1. The mass murders and police accountability
The RCMP had been told the mass murderer was driving a look-alike police car as early as 10:31pm on Saturday night, April 18, 2020:
“There’s a police car in the fucking driveway,” Jamie Blair told the 911 call-taker after her husband Greg was shot. “It’s decked and labelled RCMP… but it’s not a police officer.”
“It’s a police car,” one of the children told the 911 call-taker. “He’s probably gonna blend in with the cops because he has a cop car.” “How do you guys know it was a cop car; did it have lights and stuff on it?” asked the call-taker. “Yeah, and it has the cop symbol on it, and he owns a cop car,” replied the child.
But police couldn’t seem to wrap their collective heads around the reality of it — they figured it must’ve been an old beater car bought at auction, with the faded outlines of the old decals still visible.
Would the reports of a fake police car have been taken more seriously had they come from men instead of a woman and child?
But by the next morning, the RCMP understood that the killer was, in fact, driving a replica police car, but even then, they did not tell the public about the fake police car because they didn’t want to cause a “frantic panic,” I reported in April:
But at about 7:30am [on Sunday, April 19], the RCMP received a photo of the fake police car, and knew the burned out Ford Tauruses in Portapique were not that car. They shared that photo with [RCMP communications director] Lia Scanlan.
Scanlan called him at around 8am, said [Staff Sergeant Steve] Halliday. Halliday spoke of his concerns — he didn’t want to “send the public into a frantic panic and overload our OCC operations.” OCC is the Operational Control Centre, then in Truro, which took 911 calls and dispatched police. “In your mind’s eye, you could envision, you know, by this point there’s 100 police cars on the road and, you know, everybody who sees a police car starts calling 911, then the critical information that we ended up with that we needed to ultimately end up getting the suspect.”
And so, the public was not warned.
After 8am, and unaware of any potential danger from a killer driving a fake police car, Lilian Campbell went for her regular morning walk, continuing care assistant Kristen Beaton made her way between appointments, Heather O’Brien bought coffee to deliver to her daughters, and Joey Webber drove to get some heating fuel; all four were murdered by the man driving the fake police car.
Only after the murders of Beaton and O’Brien on Plains Road did the RCMP reverse course and publish a pair of tweets at 10:21am about the killer and the fake police car.
Despite fears that publishing that information would create a “frantic panic… [and] everybody who sees a police car starts calling 911,” nothing of the sort happened.
In the voluminous 911 transcripts released so far by the Mass Casualty Commission, I can find only two calls related to incorrect sightings of the killer while he was on the loose. One came during the overnight hours, when someone in Five Houses believed the killer was roaming the woods behind her house. The second was around the time the tweet was issued, when someone said a man with a gun was at the Truro Sobeys. Both calls diverted police resources that would’ve been better placed elsewhere, but neither caller claimed to have seen a fake police car.
(A third 911 call about a man carrying a gun was received after the killer was killed in Enfield, and that call did not involve a police car either. Another person annoyingly called 911 to ask if it was safe to go to Tim Hortons.)
In terms of 911 calls that did mention a police car, none of them were incorrect; all of them concerned the actual fake police car. Three came before the tweet was issued. One related to the murder of Lilian Campbell in Wentworth. A second 911 call came from Carole Fisher: “he’s at our — at our door yard in a police car.” A third call came from Leonna Allen, who during a phone conversation heard her friend Heather O’Brien get shot — “there was a police vehicle,” Allen told 911.
A fourth 911 call came just moments after the tweet was issued; it was from Tiffany McMaster, who said she had seen the fake police car on Plains Road 20 minutes earlier.
After that, Lynn MacKeigan told her police friend Matt Dorrington that she saw the fake police car driving past her house in Brookfield.
There may have been other police contacts or 911 calls I’ve missed, but so far as I can determine, no civilian incorrectly identified a real police car as the fake police car. There were no false reports. There was no “frantic panic.” On the contrary, once the public was notified about the car, people were very helpful.
There was, however, panic about the fake police car — among the RCMP.
The very first RCMP officers to fully understand the reality of the fake police car were Cst. Terry Brown and Cst. Dave Melanson, who interviewed Lisa Banfield soon after she emerged from the woods at 6:30am. Brown and Melanson questioned Banfield in the back of an ambulance at the Great Village fire hall, and Banfield gave them a detailed account of the car.
Over the next hours, Brown and Melanson repeatedly panicked, first mistaking fellow officer Cst. Rodney MacDonald for the killer on Highway 4, next actually firing at EMO coordinator Dave Westlake at the Onslow Belmont Fire Hall, and third mistaking a plainclothes Halifax cop for the killer in Elmsdale. It’s just dumb luck that no innocent person was killed by Brown and Melanson.
Brown and Melanson testified together at Thursday’s proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission. Arguably, the two should’ve been questioned separately, as were Cst. Ian Fahie and Cpl. Duane Ivany later that day; maybe Brown and Melanson have better lawyers.
