If the RCMP had done their jobs correctly in the years leading up to the murders of April 2020, they might have found the illegal firearms in the future gunman’s possession, according to the final report released by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC).

And if they had done that, rather than failing to investigate the numerous warnings they were given about the man’s violence and illegal weapons, one has to ask if the murders would have been prevented.

“The perpetrator’s violence and illegal firearms came to the attention of police on repeated occasions in the years prior to the mass casualty,” reads the report.

“There were many warning signs or ‘red flags’ about the perpetrator’s violence and illegal behaviour,” according to the MCC.

One of the biggest of those red flags was raised by Brenda Forbes.

The MCC reports in detail on Forbes’ sometimes terrifying interactions with the killer, who the Examiner identifies as GW. Forbes and her husband were GW’s neighbours in Portapique.

As reported first by the Examiner in May 2020, Forbes became frightened of GW after witnessing his controlling behaviour towards his common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield. When Forbes called him on it, GW then threatened her, and eventually she and her husband George decided to move to Halifax.

But even there, Brenda Forbes didn’t feel safe, fearing she might run into GW, who had two denturist offices in the city, and so the Forbes moved west to Alberta.

Related: He was a psychopath. A former resident of Portapique says she called the RCMP to tell them the future gunman assaulted his domestic partner and that he had illegal weapons. The police took no action.

Related: Brenda Forbes tried to warn neighbours and the RCMP about the psychopath in Portapique years before he went on his murderous rampage. No one listened.

But before the couple left Portapique, in 2013 Brenda Forbes called the RCMP to tell them GW assaulted Banfield and possessed illegal weapons. According to the MCC report:

After placing her initial call, two male RCMP officers attended to Ms. Forbes’s place of work, the Debert Airbase [Forbes is now retired from the Canadian Armed Forces], to take her statement. She said the officers told her there was not much they could do and that Ms. Banfield would have to file the complaint herself. Ms. Forbes said she also reported that the perpetrator had firearms at his residence. We find that Ms. Forbes reported this information.

The MCC report states that Constable (Cst.) Troy Maxwell is the RCMP officer who responded to Forbes’ call. However, in his testimony to the MCC, Maxwell maintained that her complaint was “about the perpetrator driving a decommissioned police car too fast around the neighbourhood and scaring people,” and not about GW’s violence and illegal weapons.

In his testimony, Maxwell told the commission that he then made “a patrol” and “went out there looking for the individual.”

Maxwell offered conflicting information on which RCMP colleague went with him to GW’s residence in Portapique. Maxwell said they would have gone to the house and knocked on the door, but could provide only a single page of scribbled names and numbers related to the call.

This exhibit from the Mass Casualty Commission shows the single page of notes that RCMP Constable Troy Maxwell made about the complaint he received from Brenda Forbes in 2013.
RCMP Constable Troy Maxwell’s handwritten notes about Brenda Forbes’ 2013 complaint

The MCC report continues:

It is equally clear to us that Ms. Forbes’s information was not properly understood by Cst. Maxwell. It appears that the passage of time, the scourge of post-traumatic stress disorder affecting both Ms. Forbes and Cst. Maxwell as witnesses, and inadequate record-keeping conspire to prevent us from knowing what Ms. Forbes said and what Cst. Maxwell heard. In our view, neither one tried to mislead us. What we can conclude is that Ms. Forbes reported intimate partner violence and a firearms complaint that were never properly investigated…

We note the evidence that the perpetrator did not begin collecting decommissioned police cars until 2019, about six years after Ms. Forbes’s complaint. While we cannot say for sure that he didn’t have a decommissioned car in 2013 at the time of the incident, there is no evidence that he had any such vehicle before 2019. When presented with the suggestion, Cst. Maxwell was firm in his evidence that the complaint had been about a decommissioned police car, although this point is recorded nowhere in his notes.

In his one-page notebook entry about his conversation with Ms. Forbes, Cst. Maxwell wrote down the names of Glynn Wortman [GW’s uncle], Richard Ellison [GW’s neighbour], and “Lisa [Banfield].” During his testimony, he said, “This is the information Ms. Forbes provided.” According to Ms. Forbes consistent evidence in RCMP interviews and in her Commission interview and testimony, it was Glynn Wortman who told her about the incident and that it was witnessed by other men. She understood the men to be Ellison Sutherland and a man with the last name of Ellison, who others say was David Ellison (Richard Ellison’s brother). Glynn Wortman also recalled that it was Richard Ellison and maybe also David Ellison. Richard Ellison recalled that it was his brother David who witnessed the assault.

The MCC report notes that in his testimony, Maxwell said he would not have been able to charge someone with a crime unless he actually witnessed it, meaning he would have had to have caught GW driving “in an unsafe manner.”

Maxwell’s statement “that a police officer needs to witness a crime is incorrect,” states the report. “A police officer does not have to find an offender committing an infraction or a crime in order to investigate.”

Related: An RCMP officer’s evolving recollection of Brenda Forbes’ complaint about the mass murderer

The Mass Casualty Commissioners also note that while Maxwell claims he followed up with Forbes at the Debert Airbase to tell her the outcome of her complaint, Forbes said she never received “any follow-up from the RCMP.” Nor did Forbes’ friend and co-worker at the airbase recall such a visit from the RCMP, when interviewed by the MCC.

‘A systemic RCMP failure’

The MCC conclusions about the way the RCMP handled Forbes’ 2013 report — made seven years before GW went on a murderous rampage with his illegal weapons — are scathing:

Taking into account all the above, we find that Ms. Forbes tried to make a third-party report about intimate partner violence and that the RCMP did not act on this information. Cst. Maxwell had heard enough information to decide he should go to Portapique. We find that the lack of clarity about his policing role that day and the actions he took in response to the report demonstrate a systemic RCMP failure of investigative training, policies and practices. While Cst. Maxwell’s notes are insufficient, the notes of his colleagues are completely absent.

