'Absolutely disgusting': Team leader critical of RCMP mental health support after N.S. shooting
The RCMP's treatment of their tactical team in the days following the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia was characterized as "absolutely disgusting" Monday during testimony before the public inquiry examining the killings.
Retired corporal Tim Mills, who headed the 13-member Emergency Response Team, told the inquiry that a lack of mental health support in the week after the rampage that claimed 22 lives is the main reason he left the force after a 29-year career.
"The RCMP as an organization wants to give this impression that they care about their members," Mills testified. "The way that we were treated after this (Portapique) was disgusting, absolutely disgusting."
Mills detailed his attempts to get more time for his eight part-time team members to "decompress" after the April 18-19, 2020, rampage instead of quickly returning to general duties at their detachments after the unit was stood down for three days.
He said it was agreed during a debriefing involving team members and three psychiatrists on April 24 that a request would be made for the part-timers to work at headquarters with the full-time team members for a period of two weeks.
"Their advice was to be around like-minded people, talk openly about it, stay busy," Mills said.
But, he said the request appeared to go nowhere, and by April 29 he was told the part-time team members had to return to their home units.
"There are members off because of Portapique that are still off today, that didn't see what we saw. They forced our guys back to work a week and a half after."
Mills said he pushed to find out who had made the decision, but it all became too much for him by November of 2020. "At that point I was like, 'I'm done working for a broken organization,"' he said. Mills retired from the RCMP in July 2021.
Meanwhile, Mills and the team's second-in-command the night of the shootings, Cpl. Trent Milton, gave testimony Monday related to an inquiry document detailing the team's initial response to the shootings.
Mills said he was first notified of the ongoing situation around 10:45 p.m. on April 18, 2020. The first members of his team arrived outside Portapique just under two hours later.
Milton was the first one there and he said he decided to wait for Mills and the team's tactical assault vehicle about 10 minutes behind.
"At that time, based on the information and facts that we had, it was what I'll call a non-active threat, there was no active gunfire and the location of the perpetrator was unknown," Milton testified, adding that other Mounties were already at the scene.
Soon after its arrival, the team was about to enter Portapique when it was sent to check out several suspicious sightings involving someone with a flashlight outside homes in the community of Five Houses, across a river and nearly three kilometres away.
But they did not have operational tracking and digital mapping devices in their vehicles, while technology that was on their phones and would have allowed team members to locate one another wasn't working. As a result, they relied on verbal radio directions from commanders to navigate their way in the pitch dark.
At one point, the document notes that Mills had difficulty finding the location of the reported sightings using the instructions he was given over the radio, which also had too many members on it at the time.
He soon asked Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill, who was the risk manager at the RCMP's Operational Communications Centre in Truro, N.S., to call his cellphone to sort things out.
"If you listen to the radio comms at all, total confusion on that geographical area," Mills testified. "It was totally pitch black that night, poorly marked roads, rural area. So trying to figure out where to go that night was frustrating and tough to do."
Mills also voiced frustration over the team's next assignment, which was to rescue Clinton Ellison, who had been hiding in a wooded area in Portapique following the killing of his brother Corrie Ellison by the gunman hours before. Mills told inquiry investigators that Ellison would have been found sooner had there been tracking technology or a helicopter overhead to detect a body heat signature.
He said the same may have applied to the gunman's common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield, who spent the night hiding in the woods and was found by the tactical team the next morning after she sought refuge in the home of a Portapique resident.
The inquiry document confirms that RCMP knew for certain from talking to Banfield at around 6:45 a.m. that gunman Gabriel Wortman was heavily armed and on the loose in a fully marked RCMP cruiser complete with a light bar.
The tactical team was finally updated at 8:20 a.m. with further information that the marked car had a call sign on its side of 28-B11.
During its nearly nine hours in the Portapique area, the tactical team also came across several victims of the gunman and verified that they were dead. Those victims included Corrie Ellison, Lisa McCully and Greg and Jamie Blair.
The team was in the midst of conducting a house-to-house evacuation of the area with a Department of Natural Resources helicopter overhead when police received a 911 call around 9:35 a.m. about a shooting in Wentworth, along with a witness report of an RCMP vehicle leaving the scene.
Const. Trent Milton, another team member, told the commission: "We knew that ... was obviously our individual. We had an active threat again, and we were pushed into the threat to try to stop it." The chase ended shortly after 11:25 a.m. on April 19 when Emergency Response Team officer Const. Ben MacLeod and another Mountie shot Wortman at a gas station north of Halifax.
Mills told commission investigators that he was satisfied with his team's performance when confronted with a unique situation. "Put it this way," he said, "you would never dream up a scenario like this, you know, because there's too much going on at once."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.
Atlantic Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Canada's chief of defence says Russia's invasion of Ukraine is going to change the course of history.
G7 leaders opened their summit Sunday with a discussion about shaping the global economy at a time when conflict and unrest are driving up prices and access to key goods around the world.
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.
New research looking at the frequency of heavy rainfall across the globe shows that a drastic increase in downpours is expected over the years to come.
The final bell is about to ring at the end of a topsy-turvy school year warped by the COVID-19 crisis and students are reflecting on how the pandemic shaped things.
The latest on the G7 summit: Leaders at the Group of Seven summit in Germany have joked about what would make them look tougher than Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Many Canadians remain unaware of the involvement of forced child labour in the products they buy, according to non-profit agency World Vision Canada.
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.
As Pride festivities kick off around the world, many refugees are celebrating the LGBTQ2S+ community for the first time.
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.
A man in crisis stabbed several people Sunday morning in downtown Montreal, leaving one dead and three injured.
The higher parts of Angelique Beauchemin's land, she said, are sinking an inch or two a year as they slope ever more steeply toward the river. While she's not a scientist, she says her biggest fear is that one day there will be a landslide and the white house at the top of the hill where she's lived for decades will tumble down.
Paramedics in Greater Montreal are stretched particularly thin this weekend, with nearly half the territory's ambulances parked due to a staffing shortage.
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.
You could find all kinds of colourful characters in downtown London Saturday as the Forest City ComiCon returned from its COVID hiatus.
A motorcyclist was airlifted to the hospital with unknown injuries Saturday morning following a crash in Elgin County.
The identity of a pedestrian who died after being struck by a vehicle on Walpole Island has been released by police.
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.
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at the Canada Day activities across the city of Ottawa, including at the new location at LeBreton Flats.
Ontario Provincial Police say minor injuries have been reported after a driver struck another vehicle on Highway 417 Saturday, causing it to roll.
The summer festival season in Ottawa kicked off this weekend with thousands gathering for events across the city.
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.