At 9:48am, Cst. Rodney Peterson passed the killer driving the fake police car on Highway 4, and Fahie radioed: “heads up — he has a front push bar, front push bar,” referring to the black push bar on the front of the fake cruiser.
Both Brown and Melanson testified Thursday that they did not hear that radio transmission.
Moments later, the call from the Fishers came in, and a few minutes later Brown and Melanson approached the area; MacDonald was pulled to the side of the highway in his patrol car. At 9:52am, Brown radioed: “Break! Break! We’ve got eyes on him. Marked PC on the side of the highway here up ahead of us.”
MacDonald immediately responded: “Guys, that’s MacDonald. MacDonald. We’re just trying to log in to find out where the fuck we’re at. We’re pulling back out right in front of ya.”
“Copy,” said Brown.
In their testimony, Brown and Melanson said they never left their vehicle to approach MacDonald, and never raised their weapons. This contradicts MacDonald’s statement to investigators about the incident: “there’s a couple of cars, at least maybe three, piled up down the road several pole lengths away getting out of their vehicles and they’re getting ready for battle and I’m who they’re going to be pointing at.”
Next, Brown and Melanson, driving an unmarked grey Nissan Altima, approached the Onslow Belmont Fire Hall and saw Cst. Dave Gagnon’s police cruiser parked in front of the hall, a man wearing a reflective vest standing next to the car. Brown and Melanson stopped the car 80 metres short of the hall, jumped out, and started shooting.
Brown said he ordered the man to show his hands but instead the man “ducked” behind the car and ran towards the hall, so he started shooting because he feared the man might harm people in the hall. On cross examination, Brown was asked if it were possible he started firing first, and that’s what caused the man to run; Brown said no, the man ran first, and then he fired.
The man was Dave Westlake. Here’s how he related the incident:
I heard, and I am adamant about this, that I heard ‘Get Down!’ I knew it was a grayish brown vehicle because when the doors opened, I remember that. I also remember seeing a longer gun. It was not a handgun, and then I remember a shot that sounded like a sonic boom and then another one that was really loud and I’m moving at this time. And then I get to the door and I thought I heard maybe between two and three more shots, but they were muffled.
Consider: two men in plains clothes get out of an unmarked car, rifles drawn. Whether or not one of the men yells “show your hands” or “get down!”, any rational person is going to run for safety.
Brown said that the word “police” was labelled on his vest, as if that would make any difference — at 80 metres’ distance, Brown and Melanson were unable to read the call letters on Gagnon’s police cruiser (information that would have immediately informed them it was not the killer’s fake cruiser), so why should Westlake have been able to read the word “police” at the same remove?
We’ve covered the Onslow fire hall shoot-up in more detail here.
The third incident was at 11:17am, when Brown and Melanson approached an RCMP roadblock in Elmsdale. Here’s the transcript of the radio exchange:
Cst. Brown: Members at the roadblock there in Elmsdale, that white truck that’s behind you, ah, who’s that? Do you guys know?
Cst. O’shea: [no audion]
Sgt. Bernard: Negative. Be we had some — we are all on [inaudible] too so we’re super exposed. [inaudible] and ah, Bravo-10 [inaudible] get the bridge blocked.
Cst. Brown: You’re all wind. That person has a firearm in their hand. We’re gonna take ’em down here.
Unidentified Male: That person is a HRP [Halifax Regional Police] officer.
Asked Thursday if, knowing what he knows now, he would have done anything differently on April 19, Brown said no. “That situation translated exactly to the training I received… and I acted to that training… I’m very sorry to the firemen in there… at the end of the day, it wouldn’t change my action.”
Melanson agreed — he has no regrets.
Both men were unrepentant, and said they did nothing wrong.
But it’s hard to look at this sequence of events and not think they were itching to kill the killer, and along the way making rash decisions that, at least so far as the fire hall shooting goes, put civilians at tremendous risk.
In contrast, other RCMP officers acted incredibly bravely and made good decisions through the mass murders. Recently released documents show that Heidi Stevenson, in particular, was professional and capable — immediately on learning about the fake police car, she wanted the public informed about it, and she, a constable and not a ranking officer, made smart strategic decisions about where to place the Enfield and Millbrook detachment officers. Likewise, the first officers on the ground in Portapique — Cst. Stuart Beselt, Cst. Adam Merchant, and Cst. Aaron Patton — put their own lives at great risk to enter an active shooting scene, and did as well as could be expected in a hellish, war-like landscape, finding bodies along the way.
But there’s no question that other cops took rash and inadvisable action that further endangered the public, and that the command decisions — the failure to properly contain Portapique, the failure to alert the public, among others — were terrible. Absolutely those responsible should be held to account.
But I fear just the opposite will happen: just as “defund the police” resulted in increasing funding for police, my anticipation is that the multiple RCMP failures before, during, and after the mass murders will result in increased funding for the RCMP and less accountability.
