Last week, because of an 18-year-old mass-murderer, everyone can spell Uvalde and many people know it’s a city of 16,000, 90 minutes’ drive from San Antonio, Texas.
Two years ago, because of a 51-year-old mass-murderer, many Canadians can spell the word Portapique, and know it’s a tiny village with 100 residents in winter (250 in summer) in central NS, 90 minutes’ from Halifax.
Paul Palango has written an excellent book 22 Murders: Investigating the massacres, cover-up and obstacles to Justice in Nova Scotia about the murders of 22 people in central Nova Scotia. The book is more than 500 pages long, however it is in paperback and, lucky for us, it costs only $20. Though the book has been among the top five bestselling nonfiction books for weeks in The Globe and Mail’s bestseller list, I’m surprised by how few of my friends and acquaintances have read this outstanding volume. It seems even people in NS prefer not to know much about the massacre.
To back that up, Palango writes that in 2021, he walked into his local pharmacy in Chester Basin, NS one afternoon to pick up a prescription. The 30-ish pharmacy assistant knew him slightly. And from talking to the pharmacist, she had heard Palango was writing a book. She asked what it was about:
22 Murders presents the best arguments for why the RCMP must be disbanded NOW. The lies, the omissions, the lack of curiosity, the laziness and the incredible incompetence of the RCMP are breathtaking. To give the most blunt proof, after 13 people were mowed down by bullets between 9 pm and midnight on Sat. Apr. 19, 2020 and several buildings in Portapique were set on fire by murderer Gabriel Wortman, police decided he posed no further threat. Police believe Wortman had succumbed to suicide or disappeared somehow. The police never bothered to communicate with the local people, go to every door in the village, send out a mobile phone alert, or broadcast a warning through the media. With barely any roadblocks in place, Wortman escaped in his kitted out fake police cruiser through a back road. Late that Saturday night, the RCMP folded in on itself, hunkered down and kept quiet. On Sunday morning Wortman managed to easily gun down nine more unsuspecting victims when he briefly stopped traffic (and killed two women) then drove through a couple of nearby villages to kill seven more people, before taking the highway toward Halifax.
The NS government at first insisted on a cursory review rather than an inquiry, see my article here. But the Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry, eventually paid for by the federal and provincial governments, is an outrage. Last week family members of the slain publicly boycotted the hearings for two weeks, and picketed with signs in front of the hotel in Truro where the Inquiry was convened. The families protested when two senior RCMP members who were in charge that fateful weekend gave evidence via a pre-taped zoom conference. I should tell you their evidence (like most of the rest of testimony at the Inquest) was not sworn. The pre-taped evidence meant lawyers for the bereaved families would not be allowed to question, much less cross-examine, two top cops.
Clockwise, from top left: Memorial to Kristin Beaton, killed by Wortman in Debert, NS (credit: Reuters); Wortman’s kitted out but fake RCMP cruiser; Wortman’s Atlantic Denture Clinic, in Dartmouth, now demolished; Drone-view of Portapique, on shores of Cobequid Bay which leads to the Bay of Fundy (credit: Steve Lawrence/CBC); protest of relatives and friends of the 22 victims in Truro, NS where Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry met on May 26. Recently family and friends boycotted the hearings for two weeks; then the Inquiry announced it would be held behind closed doors to enable two senior RCMP men to give evidence (Andrew Vaughan/TheCanadianPress)
Worse news: May 30, the inquiry went “in camera” so the media will again be silenced. All media representatives that attend the Mass Casualty Inquiry, must agree to not publish or report on anything till the Inquiry formally releases it. This embargo on evidence or testimony or documents seems bizarre in a public inquiry. In fact, I was asked the first day I attended to agree to the government’s embargo on evidence and, when I refused, I was not allowed to get a “press” credential, or certain media briefings.
