We are now about to enter our fourth month since that horrendous weekend of April 18-19, when 22 people were murdered in an unprecedented rampage in Nova Scotia by the madman denturist the Halifax Examiner is identifying as “GW.”
From the outset we’ve known two things: 1) GW was a psychopathic, revenge-seeking maniac and 2) the RCMP committed an epic failure of policing and have since been acting in a disturbingly secretive manner.
The RCMP story from its first press conference on April 19 and afterward is that GW had cleverly planned out his murderous mission and was diabolically able to defeat the mighty force of Mounties at every turn. The Mounties have said they did their best in the face of an unfolding “fluid and chaotic” crime spree.
But so much of what the RCMP did is inexplicable. It didn’t set up a perimeter around the original crime scene, allowing GW to escape and continue on killing. Even when the force knew where he was, it didn’t set up roadblocks. When he was headed toward Halifax, two Mounties, constables Chad Morrison and Heidi Stevenson, were each alone in their vehicles with GW headed their respective ways. Morrison was shot and lived. Stevenson was executed by GW.
There are a thousand horrendous questions for which we need answers.
The casual observer would think that the role of the media is to dig deep and find answers to those questions, but there is an added degree of difficulty in this case — the COVID-19 pandemic. In normal times without the lockdowns and social distancing, Atlantic Canada would be flooded with journalists trying to get to the bottom of the story. In this case, however, none of that has happened. If a journalist ventures into Nova Scotia, he or she must go into quarantine for 14 days. That alone is a sufficient disincentive for cost-conscious news organizations to flood the zone with an army of reporters and camera crews.
So here we are in a standoff. The RCMP, backed by the Crown and the provincial and federal governments, have circled the wagons. They have blocked the dissemination of virtually any information about what the RCMP did and didn’t do before, during, and after the two-day massacre. There has been a disturbing resistance to holding a public inquiry but rather a review, which means no testimony would be offered. That would mean the official story could not be challenged, as if the only issue here was an odd mistake here or there by the Mounties.
Hell, in the days and weeks after the opera house massacre in Moscow in October, 2002, the Russians told the public more about what happened than we know here. What’s going on? Why all the secrecy if there had only been a few technical issues with the RCMP’s performance?
On the media side there is also a standoff of sorts as well. The story is difficult to get at, the prime reason being that when it comes to the police, no active police or government employee will go on the record with what they know or think. Very few former such officials will talk openly out of real fear of retribution, ostracization or job loss. Just about everything that might touch on the real story, therefore, comes from anonymous sources, who are deemed to be less credible. Much of the media in recent years has taken the position that anonymous sources are not to be used at all, no matter the reason. In its pursuit of journalistic purity, these media outlets are determined to rigidly enforce this paradigm in the face of an exceptionally difficult and unusual set of circumstances. They have handcuffed themselves.
The result is that the RCMP is apparently hiding something and the majority of the media is, for the reasons stated, unwillingly to find what’s going on out of a collective fear that its approach might be called into question. All that’s left to report, therefore, is pretty well anything to do with GW and his behaviour — what I call, the Monster tale. The few times the Mounties have spoken about the matter to reporters, the spokesperson always brings up something about GW that makes it to the headlines. He is a psychopath. He was a misogynist. He is “an injustice collector.” He was afraid of a banking collapse. He was driven by fears of COVID-19. The media takes the bait pretty well every time. Meanwhile, there is no discussion about the real underlying stories, the performance and practices of the RCMP.
From the late morning of April 19, I am on record as having been suspicious about what was going on in this case. Much didn’t make sense to me. In my experience there is a logic to stories and the purported logic of this story doesn’t scan.
The RCMP says that GW had an argument with his long-time girlfriend, whom he had abused over the years. In fact, they had just celebrated their 19th or 20th anniversary together on April 17th. The police said that GW handcuffed his girlfriend in the back of one of his old police vehicles, loaded up with gasoline and guns, and went and murdered 13 people. Somewhere along the line, the girlfriend escaped and on a freezing cold night hid in the woods for approximately eight or nine hours. That might have happened, but in the history of this style of crime, the perpetrator usually kills his partner first and then moves on. He doesn’t save her for the end.
