Portapique Inquiry: time to dismantle the RCMP

Let’s talk about mental health of police.
And to kick things off, let’s look at mental health of the police.
Tuesday’s Chronicle Herald ran a 500-word story by Brian Sauvé the president of the National Police Federation, which is the union that represents most members of the RCMP.

He implored us to see the police as victims of the Portapique massacre, and “deserving of the same respect and consideration afforded to all victims of these events.“ What an insult to the 22 victims and their families.

Sauvé writes about emotional stress, and the long-term injuries to police which affect their quality of life. He says the risk is there for the 100 RCMP members involved in the Portapique massacre. We are supposed to be sensitive to the police’s needs.

But should we be sensitive to the RCMP officers – including those in the top ranks — whose laziness and lack of care and commitment contributed to the deaths of 22 innocent people? Should we really consider putting more supports in place for mental health services for the police?

“The RCMP says, ‘We’re going to be totally transparent.’ The commission says, ‘We’re going to be very sensitive… We’re going to get to the bottom of this.’ And as soon as you show them transparency, they’re saying, ‘Holy shit, hide that. That’s not what we wanted.'”

Paul Palango, journalist and writer in an interview on Canadaland here

I don’t think many of the relatives and loved ones of 22 people killed by gunman Gabriel Wortman — have much time or concern for the police and their mental health concerns: specifically the RCMP officers and their trained civilian co-workers.

3 different calls to 911 and no cops came

An example of their incompetence is the 911 operators who received three phone calls on the night of April 18, 2020 – all within 25 minutes — as the murderer began his cold-blooded killing spree. First Jamie Blair, aged 40 and a mother of two boys, called 911 just after 10 pm to report that her neighbour had just shot her husband who lay face down on their deck. She did not know if he was dead. Two minutes later she went out to check and was shot multiple times in the face and killed by Gabriel Wortman. He shot at her boys cowering in a locked room, and narrowly missed one. One of the Blair boys then retrieved his dad’s cell from his dead body and called 911 (minutes after his mother had) to report that a man in a police car, wearing a police uniform, had just shot his parents. The boy reported that the police cruiser was in their driveway. The 911 operator seemed more interested when the boy said he could see a number of buildings set on fire along their road, than about the boys’ dead parents. In fact, 911 patched the boy caller into the Bass River fire station. But no one came to help the children.

The boys then ran next door to the McCully house. For safety, Lisa McCully sent her two children and the Blair boys to the basement. Then she went outside to see if she could help the Blair parents and was shot in the head by Wortman.

The third call came from Andrew MacDonald, a neighbour who with his wife Kate, spotted the fires—all of which we know now had been deliberately set by the murderer. The MacDonalds got into their car and drove toward the fires to offer help. MacDonald called 911 from his car. He told 911 he was going to stop as saw a police car in the driveway of one house. The operator asked if it was safe, but MacDonald reported to her that a man in a police uniform was approaching him. Wortman shot MacDonald in the arm and Kate was screaming – this was all recorded on the 911 call as it happened. Right away MacDonald said the shooter was his neighbour, “Gabe”. Still in the car the MacDonalds drove on and found a cop sitting in his cruiser – and told him what had happened.

However none of this meant even one member of police or emergency services came to rescue the four children still hiding in the McCully basement for hours. Though 11 of the 13 murders that night took place on the same road, there was no police search of the houses on that street. In fact, it was more than three hours before police came knocking at the McCully house. The four children – by now orphans – were alone for the entire time.

As everyone knows by now, a half an hour before midnight RCMP issued their first tweet– which said much too little, way too late.


Especially in view of the RCMP’s final warning, also as a tweet, which came nearly twelve hours later, mid-morning on Sunday, 19 April.

“To clarify, the suspect in our active shooter investigation, Gabriel Wortman, is NOT employed by the RCMP but he may be wearing an RCMP uniform. He is considered armed and dangerous. If you see him do not approach and call 911 immediately.”

