It has been about five weeks since the Nova Scotia massacre, five long weeks during which the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have cowered inside a cone of silence.
Compare its approach to how police forces around the world have typically handled similar events. From Paris to Toronto to just about Anywhere USA, the police are quick to inform the public about what has transpired and about key information about the perpetrator or perpetrators. Little, if anything, is hidden.
So what’s the problem here?
From the outset the RCMP right up to Commissioner Brenda Lucki seems determined to stall for time and control the narrative of this story. They have forced the media to go to court to find out what was in the applications for search warrants executed after the shootings. The law states that such information should be readily available to the public.
The Mounties have also taken refuge behind its claim that it has commissioned a psychological profile of the gunman and can’t say anything at this time. It kind of sounds like then candidate Donald Trump’s claim in 2016 that he couldn‘t reveal his tax filings because they were under audit.
In my long experience of writing about the RCMP, now into its fourth decade, I’ve become accustomed to the typical response I receive after something is published. Some are praiseworthy, many are castigating, including current and former members of the RCMP.
What I’ve learned and described is that RCMP culture is cult-like. There is an almost mindless commitment to the force. “There is no such thing as an ex-Mountie,” I once wrote, because even retired Mounties seem compelled to protect the image of the force.
Since publishing an opinion piece last week on Macleans.ca, I’ve witnessed the typical gamut of comment. Among them, Philip Black wrote:
The RCMP are not perfect, but does that justify the rampant jumping to conclusions and the widespread RCMP bashing.
And Brenda Carr, a 911 dispatcher had this to say:
… people who do not work in this profession can only surmise what it is like and what it takes to do this job. And no one is looking for praise. And on the same note, no one is looking for criticism. They did their best. And you do not know nor will you ever know what these men and women did to stop this monster. This is a time for healing. This article is not helping, it is only hurting.
But to my surprise, many others have contacted me who don’t fit the normal profile in that a number of them were current or retired RCMP and other law enforcement officials.
“I’ve read everything you’ve written over the years and while I agreed with some of it, a lot of it just made me mad,” said one former high-ranking RCMP executive. “But now, I have to admit that I agree with you. The RCMP is broken. It’s not ready. It’s a danger to the public and its own members.”
That Mounties sentiments were echoed by another former Mountie, Calvin Lawrence, who first served in the Halifax police department before joining the RCMP, where he had a long career. He is the author of a book, Black Cop. He amplified the comment about readiness.
After the murder of three Mounties in Moncton in 2014, the RCMP changed its policies and all police officers were given long guns.
Lawrence says that while the Mounties carry the guns, they don’t likely know how to use them in a desperate situation. He says that while the RCMP talks a good game about its training, in reality a lot is left to be desired.
I suggested to him that the first Mounties to respond to the scene, particularly the supervisor, a corporal, may have been frozen in place, not knowing what action to take.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Lawrence said. “You would think they had something in place to respond to crazies,” Lawrence said. “They probably put something in writing but didn’t practice it…. Tactical training costs money. The officers had the guns but didn’t know how to use them.”
But the most interesting call of all arrived with a cryptic description on the cell phone call display that I had never seen before.
The caller, who could best be described as a Deep Throat whistleblower, was obviously nervous. I will call him “he” from now on because there are more hes than shes in the law enforcement world.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this,” he said. “But I felt I have to do something.”
He said he was calling me to encourage the media to keep asking questions: “Don’t give up.”
When I told him that I and others who are pursuing the story have a thousand questions about what went wrong, from the indecision at Portapique Beach Road, the apparent communications debacle where not only the RCMP brass was not alerted to the seriousness of the situation but also the public.
I asked him why the premier of Nova Scotia and the province’s Attorney General were reluctant to call a public inquiry.
“Is it because Premier McNeil has relatives in policing, that the Attorney General is an ex-RCMP and that there are ex-RCMP in the police services branch?”
“That’s not it,” he said. “It’s about the money.”
So I switched to events.
“Why was Heidi Stevenson alone in her car?”
“I know what happened to Heidi,” he said. “It was just bad luck. But, you’re right, she shouldn’t have been there.”
But that wasn’t why he called.
“All that stuff will eventually come out,” he said.
The real issue, he said, was what the police are hiding about their previous knowledge about the gunman.
“Make requests about Wortman and what the police knew about him.”
“RCMP or Halifax?”
“Just keep asking questions and filing access requests.”
I tried to push him. I pointed out that while the COVID-19 epidemic has hampered the news gathering abilities of the major media, there was a lot of good work being done by an array of organizations from the on-line Halifax Examiner to Canadian Press and even the notorious Frank Magazine. To date the various entities have reported on everything from the gunman’s quirks, threats to others, illegal guns, replica Mountie cars, possible cigarette smuggling and even the murder of someone in the United States, among other things. The man killed 22 people, including a police officer in cold blood, so he doesn’t have a reputation to besmirch. In the absence of the RCMP’s official story about him, speculation becomes rampant.
“It seemed to me from the outset that he may have killed other people in the past,” I said.
The whistleblower just hmmmed.
“There’s something they are hiding that will blow the lid right off this thing,” the whistleblower reiterated. “I can’t tell you what it is. I shouldn’t even be telling you this. Just keep pushing.”
When I ran all this by Maclean’s writer Stephen Maher, he immediately added another possibility. “Maybe he was a CI.”
A confidential informant? With a licence to kill?
It’s a crazy idea but in the absence of facts from the RCMP people will talk.
That’s the situation we are in.
This week the RCMP and its government lawyers have continued to obstruct the information process, insisting upon redacting information contained in the applications for its search warrants.
And then there is the psychological assessment or “autopsy” of the gunman. Well here’s my independent analysis.
He likely wet the bed when he was young. He had a fascination with fire. He tortured little animals. He likely had an accident and sustained a seemingly minor head injury in his youth. He suffered from undetected frontal lobe brain damage. He had low self-esteem but masked that with a superficial outward face. He grew into a malignant narcissist. Like many serial killers and mass murderers, he had a fascination with policing but becoming a security guard was beneath his station. He was a misogynist, largely because he had sexual orientation issues. He had no empathy for anyone and was controlling. I could go on, but….
That’s it. Send the cheque to a charity of your choice.
That being done, Commissioner Lucki, what’s the BIG SECRET?
Paul Palango is a former senior editor at the Globe and Mail and author of three books on the RCMP. He lives in Chester Basin.
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