Inadequate response to gender-based violence

The MCC report sees these failings as “patterns of inadequate police response” to warnings they were given. The commissioners write:

We identify several problematic patterns in the police response: implicit bias, failure to investigate, poor note-taking and record keeping, and inadequate information-sharing between and among police services and other agencies.

There was a clear preference for the perpetrator’s information over that provided by complainants. This pattern raises a concern of implicit bias in police decision-making. Implicit bias is a form of bias that occurs automatically and unintentionally, that nevertheless affects judgments, decisions, and behaviours. A common example of implicit bias is favouring or being more receptive to people with whom we identify because of shared characteristics.

We find this lack of meaningful investigation to be the result of failures and inadequacies in policing training and practices with respect to firearms complaints. If, at any stage, particularly with respect to the 2010, 2011, and 2013 complaints, the police had conducted thorough investigations to justify seizing the firearms with or without a warrant, it is likely they would have located illegal firearms in the perpetrator’s possession. [boldface in the original]

The MCC report concludes that, “The failure to take meaningful steps in respect to Brenda Forbes’ report concerning the perpetrator’s 2013 assault on Lisa Banfield is an example of a more general pattern of systemic inadequacies in response to gender-based violence.”

“This failure is striking given Ms. Forbes’ third party report of the assault including information about the perpetrator’s illegal possession of firearms and her ongoing concerns about Ms. Banfield’s safety,” it adds.

Correlation with the Susie Butlin murder

Susan Butlin

The Mass Casualty Commission finds a correlation between the systemic failures in the way the RCMP handled warnings about GW, and the ones identified in the Independent Officer Review conducted by the RCMP after the 2017 homicide of Susie Butlin by her neighbour, Ernie Duggan, in Bayhead, Nova Scotia.

Related: “Insufficient grounds:” Susie Butlin repeatedly pleaded with the RCMP to intervene to stop her neighbour Junior Duggan from harassing her. The police took no action. A friend says an RCMP officer told Butlin her allegations against Duggan made her, not him, a “menace to society.” Three days later, Duggan killed Butlin.

Related: Court documents contradict RCMP denial that they ignored Susie Butlin’s pleas before she was murdered

Related: Civilian Review Complaints Commission to investigate how the RCMP handled sexual assault complaints from Susie Butlin

The MCC report observes the connections between the Butlin case and GW’s murder of 22 people are “strengthened” by the fact that the calls from Butlin were placed to the Bible Hill Detachment, the same as Forbes’ complaint about GW.

It also notes that Constable Greg Wiley at the detachment was responsible for investigating some of the calls about Butlin’s case. Wiley, according to the MCC report, was described by some as a “friend” to GW. While Wiley denied that in his testimony to the commission, he did visit GW between 10 and 20 times “over the approximately eight years between 2006 and 2018 that he was stationed at the Bible Hill detachment.”

The commissioners write that Butlin:

…repeatedly reported Duggan’s violence and intimidating behaviour and threats, but insufficient steps were taken to ensure her safety. A report from Mr. Duggan’s wife, which included a report that she believed her husband had purchased a firearm, similarly resulted in an insufficient response.

Similarly, the MCC notes that GW owned at least five firearms, which he possessed illegally, at the time of the mass casualty.

“At least 35 people knew the perpetrator had acquired firearms, and quite a few had seen them,” says the report. GW was “not particularly secretive” about his weapons collection, and “he was known to show them off.” And yet, write the commissioners, there were only three reports to the police about GW’s firearms, and even those – as illustrated by what happened after Forbes’ complaint about him to the RCMP – “were not adequately investigated.” They add:

Given the perpetrator’s patterns of violence, intimidating, and coercive behaviour, it is clear that many people were frightened of him, so the lack of reporting can be readily understood. At the same time, it is this very history of violence that underscores the importance of effective enforcement of firearms regulations.

Firearms recommendations

The MCC report contains many “lessons learned” and recommendations that emerge from them. Five recommendations relate to firearms safety and regulations.

One recommendation is aimed at reducing gun lethality. Among other things, the commission recommends the federal government amend the Criminal Code to “prohibit all semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns that discharge centre-fire ammunition and that are designed to accept detachable magazines with capacities of more than five rounds” and “prohibit the use of a magazine with more than five rounds so as to close the loopholes in the existing law that permit such firearms.”

It also recommends that the federal government amend the Firearms Act:

  • to require a licence to possess ammunition;
  • to require a licence to buy a magazine for a firearm; and
  • to require a licensee to purchase ammunition only for the gun for which they are licensed.

The federal government should also “take steps to rapidly reduce the number of prohibited semi-automatic firearms in circulation in Canada,” according to the MCC.

Another of the MCC’s findings on firearms is that “the safety of women survivors of intimate partner violence is put at risk by the presence of firearms and ammunition in the household.”

It recommends that firearms licences should be revoked “for conviction of gender-based, intimate-partner, or family violence.”

The commission recommends that federal, provincial and territorial governments bring in legislation and regulatory changes to “prevent unlawful transfers of firearms from estates” on the death of the owner. GW took possession of one of his weapons, the Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, from his friend Tom Evans after Evan’s death.

The report notes that between 2015 and 2019, GW smuggled a Glock 23 semi-automatic pistol, a Ruger P89 semi-automatic pistol, and a Colt Carbine semi-automatic rifle from the United States into Canada.

The commission also recommends collaboration and cooperation between law enforcement agencies responsible for firearms control at the Canada-United States border.

Click here to read the final report.  

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. What a complete and utter failure to do anything while this time bomb was slowly ticking. This could have been so easily prevented.