Already the police union is attempting to reframe the narrative of the Mass Casualty Commission. In an op-ed in the Chronicle Herald, National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé writes:
Five RCMP members have already appeared before the commission. There is no doubt this testimony confirmed their exceptional training, professionalism, and — most importantly — humanity in the face of tragedy and adversity. But at what cost to members’ mental health, and to what advantage to the commission’s actual forward-looking work?
Why must members be required to repeat themselves and face participant questions designed to undermine their abilities, recollection, or effort? And most importantly, why does the commission’s “trauma-informed” approach apply to some and not others?
My own observation is that cops who have testified so far — nine, not five — have been treated with kid gloves. Seven of them were allowed to testify as part of panels, and not individually, and even the cross-examinations were restrained. The only truly aggressive interrogation of a witness was that of Max Liberatore, a manager at the GCSurplus warehouse in Dartmouth, who knew the killer was piecing together a look-alike police car.
The multiple RCMP failures started with the failure to recognize the threat in the weeks, months, and years before, and to respond correctly to multiple warnings. And the number of police available in rural areas had nothing to do with containing the killer — given previous failures to recognize the threat, the 15-minute Portapique slaughter would’ve happened regardless, and by the time the killing resumed Sunday morning, there were hundreds of cops responding.
It would be absolutely the wrong response to uncritically praise the entire police response as heroic, wash over the tragic mistakes that were made as failures of resources and training, and then to increase the RCMP budget, but I very much believe that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
2. Non-resident tax
“On the one hand, I’m not sure what to make of Tim Houston’s full-frontal face plant last week,” writes Stephen Kimber:
“So, today I will put my personal pride aside,” our premier declared Thursday as he humble-pied his way through a humiliating and complete run back of his government’s month-old, ink-barely-dry plan to hike taxes on non-resident property owners.
On the other hand, I know exactly what to make of it.
Same old, same old. Still. Again. Always.
3. St. Matthew’s
“St. Matthew’s United Church on Barrington Street is looking to partner with organizations that can help continue its work and legacy in the city, while repurposing the church and land,” reports Suzanne Rent:
This week on the church’s Facebook page was a post that said the church was offering its building and the land on which it sits as a gift to any organization with a development idea that would allow the congregation to continue to use the sanctuary while serving the public good.
Rev. Betsy Hogan said the congregation has been talking about such a redevelopment project for a decade, and she said the church did make an attempt before, but the proposal was rejected by the city. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hogan said the congregation started thinking about its legacy again. The Imagine St. Matthew’s Legacy project is the next step.
“We have this beautiful piece of land, we have this historic sanctuary, which is also a phenomenal performance space,” Hogan said. “We’re also a vital congregation and we’re not going anywhere. We still have our outreach and a life we want to live in the downtown core. So, we were thinking, ‘how can we do this?’
4. A Mighty (Ever)Wind
The tank farm at Point Tupper (which stores the oil that supplies the nearby Nova Scotia Power generating station) has been sold by Nustar to EverWind Fuels for US$60 million.
According to its website, “the EverWind Fuels team includes former executives from Stonepeak, Blackstone, Emera, and Nova Scotia Power.”
The president of EverWind is Trent Vichie, the co-founder of the New York-based Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners, a private equity firm that has been called one of the “megafunds of infrastructure.” Vichie “retired” from Stonepeak last year, at age 46. Everwind is a subsidiary of TDL Partners, of which Vichie is the CEO.
The Point Tupper operation is the EverWind’s first project, and will produce “green hydrogen and green ammonia” that will replace coal (presumably that used at the generating plant) and will be used for agricultural fertilizer.
An article by Loz Blain in the technology journal New Atlas headlined “Green ammonia: The rocky pathway to a new clean fuel,” explores the technology behind so-called green ammonia, concluding that:
In essence, ammonia does have the potential to be a usable clean fuel. But the pathway here is not clear. Considerable work needs to be done developing and scaling new green ammonia production methods, and at the other end, considerable work needs to be done developing efficient and powerful ways to use the energy it stores. Both sides of this equation will need to become cost-competitive as well, if cheap, filthy diesel is to be replaced.
But research is gathering steam in these areas, and ammonia will be much easier to store, transport and distribute using existing networks and technologies than hydrogen.
So, colour me skeptical.
“Development funding for the Point Tupper facility has been secured along with federal support for the first phase of the project,” says Everwind’s website, but the size of that government funding has not yet been disclosed.
Grants Committee (Monday, 10am) — virtual meeting
Board of Police Commissioners (Monday, 12pm) — virtual meeting
Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm) — virtual meeting
Author Reading (Monday, 12:30pm, Sexton Design & Technology Library) — Don Lohnes will read from his book Architect
In the harbour
05:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
05:30: Titus, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southampton, England
06:00: Lagrafoss, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Reykjavik, Iceland
08:00: MSC Tamara, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal
10:00: Trinitas, cargo ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Mariel, Cuba
11:30: Titus sails for sea
15:00: East Coast, oil tanker, arrives at Irving Oil from Saint John
15:30: Atlantic Sea sails for New York
16:45: Lagrafoss sails for Portland
21:30: Tropic Hope, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Palm Beach, Florida
Yeah, I dunno.