RCMPNS Tweet

The RCMP claim they knew nothing about the disguised gunman until Wortman’s wife allegedly came out of the woods and told them about Wortman, his police uniform and replica police car.

The fact is the police had to have known about Wortman for more than 12 hours – since receiving the three calls between 10 and 10.25 pm on Saturday night.

Why did the RCMP continue to use Twitter?

Why did the RCMP use Twitter, when a mere 10 days earlier the RCMP had stated they would not monitor tweets, nor would they accept tweets to report crimes. Though clearly the RCMP were more than happy to use twitter to send out a warning about a mass murderer. Here is their tweet which they pinned days before the mass murders.

Here’s the RCMP tweet

So again—why should we talk of the RCMP’s mental health problems when we consider the RCMP’s incompetence and lack of initiative or follow-up on the weekend?

And what about the mental health problems suffered by two firefighters who had to lock themselves in the Onslow Belmont fire hall while two RCMP officers outside shot up the station – wrongly believing that the shooter was barricaded inside.

NS Tartan, by Halifax artist Meg Ryan

Despite the RCMP setting up a few roadblocks, the shooter traveled a back road to Debert (27 km away) and slept overnight in his replica cruiser behind a welding shop. The police assumed he had died!

“Some people are concerned about the Commission’s independence, believing we may be susceptible to covering up for either the RCMP or the government.”

The Hon. Michael MacDonald, former chief justice of the NS Supreme Court

The police have lied to the public. Yet the facts above have been revealed and backed up. Still, one wonders if we will hear about them next week at the Inquiry.

The chief commissioner of the Mass Casualty Inquiry has pledged to the loved ones and the public that everything will come out. He insists the Commission will be fully transparent, “Some people are concerned about the commission’s independence, believing we may be susceptible to covering up for either the RCMP or government,” said the Hon. Michael MacDonald, former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, in his opening remarks to the Inquiry.


However we shall see exactly what does come out in evidence and in testimony next week. Some of the families of the dead have demanded a list of witnesses, whether they could be cross-examined, whether Wortman’s wife would be testifying, documents, and so far little has been forthcoming. Chief commissioner MacDonald has said the goal is a “restorative” process by which he has indicated he does not want to compel witnesses to testify. Before the Inquiry even began, it had cost $13 million. This week, on the first two days of the Inquiry, the families and other viewers were subjected to two days of expert panels, one on mental health and one on life in rural Nova Scotia. Both seemed like rather insulting diversions from the main issues.

‘We’re going to do this in a trauma sensitive way’ But what ever happened to looking at Portapique through a feminist lens?

Enter: at least one investigative journalist

As Paul Palango, a journalist who has been investigating the Portapique massacre since the first day said on Canadaland, “Everyone has argued from the beginning, ‘We want transparency.’ The RCMP says, ‘We’re going to be totally transparent.’ The commission says, ‘We’re going to be very sensitive, and we’re going to do this in a trauma-sensitive way. We’re going to get to the bottom of this.’ And as soon as you show them transparency, they’re saying, ‘Holy shit, hide that. That’s not what we wanted.’”

Palango for his part has been publishing criticism of the police at Portapique for the last year in Frank magazine. Palango’s new book 22 Murders: Investigating the Massacres, Cover-up and Obstacles to Justice in Nova Scotia will be released in April.

The police could very well suffer from mental health problems. But their biggest problem is that all the way up the ranks they lied, they hid the truth, they didn’t do even an adequate job of policing. They even allowed one of their own to be killed by Wortman. If there is one thing that has become clear in the wake of this tragedy it is the necessity to defund the police, and dismantle the RCMP.

The time is coming to defund the RCMP

I want to congratulate El Jones, and the committed people who worked with her. It was through their work in their recent report  Defunding the Police: Defining the Way Forward for HRM to the Board of Police Commissioners which paved the way for Halifax Regional Municipal Council to reject the HRM Police’s request for an extra nearly $3 million for their policing budget. Now when will defunding the RCMP become a reality?

Featured image: Hiking trails, near Sackville, Nova Scotia. Credit: FPImages

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