First a big thank you to the Nighttime Podcast for bringing what you are about to read to my attention, and to yours.
The family members of the victims shot by Gabriel Wortman were not allowed to speak at the Mass Casualty Commission hearings. Since the start of the Mass Casualty Inquiry, the families have stewed in silence– sometimes inside the hearing room and sometimes outside. There they sat day after day, week after week. When the Commissioners refused to allow the cross-examination of witnesses, the families walked out and refused to “participate”. They picketed the hotel in Truro, NS where several days of the Inquiry were held.
Families of victims of the Portapique massacre picket outside a Truro hotel, May 26, 2022. (credit Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
On July 15, 2022, halfway through Lisa Banfield’s (Wortman’s partner) evidence, victims’ families and their lawyer Michael Scott walked out of the hearing for the rest of the day. “We’ve decided with our clients that we’ve heard enough,” said Scott. “…Nothing we’ve heard today has allayed any of our concerns about the way Ms. Banfield has been handled. …I don’t know if Ms. Banfield is lying. I don’t know if Ms. Banfield is telling the truth. I don’t know if Ms. Banfield is mistaken, because we don’t have an opportunity to ask her any questions.”
For reasons I cannot understand, none of the victims’ families was allowed to talk “live,” or give evidence at the hearing, in front of the Commissioners. The only reason I can see for this – as writer Paul Palango has noted – is to protect the RCMP and the system which has made a mockery of the Mass Casualty Inquiry.
RCMP officer, by Ransford Naugler
On Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, the Inquiry convened a “Small Group Session” at a hotel in Truro, NS. The Commissioners wanted to know “what are the issues do you believe are the most important for the Commission to focus on as we finalize [the] recommendations?” Present were Patsy and Charlene Bagley; Patsy is Tom Bagley’s wife, and Charlene is his daughter. Tom Bagley, a retired firefighter, was shot by Wortman on the Sunday morning of the weekend massacre. Charlene spoke on her own behalf and her mother’s. Surprisingly, the session went unreported by the media. But you can read the transcript of it here.
Charlene Bagley made statements that were both shocking and right on point.
She had six questions for the Commissioners:
- “The Ready Alert was not being used. I still don’t understand why — who thought Twitter was the best way to inform the province of this when I myself and I am not that old, did not have Twitter. Nor did I have any intention of getting Twitter. I have it now because God forbid if something like this happened again and if that is their only way of informing the province, then I want to know.
- “The second thing would be, maybe perhaps during Basic Training, members can be taught that it is a big no-no to destroy evidence. That way, especially during a high-profile case like this. That way eight months into an investigation we don’t need to have a Memorandum put out in places to be told not to destroy evidence regarding this ongoing investigation. You should not have to be told that.
- “The third thing, anyone under the influence of alcohol should not — should not be permitted to make any decisions whatsoever and for a certain individual to have been driven in by his wife to the station shows that that was too much alcohol to have consumed to be making decisions that he was making. And I would like to think that there is going to be a consequence on that action because anywhere else if you got caught drinking on the job, there would be a consequence to that.
- “My fourth thing would be, the RCMP should not be allowed to investigate themselves. It has been proven through various SiRT reports that there is various — they are very far from independent …
- “The fifth thing, I do not believe that personal cell phones should be used during working hours for business purposes. For example, according to the internal RCMP channel at 1:41 p.m. Dubois asks, how many 10-7s and it is my understanding that 10-7s means casualties. Why is it then, that Constable Harvey would respond, ‘could you please call my personal cell phone? I am not quite sure I know how to say that over the air.’
- “And I have another question, I guess, that you can answer…. Did you guys receive any of the members’ personal cell phone records? And my other question would be, what is it that Constable Harvey is seeing that he is not able to say over the air? I believe that should be disclosed. And that is it for me.
The Commissioners’ response?
The three commissioners at the Mass Casualty Commission Inquiry: left, Leanne Fitch; Michael MacDonald; Kim Stanton, at a hearing in Truro, June 23, 2022 (credit: The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)
Well first, the Chief Commissioner J. Michael MacDonald agreed the police should not be destroying evidence. He noted, “Well, more importantly, as you said, an RCMP officer shouldn’t have to be told that.” Excuse me, but in what way is that an answer?
Charlene Bagley then commented that since there were a lot of gaps and contradictions in the evidence, she asked if witnesses could be recalled for questioning. Commissioner MacDonald hastily told her no, “…we have been given a huge mandate. And some of it I know looks remote to what happened to your dad but at the same time there is a lot of connectivity there and there is a lot — it is a broad look at what it will take to keep us all safer. And I think we have all got that shared hope. And I am not here going to pretend that, you know, we got it, from your perspective. …We did the best we could to get it right.” What is this nonsense, this boosterism – to “keep us all safer”?
Time after time MacDonald commented on how the Commissioners have to weigh comments, they would not recall witnesses and everyone should be satisfied because the Commission did the best they could. He wound up with this: “those whose lives have been taken and those who — including your dad … will not have died in vain. And all this suffering and sorrow will not have been in vain.” On what planet would that have been a useful response?
