at that point he had "the best situational awareness of anyone."
Halliday said he was aware that O'Brien was also speaking on the radio, though he didn't know he was working from home.
"Frankly at that point I was glad to have O'Brien supporting Rehill .... Everybody had a role, everybody had a function and knew what that role was. In my view there was no mistake in that. In my view they were carrying their functions out well and doing what needed to be done to address the issue," he said.
Tim Mills, the RCMP corporal in charge of the tactical response unit at the time, testified Monday that he and his 12-member team received limited direction as they attempted to find the killer on the second day.
Roger Burrill, senior counsel for the inquiry, asked Mills: "As you're responding, and the perpetrator is on the move, is anyone directing your response locations?"
"No, no," responded Mills, who has since retired from the force.
As for the more senior Mounties involved, the latest document mentions Supt. Darren Campbell and Chief Supt. Chris Leather. But few details are provided, aside from confirmation that Campbell had approved deploying a critical incident commander at 10:46 p.m. and followed up with an email indicating there had been a "multiple shooting." The document says it remains unclear who received the email.
At 11:08 p.m., Leather sent a text to Campbell indicating he was aware of a "double homicide and an active shooter north of Truro." Campbell responded by confirming he had approved a critical incident commander but had no further details to offer.
At 1:19 a.m. on April 19, 2020, Staff Sgt. Jeff West took over as the critical incident commander at a command post in Great Village, N.S., about 10 kilometres east of Portapique. But due to heavy traffic on the RCMP radios, he was unable to announce the change until five minutes later.
The inquiry has heard that police communication via two-way radio was a mess during most of the initial response, mainly because the system couldn't handle the number of calls coming in. RCMP Cpl. Trent Milton, an emergency response team member who testified on Monday, said there was "chaos in communications."
Under questioning by Robert Pineo, a lawyer who represents the families of 14 victims, the RCMP officer said, "Too many people were trying to chime in over the radio, and it was leading to confusion."
And when Staff Sgt. Dan MacGillivray took over as critical incident commander at 10:20 a.m. on April 19, 2020, he was unable to broadcast the change of command until 11:21 a.m., again because of the clogged airwaves.
The inquiry has heard the gunman, 51-year-old denture technician Gabriel Wortman, was shot dead by two Mounties just before 11:30 a.m. when he stopped at a gas station north of Halifax to refuel a stolen car.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.
Atlantic Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Many Canadians remain unaware of the involvement of forced child labour in the products they buy, according to non-profit agency World Vision Canada.
Hundreds of protesters descended on the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday to denounce the justice's decision to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade precedent that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.
As Pride festivities kick off around the world, many refugees are celebrating the LGBTQ2S+ community for the first time.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau headed to the G7 summit in Germany on Saturday without a consensus from the Commonwealth to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but with a chorus of countries calling for help to overcome the fallout of the war.
The World Health Organization said the escalating monkeypox outbreak in nearly 50 countries should be closely monitored but does not warrant being declared a global health emergency.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, protesters and supporters of the ruling gathered at the high court's building in Washington, D.C., and in other cities nationwide.
With the nation's capital bracing for anticipated anti-mandate 'freedom' movement protests during Canada Day weekend, interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen says her MPs are free to attend.
A barge that ran aground near Vancouver's English Bay last year quickly became an accidental attraction, drawing selfie-seekers and inspiring T-shirt designs. But after seven months, residents seem to have grown weary of its hulking presence on the shoreline.
Ukraine's largest LGBTQ rights event, KyivPride, is going ahead on Saturday. But not on its native streets and not as a celebration.
Dozens of people gathered outside the U.S. consulate in downtown Toronto Saturday to protest a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn constitutional protection for abortion rights.
Office workers are returning to Toronto but foot traffic on Mondays and Fridays hasn’t bounced back. Will it ever?
More people are commuting to offices downtown than at any point since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but the recovery hasn’t been equal across the board, with both GO Transit and the TTC reporting fluctuations in ridership as many workers choose to work from home at the beginning and end of each week.
Every Monday, Mark Powell drives to the Burlington, Ont., pork plant where his wife died to give water to pigs on their way to slaughter.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell threw for 321 yards and Malik Henry scored a third-quarter, go-ahead touchdown for the Calgary Stampeders in a 30-23 win over the visiting Edmonton Elks on Saturday.
