1. Truro police chief stood up to RCMP “fixers”
Truro police chief Dave MacNeil’s August 3, 2021 interview with Mass Casualty Commission investigators has been published.
MacNeil explained that Truro police were not kept in the loop about the unfolding mass murders of April 18/19, 2020.
But at about midnight, the Colchester East Hants Medical Centre called the Truro police to say they were treating a man who had been shot in Portapique — this was Andrew MacDonald. Sergeant Rick Hickox, who was on duty, sent a couple of officers to the hospital to help with a lockdown.
At around 12:55am, RCMP notified Truro police that there was an active shooter situation in Portapique, but gave no details.
At around 8:30am Sunday morning, April 19, MacNeil was home, out working in his yard, when Hickox texted to say there were five people killed in Portapique. But that information didn’t come from the RCMP — “he said it’s on social media kind of thing,” said MacNeil. “I had no official notice from anybody other than that.”
Truro Police Inspector Darren Smith, working on limited information, called in extra officers to work at the hospital and to warn people on the streets — “[Smith] told everybody that was in, get in the cars, start telling people if you see them walking their dog or head back home, there’s an incident unfolding in the county.” Most businesses were closed because of the COVID lockdown, but officers called the WalMart and other open businesses to alert them. “We didn’t have a lot of information, but he wanted to do something proactive,” said MacNeil.
MacNeil emailed RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather and Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman to offer the assistance of Truro police, but he didn’t hear back immediately.
Leather emailed back at about 10am and said “thank you for the offer, looks like we have the suspect pinned down in Wentworth.” In the days after the murders, it was clear that Leather had a poor understanding of the geography of the murders; presumably, in that email, he was referring to the RCMP response at the Fishers’ house in Glenholme.
“So from there, the decisions I made the rest of the day were based on that email that they had some suspect in Wentworth,” said MacNeil.
But MacNeil’s daughter had seen a post on social media about gunfire at the Onslow fire hall, which isn’t far from Truro, so he decided to go into work.
Commission investigators told MacNeil there was a communication from RCMP Staff Sergeant Aaron MacGillivray at 10:15am “to request Truro PD to close all access points to their town in case suspect heads there.” It’s not clear who MacGillivray made the request to, but MacNeil said Truro Police weren’t notified of the request by RCMP dispatch until 10:37am. In the interim — from 10:16-10:19am — the killer had driven right through the main streets of Truro in the fake police car. By 10:37, he had already killed Heidi Stevenson and Joey Webber in Shubenacadie.
(MacNeil didn’t learn that the killer had driven through Truro until July 28 — more than three months after the murders — when it was reported on the TV news. The RCMP had collected videos of the fake police car from businesses in Truro without telling Truro police, and didn’t even give Truro police a “heads up” that the video clips were being made public.)
MacNeil said the request to lock down was vague, providing no details, and besides, he soon started receiving information that the killer was elsewhere.
At 10:59, Truro police were told the killer was in Milford, but then at 11:12 the call came in saying a man with a gun had been spotted at the Truro Sobeys. This made no sense to MacNeil, but MacNeil dispatched officers to Sobeys. (I very much want to know who made the 911 call about Sobeys — it confused and distracted the police response in the final hour of the rampage.)
By 11:29, MacNeil was told the suspect was killed in Enfield.
“I think the community has a lot of questions,” said MacNeil. “And I know the families have a lot of questions. And as a police leader in Nova Scotia, we have an obligation to do better. And I don’t know if this tragedy happened today if it would be any different, to be quite honest; in an RCMP policed area, that’s my honest to God take on it. I think the relationship between the police and the RCMP in Nova Scotia is worse than —from this incident than it’s even been.”
“A change in the leadership at the RCMP provincial level is a big part of it,” continued MacNeil. “The relationship is not good, and it never has been this bad. Like, this is rock bottom. I’ve never seen it this bad, and it doesn’t show any signs of getting better. I know Lee Bergerman has announced her retirement. We’ll see who her replacement may be. Maybe that’s a breath of fresh air. I don’t know.”
Bergerman took the position of commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP in 2018, and retired in October 2021.
Internal review versus inquiry
After the murders, an internal review of the mass murders was proposed.
“Minister of Justice Mark Furey… wanted all the police chiefs of Nova Scotia to sign this document saying we support the review, no matter where they are,” said MacNeil. So Cape Breton regional chief, Annapolis Royal, the other end of the province, didn’t matter, he wanted all the police chiefs to sign on like good soldiers and say, hey, we support this review, which we didn’t.”
MacNeil refused to sign the letter. “I felt it was a mis-justice to the families and to the communities that wanted answers. And a lot of people thought it was a coverup.”