As I was pondering this in early May, I received a disturbing tip from an anonymous source, whom I’ll describe as a male. He was obviously distressed. He said he had never done this but he felt compelled to let me know that the RCMP was actively trying to hide the real story. I ran through the gamut of stories I had already heard about GW, that he was a terrible human being, a cigarette smuggler, and that he had reputedly killed someone in the United States.
The real issue, he said, was what the police are hiding about their previous knowledge about the gunman.
“Make requests about GW and what the police knew about him.”
“RCMP or Halifax?”
“Just keep asking questions and filing access requests.”
He wouldn’t tell me anything else but he had told me enough. I started focusing in that direction.
Stories opened up about GW’s seemingly good luck avoiding police scrutiny over everything from domestic violence issues to threats against the police and illegal guns.
Sources emerged from disparate places in the law enforcement community and elsewhere who were offering bits and pieces of the possible story.
I was told that GW had a connection to biker gangs. That seemed implausible. What would a Dartmouth denturist possibly have to offer to the Hell’s Angels, for example? The reply I got was unexpected.
“He had access to hydraulic presses and mold making equipment that can be used in their drug manufacturing operations,” one source said, confirmed by another. “He also could get drugs that they could use to cut with their own. And he could get nitrous oxide (laughing gas). I hear they like using that stuff at their parties.”
The tips kept coming. A member of the legal community told me that GW hung out with “a heavy-duty criminal” who was part of his drinking group. We at MacLeans eventually identified him as Peter Alan Griffon, a Portapique Beach Road neighbour who was a long-time friend of GW. Griffon, who had spent time in prison for drug trafficking offences, had been linked to a Mexican cartel and MS-13, the brutal El Salvadoran street gang that has gone multi-national. Griffon had applied the decals to the fake RCMP car that GW used during his killing spree.
Other sources close to the investigation focused on grenades. One of the words consistently redacted from the RCMP’s Information to Obtain a Search Warrant was a single word in a line that included firearms, ammunition, explosives, chemicals and something blacked out. The sources said the something blacked out was “grenades.” I was told the grenades were actually phosphorous grenades. Why were they blacked out? “Grenades are linked to the bikers. They’ve been looking for them for months,” the source said.
There was a stream of tips from inside the force about strange goings-on regarding the file. As my first source had said, things were being hidden. One solid source, who knew how the world worked inside the RCMP said this: “They have deliberately delayed things so that they can pasteurize everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if any electronic equipment or phones they’ve found are in the lab now being cleaned.”
That’s provocative stuff. But there’s no way easily to prove such an allegation. The RCMP holds all the cards tight to their collective chests and they are not going to show them.
All of which leads us to the money.
In the pursuit of GW’s connections, both Stephen Maher of Macleans and I had heard differing accounts of GW receiving either $1 million or $500,000, which was delivered to him in a Brink’s truck. I went on the Rick Howe Show, a talkfest in Halifax, and asked for the public’s help. Someone inside responded and we got a tape showing GW picking up $475,000 on March 30 at the Brink’s compound at 19 Ilsley Avenue in Dartmouth. The money had been routed to Brink’s in an unusual way — from CIBC Intria, a wholly-owned CIBC subsidiary, that typically provides money for ATMs.
The path the money took was sufficiently curious. We asked the RCMP about it before publishing. It did not reply before press time. We sought the opinion of knowledgeable police sources who confirmed that the transaction was typical of a RCMP undercover operation. To them GW could be a confidential informant or agent of the force, something very common these days especially when it comes to biker operations. We also obtained the RCMP manual for undercover operations which stated that the RCMP could lie and deceive, except before a court, if asked about such operations.
Over the next 10 days, RCMP spokesperson Supt. Darren Campbell spoke twice about this matter, once to the Vancouver correspondent of the Toronto Star and then to CBC reporter Elizabeth McMillan.
