Listening to the Nighttime Podcast, which airs live most Sunday nights, I’ve learned a great deal about the Portapique Massacre. In the recent podcast on Sept 11, I noted Paul Palango’s comment that the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC) Inquiry has “lost the thread”. In other words, most Nova Scotians are tired of it; nothing has happened, and we all suspect little change will result. While some facts have been revealed at the MCC, it is almost impossible to make much sense of what happened Apr. 19-20, 2020. Some witnesses have testified; but not all who we needed to testify did testify. Also there is the nagging detail that cross-examination of witnesses was either not allowed, or severely restricted.
In addition, concerns by the surviving families and neighbours of the murdered, have been largely ignored. As Nick Beaton, whose pregnant wife Krista was one of the murder victims said, “When these three (commissioners) got hired on, they have the power to subpoena and ask any question in the world, to anybody, and they’re not using it. And they’re scrubbing, they’re scrubbing the words before they come out.”
The families were so upset by decisions of the commissioners to abandon sworn testimony and disallow certain lines of questioning that they walked out of the proceedings, not once but several times. They also picketed the Truro hotel where some of the MCC Inquiry took place.
Good point raised by Nighttime’s Jordan Bonaparte
Another issue is the cost of the MCC Inquiry. In May 2022, the CBC reported the cost of the Inquiry stood at $12.8 million but was expected to rise to $20 million. And it is likely to go beyond $20 million, as the final report won’t be ready till spring 2023.
Jordan Bonaparte, host of the Nighttime Podcast, put the $20 million pricetag into perspective. Bonaparte pointed out the US’s 9/11 Commission and its 2004 report titled The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the US cost a total of US$15 million (or C$19 million). Corrected for the exchange rate and inflation, the 9/11 Commission and report would have cost about C$27 million in 2022 dollars. By spring 2023, the cost of Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry and its final report will likely rise to about $22 million. But the scope and substance of the 9/11 inquiry and report dwarfs the MCC’s.
Let’s look at what the 9/11 inquiry had to investigate:
- More than 2,000 dead
- Hundreds injured
- Four commercial airplanes crashed
- Three buildings destroyed (or in part destroyed)
- The work and rescue efforts of thousands of first responders
And, according to the contents of the Commission’s Report the Commission had to examine:
- Al Qaeda and the Organization of the 9-11 Attack
- Intelligence Collection, Analysis, and Management (including oversight and resource allocation)
- International Counterterrorism Policy, including states that harbor or harbored terrorists, or offer terrorists safe havens
- Terrorist Financing
- Border Security and Foreign Visitors
- Law Enforcement and Intelligence Collection inside the United States
- Commercial Aviation and Transportation Security, including an Investigation into the Circumstances of the Four Hijackings
- The Immediate Response to the Attacks at the National, State, and local levels, including issues of Continuity of Government
The Commission investigated all of that and published a 500-plus page report at roughly the same cost as the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry including its forthcoming report. To remind us that the scope of the NS Inquiry is undeniably smaller than one for 9/11, here are facts under consideration by the MCC :
- There were 22 murder victims (23 including the killer)
- One RCMP policewoman was killed
- Two people were seriously physicallly injured
- At least 100 family members immediately and tragically were affected
- We don’t know precisely, but approximately 100 police officers and first responders such as 911 operators, firefighters were involved
- The MCC Inquiry presented about 20 round-table discussions and guest lectures ranging from community policing to intimate partner violence
- Inquiry witnesses consisted mainly of police or technical experts
What’s missing at the MCC Inquiry
- There was little to no information about killer Gabriel Wortman’s involvement or connection to:
- Organized crime and the illegal drug trade
- Running illegal guns across the US border into Canada
- The killer’s cache of 2 cases of grenades
- Licensed vs unlicensed firearms: as far as we understand, the killer had no FAC (Firearms Acquisition Certificate)
- The quantity of ammunition purchased for Wortman, and by whom
- The roles of Lisa Banfield, and her two relatives in any of this
- His withdrawal of $475,000 cash from a Brinks office days before the killings; yet there was no paper record of the transaction
- The killer’s serious threats and assaults against family members and others
- Police paraphernalia (such as cruisers, uniforms and more). Why were these available for commercial sale to the public?
- The disappearance of Peter Alan Griffon, who has never testified. He was a personal confidant of the killer and was at the killer’s home the Saturday the massacre began. He also put the RCMP decals on the fake cruisers and kitted them out
- These are just a few of the lines of inquiry that the MCC should have seriously looked into.
The Portapique Inquiry has lost its focus or sense of responsibility. The softball questions lobbed to most witnesses frequently go unanswered, or their answers go unchallenged. The RCMP witnesses, from the top ranks to those below, have been allowed to wander through their confused memory of events and pull out what they choose to recall. Their trauma or discomfort — along with their right to privacy — have become excuses. It seems most police witnesses think they have an inalienable right to continue their careers in policing– including getting promoted — despite having made bad decisions. Some of their decisions carried lethal consequences.
A case in point is RCMP Constable Greg Wiley, who gave evidence that he visited the killer at least 16 times from 2009-2011. Wiley had been sent to investigate a possible illegal firearms stash, as well as the physical threats family members said Wortman made to his own parents.
Though Wiley said he would not call Wortman a “friend”, Wiley did call him a “community contact” whom he thought he could pump for local information. According to Wiley, Wortman was sympathetic toward the police. Contrary to RCMP training, Wiley never took a single note during any of the visits to Wortman’s home. Yet the MCC deemed Cst Wiley so valuable to the RCMP in his current undercover role at the Toronto airport that the Inquiry refused to allow the media to broadcast his testimony, or show his face.
It is sad but true that the MCC has done little to answer or ask questions that will lead to significant changes in policing, or build understanding about the mass killing. We have Paul Palango’s book, 22 Murders, and the Nighttime Podcast to thank for continuing to highlight what did happen, and what we still need to find out.
Featured image: World Trade Center South Tower bursts into flames after being hit by US Airlines Flt 175, on Sept 11, 2001. Photo by Sara K Schwittek/Reuters.