MacNeil agreed with victims’ families that there should be a full public inquiry.
Police bulletin warning about the killer
MacNeil did not know that there was a police bulletin his department had generated in 2011 naming the killer as someone who might kill police. That bulletin was rediscovered during the mass murder spree by an Amherst town cop with a great memory, who recalled the killer’s name so went through his old emails and found the old bulletin. That cop then sent the bulletin to the RCMP. Truro police reviewed their files and found the bulletin.
The CBC filed a freedom of information request with the Truro police for all documents related to the killer, and the town’s lawyer said the old bulletin had to be released. But then MacNeil received a request for a phone call with RCMP Superintendent Chris Leather and RCMP Halifax District Superintendent Janice Gray. MacNeil knew the call was about the bulletin, so brought his deputy chief in on the call.
“The gist of the call,” said MacNeil, “was, you know, you’re aware of the bulletin. Yeah. You know this is going to be FOIPOP’d? Yeah, it is. And it’s going to go out? Yeah, it is. And it’s potentially going to cause some problems, and I said, no, not for us. So anyway, we had this discussion and the RCMP wanted to come and have a look at our records and our holding and bring in an investigative triangle, and all that stuff. So right away, the deputy and I got a little hinky on that and said, no that’s not happening.”
“So I think they realized that it was going to get out,” continued MacNeil. “During this whole process, they brought in people from Ottawa, superintendents, and they were called the Issues Management Team. And that really offended me, too, that they took this tragedy and defined it as an issue. Right. So they have these two guys from Ottawa, their whole job in this is called Issues Management. So they’re basically here as the fixers. How can I shut these Nova Scotians up?”
“They had a whole package done on this,” said MacNeil. “And Amherst Police Chief Pike, myself, and Chief Kinsella from Halifax were brought into this because all our officers, all our agencies were somewhat involved. Halifax because the guy’s address was Dartmouth, us because we created the bulletin, and Amherst because they still had the bulletin. And it became to me about a blame game. Like, what did you do, Truro, to investigate this? And I’m thinking, no, no, you’re not going down that road with me. And then Dan Kinsella, what did Halifax do? And then Amherst, how did you have this bulletin, and why is it still alive?… It became very clear that this is how do I take this bull’s eye and put it on three agencies.”
MacNeil was asked to take part in an RCMP press conference related to the bulletin, but “I said no, this badge isn’t going on TV to talk about the bulletin because it has nothing to do with us.”
“It became very, very clear to the three chiefs that this was about how do I move the narrative and put it on somebody else.”
MacNeil said he felt the RCMP wanted him to make the bulletin “go away.”
“It’s not the way I do things,” said MacNeil. “This is not ethically and morally correct. I could say this, but you know, I don’t lie. I mean, it is here, it’s here. It’s a document we have in our possession, whether we think we should have purged it or not, irrelevant. We have it, and we have a duty to disclose it. And I was upfront with them… and the vibe I got was nudge nudge a little brother, we’re going to put a little heat on you until it goes away.”
MacNeil refused to budge.
Eighteen people died from COVID-19 last week (May 3-9) in Nova Scotia. That’s a decline from the peak weekly death count of 24 two weeks previously, but still among the highest weekly death counts through the entire pandemic.
Of the 18 deaths last week, four were aged 50-69, and 14 were 70 or over.
Additionally, 65 people were hospitalized because of the disease during the same period. The state of hospitalizations as of yesterday was:
• Currently in hospital for COVID-19: 44 (8 of whom are in ICU)
• Currently in hospital for something else but have COVID-19: 201
• Patients currently in hospital who contracted COVID-19 after admission to hospital: 93
(The above figures do no include the IWK.)
By age cohort, those hospitalized last week are:
• under 18 — 1
• 18-49 — 8
• 50-69 — 18
• 70+ — 38
Age unknown — 4
This chart shows the Age-adjusted hospitalization and death rates by vaccine status since December 8, 2021:
Also last week, there were 3,118 new lab-confirmed (PRC tests) cases, down slightly from 3,415 the previous week. This does not include people who tested positive with the take-home tests only, or those who haven’t tested at all.
Assuming death counts lag about three weeks behind case counts, we should start seeing a significant reduction in COVID deaths in coming weeks.
3. Edwards Street
“Neighbours are fighting to save an historic building on Dalhousie campus, but the university has already applied for demolition permit,” reports Zane Woodford:
Peggy Walt started a change.org petition this week, titled “Save Historic 1245 Edward Street, Halifax, NS from Dal’s wrecking ball.”
In a statement, Dalhousie University spokesperson Janet Bryson confirmed the university has applied for a demolition permit.
If only other public servants in Nova Scotia understood their duties under the Freedom of Information law as does Dave MacNeil.