I recall during the Fatality Inquiry into Lionel Desmond’s murders of his family and then himself, there were no such prohibitions. Those killings took place in rural Nova Scotia in 2017. The Inquiry wrapped up mere months ago. Important witnesses who ignored possible warning signs of the impending murders-suicide were compelled to testify. They included some employees from the Dept of Veterans’ Affairs, at least one person from the New Brunswick Dept of Justice and Public Security who okayed Desmond’s gun license renewal , a group of psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, and social workers who had little idea about familicide, and how to prevent “family violence”. To read more about familicide searching for answers through a feminist lens see my blog. All witnesses were forced to testify under oath and were also subject to cross-examination.
In the Portapique case of the 22 murders, much of the criticism has been levelled at the RCMP – from the top ranks down. Indeed protesters today in front of the Best Western Hotel in Truro carried signs that read, “Make Top Cops Answer.” But when the Inquiry has in-camera sessions, tries to gag the media, and prohibits independent cross examination of witnesses – the RCMP looks worse and worse.
To better understand the case and for a thorough critique of the RCMP, tune in to Jordan Bonaparte’s weekly Nighttime Podcast here (I listen on Spotify; I’m also a monthly subscriber but you don’t have to be). Almost every Sunday night, Bonaparte interviews author Paul Palango about the current state of the Inquiry and background about the Portapique massacre. Palango and Bonaparte have christened the Inquiry a “Spinquiry”. Palango, a veteran journalist and author, has written several noteworthy books critical of the RCMP. 22 Murders is a masterpiece.
What to Watch
Pieces of Her is an 8 part thriller on Netflix. Originally, it was to be shot in Burnaby, BC, but ultimately the producers got better incentives and switched to Sydney, Australia. In small-town Georgia, a young woman celebrates her 30th birthday; her mother takes her to lunch. A random shooter enters the restaurant and kills two people the women know slightly. The mother, in a very brave and scary move, helps to disable and apprehend the shooter. The series focuses on the murky background of the mother, which the daughter painstakingly uncovers. Her kindly ex-stepfather is a Black lawyer but her real father remains in the shadows. A friend of the family is really an FBI operative. Her mother, who works as a speech therapist, is not who the daughter could ever imagine. Here’s the trailer.
Only have a few minutes to watch something while your cake bakes? Try watching El Cacao, The Challenge of Fair Trade on Kanopy. In 20 minutes, we see a short doc about where your chocolate comes from and how it gets to the shelf in your grocery store. Panama farmers, members of a cocoa bean cooperative, are given a lesson on neo-liberalism, and US imperialism which bends their lives with poverty, and illiteracy. If you think this chocolate cake recipe can sweeten the message, you can write and ask me for it. I warn you it takes closer to 30 minutes to bake. Here’s the trailer for El Cacao.
A feature length documentary, Black Skin, White Mask, is a biographical film about Frantz Fanon. Fanon, who was Black, was born in Martinique, French West Indies in 1925. Fanon won scholarships that which enabled him to study medicine in France; he became a psychiatrist. He was a major 20th century figure who fought French colonialism and capitalism. He is considered one of the predominant intellectual fathers of 20th century anti-imperialism
Fanon focused his laser-like intelligence on racism, support for Marxism and the overthrow of colonization. His last professional posting was in Algeria, where he supported the Algerian War of Independence from France. Probably his most famous book is The Wretched of the Earth – which I highly recommend. This documentary is well worth watching especially to hear comments by the late (and great) Stuart Hall, a Jamaican-born Marxist sociologist and critic. It’s on Kanopy, and here’s the trailer.
Book cover, 60th anniversary edition: Frantz Fanon, portrait.
The Silent Child…
The Silent Child is an Oscar-winning short film. It’s only 20 minutes long but has the requisite pulling on heartstrings, slamming ignorant parents and school officials along with an unsettling ending. Have a look.
On Britbox, I watched The Job Lot. It’s a well-scripted and very funny series about workers (and a boss) in a government-run employment centre in Birmingham, UK. The employment centre is eerily similar to our Canada Employment Centres, where the push is always to get people off benefits, back to work no matter the low status of the job or how poor the pay. It’s clever and witty. It moves fast! There’s even one episode about a strike at the employment centre. Music to my ears!! Here’s the trailer. You can watch a 22 minute episode free here.