Charlene Bagley also noted that more time was spent during the Inquiry on evidence about the fencepost and killer’s exit through Blueberry Field Road, than figuring out how Wortman got away with murdering four people early Sunday morning, her father included. Tom Bagley had been on a morning walk on Hunter Rd when he saw the McLeod/Jenkins home on fire. He offered to help and was shot dead by Wortman. Bagley’s wife Patsy said her husband had checked Facebook and the news before he left the house – but there was no report of the murders or fires set the night before—or that day.
The Commissioners got jumpy at this point and begged Charlene Bagley to understand that – well they had to allow the fencepost and Blueberry Road discussion to dominate the inquiry. At which point, the session’s facilitator, Leo Artalejo, made matters worse:
“So, but I also want you to know that — I just hope you know that we are hearing you and I feel like sometimes human beings, we are always thinking about what are we going to say when the person stops talking and I don’t want the session to become that. Like, you know, Charlene is going to ask a strong question and how are we going to answer it. Those sort of things can happen but I think what is most important for us today is hear what those questions are, from me. I don’t know that the Commission is going to be able to answer anything —“
Was facilitator Leo Artalejo saying that Bagley’s questions were too strident and put the Commissioners on the spot? How dare he?
Then the facilitator, interrupted the discussion on the facts to ask Charlene Bagley “what supports do you believe we should make sure are in place for families during mass casualty events?” When Bagley said she felt Victim Services had done a good job, it was Artalejo’s chance to gush about what a good service it was. The effect of his diversion was to disrupt Bagley’s line of questioning, and to take the wind out of her sails.
When Bagley was again asked if she had anything more to add, she said this:
“Well, I already touched upon the fact that the — most of the speakers and most of the days I felt would have been more beneficial if we called in key witnesses. Let’s see. I guess — I guess this would be a recommendation. I don’t know if this fits right now here. And I can only speak for myself here. However, we continue to use the trauma informed approach. At no point have I ever been asked for kid gloves when it came to this. All along I wanted to know why my dad went for a walk and never came home. The fact that he never came home is probably the most traumatizing thing that I have ever dealt with, obviously. And I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. … If I ask for information, I want the truth. I want the answers. …It is just as simple as that…. [I feel] as if victims and families of this, that everywhere we turned a wall was put up for us. It seems like, no matter what we wanted or what we needed …we had to fight for it. And I am not quite sure why that would have to be the case.“One particular instance I am referring to is when we as families, rightfully got upset during certain proceedings when certain individuals were not being truthful on the stand under oath and we vocalized that. I didn’t appreciate it Mr. MacDonald, when you shushed us, basically. You told us to sit down and be quiet and then got our counsel to come and basically scold us and keep us in line. Nor did I appreciate the fact, when you told one of the victims that you understood what they were feeling because quite obviously you don’t because you would never have said what you said.”
There was no response from any of the Commissioners.
Chief Commissioner: “I was just answering a call” to help –Victim’s daughter: “But didn’t the pay help? Your guys’ pay hourly rate didn’t help make decisions?”
Another red herring moment was when the Chief Commissioner decided to give “context” about how he was tapped for the job:
“…I retired in January of 2019. Just wanted to mind my own business. I wanted to hang out with my grandkids and I got a call in June of 2020. Unlike you, as a Nova Scotian, you know, I was shattered but again, I will never — I don’t remember saying that but I will never say I understand. I am sorry. I don’t remember even saying that but that is a poor choice of words. But I am just being honest with you. When the Minister of Justice called me to head up the review, I thought it was a call to help the people of Nova Scotia. This province has been pretty good to me and I, like Commissioner Fitch, consulted with my loved ones and I just remembered my father saying, ‘Michael, if someone asks you for help and you have no reason not to, you say yes.’ And I was just answering a call. … Review versus Inquiry wasn’t even on my radar. “
To that Bagley replied, “The pay didn’t help?… Your guys’ pay hourly rate didn’t help make decisions?
MacDonald said, “Ummm.”
Then Commissioner Kim Stanton jumped in, “That’s not even a consideration.”
Bagley responded, “Okay, just checking.”
In the transcript, I can’t find one serious answer that addressed any of Bagley’s six points.
No Commissioner said they would look into any point she raised.
The Commissioners’ defensiveness, and perhaps veiled hostility, was evident in the transcript.
Charlene Bagley did us all a great service in focusing her remarks and questions. She got to the heart of the matter. It’s too bad that “The Stone-faced Puppets” as Palango calls the three Mass Casualty Commissioners refused to be moved.
Please Note; You can listen to the Nov. 6 episode that featured the six questions from Charlene Bagley on the Nighttime Podcast here. Every Sunday night, the podcast goes live to explain and question what is happening with regard to the Portapique massacre. Host Jordan Bonaparte invites Paul Palango and other guests to comment on recent events. I subscribe to the Premium Feed through Patreon — for about the price of a cup of coffee every month. However you can listen for free on Spotify or Apple, then subscribe if you like it.
Featured image: Scotia Bear Band by NS folk artist Ransford Naugler.