In each case he stated that the monies GW received were his personal funds without being specific or proving its provenance. He said the RCMP was still investigation the Brink’s transaction. What is there to investigate? All the RCMP has to do is pick up a copy of the paperwork GW is shown signing and in those papers one would undoubtedly find where the money originated. Campbell said the RCMP was still auditing GW’s finances. After two months, they can’t give a ready explanation for such a suspicious transaction.
[Editor’s note: The Halifax Examiner has asked the court to unseal the documents related to search warrants obtained by the RCMP for the mass murder investigation. This is a lengthy process, but so far, we’ve obtained eight redacted documents out of about 20 such documents; none of those eight are related to the Brink’s withdrawal.]
Campbell dismissively called the Macleans story “a fairy tale.”
It’s a common way to cast a shadow over legitimate supposition or facts. Donald Trump has perfected it. In our democratic society which operates under the rule of law, citizens expect the police should be truthful in their public statements, but the RCMP has in recent years shown that when threatened it is all too willing to shade the truth.
In its most high-profile cases, from Robert Dzieskanski, Mayerthorpe, Spiritwood, Moncton and now the Nova Scotia Massacre, being forthright almost seems anathema to the Mounties.
Today there is even more at stake for the force than ever. It’s under extreme threat of having its enormous, unwieldy structure dismantled. The city of Surrey B.C., where the RCMP has its largest single detachment, wants to create its own police force by next summer and send the RCMP packing. A similar story is unfolding in Red Deer, Alberta and in the province as a whole. If GW was found to be an RCMP agent of any kind, that would be a death knell for the force as it is now constituted, not only in Nova Scotia, but also in the provinces outside Ontario and Quebec that hire the Mounties for municipal and provincial policing. Added onto all this are the accusations of racism within the force.
All of which brings us back to the story at hand: did GW have a special relationship with the RCMP?
Based upon what we know, some of what we have already published, here is a scenario that sources say is entirely plausible.
To fully appreciate this the reader must understand that it is widely accepted in the policing community that the RCMP’s investigative skills are generally deficient in difficult cases. To address these deficiencies the RCMP has adopted two techniques to help it gain convictions in difficult cases.
The first technique is the Mr. Big Sting. In such an operation, RCMP undercover officers stage what might well be called street theatre performances to lure a suspect into a confession. Mr. Big is most often a high-level criminal — almost always an outlaw biker — who seeks the services of the suspect. To gain entry to the criminal organization, the suspect first must confess all his crimes to Mr. Big. Once the suspect does this, he or she is arrested. The RCMP has touted itself as a master of this technique, proudly boasting in the past that police forces from around the world have sought its advice on how to stage their own similar stings. The courts, on the other hand, have been less enthusiastic, describing the Mr. Big show as entrapment and rejecting case after case.
The second technique the RCMP has become fond of is confidential informants or agents, especially in outlaw biker cases. Punch the words bikers and confidential informants into a search engine and cases abound in Canada about such relationships. The RCMP has publicly stated that it likes to rely on confidential informants because it gives the police easy, relatively cheap, and reliable access to targets and their activities.
A notable such case in the context of the Nova Scotia is that of Dany Kane.
Kane, who died in 2000, was a notorious RCMP informant from the late 1990s. While working for the RCMP and being paid $2,000 a week, Kane committed 11 murders from 1994 to 1997.
In 1997, Kane was contracted to kill Randy Mersereau, a former Hell’s Angels member in Nova Scotia who had broken away from the gang. The RCMP thwarted that effort with a subterfuge, but Mersereau was eventually murdered by another hit team on Hallowe’en night 1999. His skeleton wasn’t discovered until 2010.
Mersereau’s brother, Kirk, and his wife, Nancy, were murdered on September 10, 2000, inside their farmhouse in Hants County, NS. As an interesting aside, one of the three killers convicted in the case, Michael John Lawrence, used to live in Portapique Beach, as well. The area, once described as a close-knit community, is beginning to look like a den of thieves.