Nearly 100 Ukrainian members of Calgary’s community marched in protest calling for the release of Azovstal Iron and steel workers, defending Mariupol from Russian attacks.
After the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away constitutional protections for abortion Friday by overturning Roe v. Wade, NDP Leader Rachel Notley demanded that everyone running to become the next leader of the UCP clarify their stance on the issue.
Paramedics in Greater Montreal are stretched particularly thin this weekend, with nearly half the territory's ambulances parked due to a staffing shortage.
Police on Montreal's South Shore has located the suspect vehicle they say was involved in a hit-and-run that left a woman dead.
Friends and family of a 17-year-old girl who died in what police are calling an accident on the shore in LaSalle gathered Saturday to remember the Montreal teen who her mother said was 'was full of life.'
Fans leaving the Garth Brooks concert at Commonwealth Stadium Friday night were happy and smiling, despite some logistical issues that delayed the show and frustrated some.
A Member of Parliament from rural Alberta went live on Facebook Friday to celebrate a United States Supreme Court vote to end constitutional protections for abortion.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Edmonton City Hall Saturday to celebrate the first large Pride event in the city in four years, and the first one in Churchill Square in eight.
Nipissing-Timiskaming Liberal MP Anthony Rota said he was shocked by Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
With hundreds of students from India who attend Northern College, and other professionals from India who've moved to the city to work, organizers said they felt it was time to bring everyone together to celebrate their culture with the rest of the community.
A group of friends doing work on a camp in MacGregor Bay helped contain what could have been a devastating fire in Killarney Provincial Park.
A motorcyclist was airlifted to the hospital with unknown injuries Saturday morning following a crash in Bayham, Ont.
The identity of a pedestrian who died after being struck by a vehicle on Walpole Island has been released by police.
The Chatham-Kent police Major Crime Unit is working alongside the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office to determine the cause of a house fire after a body was found inside the home.
Using a trailer or an RV is an easy way for people to get out of the city and into the outdoors, but with soaring gas prices, the cost of driving with one has gone up drastically.
Winnipeg was once again pummelled by rain on Friday and the city came close to setting a rainfall record.
No one was injured but one pet died after an early morning fire Saturday.
The summer festival season in Ottawa kicked off this weekend with thousands gathering for events across the city.
Someone called 911 from Britannia Beach at approximately 7:15 p.m. Saturday, reporting four people had fallen off a paddleboard and were floating towards the Deschenes Rapids in Ottawa's west end.
There are no reports of injuries after two jet skis collided near Petrie Island Bay in Ottawa's east end.
When Ennio Muzzolini walked into Christies Mayfair Bakery in 1965 interested in purchasing the small bakery on 33rd Street, he never imagined he’d one day be looking on as hundreds of people lined the block to get their hands on a baguette, cinnamon bun or wood-fired pizza.
Organizers have decided to cancel the Elk Ridge Open due to an “inordinate amount of rain.”
A Saskatoon man whose family helped to build the Waterhen Lake Church is planning to help rebuild the church.
As the first sustained heat of the season settles in across B.C.'s south coast, Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued a special weather statement advising people of high temperatures and humidex values through Monday.
Metro Vancouver is experiencing its first stretch of hot summer weather this weekend and people are scouring stores looking for air conditioners and fans to cool off – some being met with empty shelves.
The family of a Vancouver police officer who died by suicide is suing the department, alleging she endured sexual assault and exploitation enabled by an "unsafe workplace culture and insufficient policies and procedures," court documents show.
Over 400 people contributed to the Field of Dreams project, which led to the purchase of a large track of prairie grasslands for preservation.
The Saskatchewan NDP will elect its next leader at a convention on Sunday.
Saskatchewan RCMP are investigating after a two-vehicle collision occurred at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 5 in Wadena.
A 15-month dispute in British Columbia's film and television industry has ended with the ratification of a new contract for creative and logistical staff working on productions shot in the province.
All ferry sailings between two of B.C.'s Discovery Islands have been cancelled Saturday because of a lack of crew.
When Tabi Henry was little, she never questioned why everyone celebrated her birthday in costume. Until she realized Oct. 31 was also Halloween.