“Military checkpoints, Jewish-only roads and towns, colour-coded ID cards, separate set of laws for Palestinians and Israelis. This is the reality of life for Palestinians living under Israeli control.”
What to listen to…
Again, listen to Nighttime Podcast (see first item above) with Jordan Bonaparte to hear more criticism of the Mass Casualty Inquiry in NS. Paul Palango is pointed and Bonaparte asks the right questions.
“What you believe in will carry you through,” is a half hour podcast that is very shocking. In 2008, Platinex which claimed land in northwestern Ontario that they wanted to mine for gold. They sued the band councillors of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Band (KI) for $10 billion. Six Indigenous leaders (5 men and 1 woman) of the of Big Trout First Nation were jailed for six months for contempt of court because they would not allow mining on the KI’s land. The jailed KI leaders were released after two months after a concerted grassroots effort and a massive public outcry by people including Judy Rebick, and Stephen Lewis, plus Amnesty International and various trade unions. In a series of fascinating interviews, program host Jody Porter (a former senior reporter for the CBC in Thunder Bay who now works freelance) gives a clear picture of what these community leaders sacrificed, and how their lives and their community have changed – and not for the better. Listen here
On Selected Shorts, listen to two amazing short stories, read aloud – a bit late for this topic on Mothers’ Day but still great. Episode 34 Mothers Know Best, here.
The Big Story podcast is about a mine that shut down 22 years ago. At a deserted minesite near Yellowknife, there is enough arsenic to kill everyone in Canada — and the rest of the world. To be specific: there are 237,000 tons of arsenic just sitting there. The mine operated for about 50 years. It’s the Giant gold mine. Many of us remember that name. In 1992, during a vicious strike-lockout, a deliberately planted explosion underground killed nine scab workers (strikebreakers).
The story was well told in Lee Selleck’s 1997 book, Dying for Gold. Roger Warren, an experienced miner, and well respected union leader confessed to the crime. But experts said it was a “false confession.” Two other men were likely responsible for the deaths. The book is worth reading. The case of Roger Warren (who died in 2019 at age 75, in a BC jail) is rather tragic with many unanswered questions.
I’ve started listening to a fascinating series called Disappearances. Sarah Turney, the program’s researcher and host, had her own brush with the topic. In 2001, Sarah’s sister, Alissa, disappeared after she did not return from high school one afternoon. Alissa was 17. Sarah used social media, notably Tiktok, to piece together what happened to Alissa, and eventually the girls’ father was charged with Alissa’s murder. In Turney’s podcast, she pays attention to detail about other cases and her empathy (tinged at times with cynicism) is refreshing. I listen on Spotify. You can listen here. The Canadian connection in Disappearances is the case of Art and Margaret Williams in BC – it’s worth hearing here. Warning: don’t listen late at night, if you are alone.
Now that you are on to The Big Story, you might want to listen to the host’s interview with Michele Shephlard, the journalist-podcaster, who has been researching the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian by birth, was incarcerated and tortured in Guantanamo in the wake of the 9-11 attacks for 14 years. His excellent book: Guantanamo Diary I reviewed here. He has a connection to Montreal; in 1999, he moved here as a permanent resident after receiving his engineering degree in Germany. Within two months, he left to return to his homeland. It was information that the Canadian (faulty but deliberate) Islamophobic “intelligence” outfits gathered and and peddled to the Americans which landed him first under their “extraordinary rendition program” in Jordan, then in Guantanamo. He’s now suing the Canadian government for $35 million— Good for him, I’d say. I hope he wins. The interview with Michele Sheppard is here. And here is the trailer for the film, The Mauritanian, starring (white saviour) Jodie Foster.
Featured image, desecration of the land– mining in Canada. (credit: Unsplash)