In the case of Dany Kane, it was later revealed in a court case that Kane, who was known inside the RCMP as C-2994 — had signed a 30-page contract with the RCMP and would have received as much as $2 million for his work. At the time of his death he had collected about $250,000 and there were reports that he thought the RCMP had screwed him.
While it might seem like a lot of money, a more recent biker informant, Sylvain Boulanger, signed a contract in 2007 with the force that would pay him $2.9 million over the course of the agreement.
Something that is entirely bothersome about the GW case is his collection of RCMP uniforms and paraphernalia and the overly perfect replica of a Mountie cruiser that he used on his killing spree. The car was outwardly better equipped than a regular Mountie car.
In my 30-year experience of dealing with the RCMP one couldn’t help but notice how protective the force is about its own images for which it has obtained copyrights.
Yet in the GW case, the RCMP has done everything it possibly could to deflect the focus away from that issue. It has specifically said that neither GW, who owned the car and another one like it through a mysterious New Brunswick company, nor Griffon, the convicted criminal who applied the RCMP decals to the car, did not commit crimes.
For those who know the RCMP, its position is entirely out of character to the point of being perplexing to proud and serving members.
“That alone tells you there is something fishy going on here,” one serving Mountie told me.
Supt. Campbell yawned that the previous MacLeans story was a fairy tale.
But what if it wasn’t?
Based upon what we’ve learned so far on and off the record and from our own confidential sources inside and near the RCMP and other law enforcement entities, here is a more complete possible scenario.
The RCMP has shown through its Mr. Big stings that it is into theatre. Over the years the RCMP has relied upon disgruntled bikers to infiltrate their own gangs. The tactic has been used to the point of exhaustion and has become regular newspaper headline fodder. GW, a motorcycle enthusiast who owned 13 bikes, was a perfect operative.
He was a professional, supposedly unknown to the police, and the kind of person who could travel back and forth across the border with seeming impunity. He even had a helper, Peter Griffon, with bona fide crime ties to his dirty work, if it came to that. Griffon was the perfect cut out man.
And Griffon and his family knew a little bit about the work of confidential informants. According to a source close to the Griffon family, Griffon’s grandparents were close to Randy Mersereau, the late Hell’s Angel who informant Dany Kane had been contracted to kill.
While GW may have been supplying equipment and drugs to the gangs, the ultimate prop in the RCMP tool bag was the fake police car – number 28B11. Did that number have some significance?
GW could employ doublethink in his ruse. While it looked like he was a RCMP fan, he could tell his targets that he had actually duped the police, he was really working for the bad guys. The car was a perfect cover and they could all use it for illegal purposes. Meanwhile, the car was likely fitted with a camera and mikes.
According to sources something likely went wrong. Leading up to the massacre, the RCMP began making biker arrests in Musquodobit, NS, Halifax and New Brunswick.
If his cover was blown, GW’s life was over and he knew it.
Or it could be something similar. Other confidential informants have complained over the years that the RCMP underpaid them for their work or didn’t keep their promise. Who knows?
Finally, the RCMP has made headlines by releasing part of a psychological profile of GW in which he was labeled “an injustice collector.” He killed a number of people who had disrespected him and likely fit that description. But there are some who suspect there is even more to the story.
If GW felt that he had been betrayed by the RCMP, then there is the possibility that his rampage was ultimately directed at the force. He dressed like a Mountie, drove a Mountie car and killed 22 people with the intent of getting revenge on the force in the most terrible way possible.
Rather than a fairy tale, there is plenty of smoke here to think the worst.
The Nova Scotia and federal governments have floated the notion that all that is needed here is a review of what the Mounties did with perhaps a restorative justice approach that would be conducted largely behind closed doors. No one would be compelled to testify and answer questions under oath. That’s not good enough, as many individuals and influential groups have argued in recent weeks.
The only way we may ever know what really happened is to air everything out in a public inquiry where witnesses will be compelled under oath to produce documents and tell us what really happened.
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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