RCMP officers who retire or leave the job must return all parts of their uniforms and their badges to the RCMP. And the RCMP must do a better job of tracking the inventory and disposal of uniforms when officers retire, according to the Mass Casualty Commission final report.
The mass killer, who the Examiner refers to as GW, collected genuine and fake police paraphernalia, including the uniform he wore and the fake police cruiser he drove during the murders.
Some of victims and witnesses mistook the killer for a police officer because he was in uniform and driving the fake cruiser. The fake police cruiser the killer drove also confused RCMP officers on the scene.
The commission said the public’s trust in the police, particularly the RCMP, was shaken after the weekend of April, and said the killer’s use of police uniforms and cars, even though not all authentic, played a significant role in that distrust.
Here are the commission’s main findings around the use of police paraphernalia:
- GCSurplus and RCMP asset management policy were inadequate for ensuring that sensitive material such as decals were fully removed from decommissioned RCMP vehicles and destroyed. These inadequacies facilitated the perpetrator’s access to the means to fabricate the replica RCMP cruiser.
- GCSurplus training and oversight of its warehouse employees were inadequate, particularly with respect to what steps should be taken to identify and report suspicious activities.
- The perpetrator’s acquisition of decommissioned police cars and police uniform and kit, and particularly his fabrication of a replica RCMP police cruiser, provided him with the additional means to carry out the mass casualty. Ownership of many of these elements is unregulated although it was unlawful to possess some of the items he acquired.
The fake police car
The fake police cruiser used by the killer was one of four former police cruisers he purchased from GCSurplus for a total of $21,596.81. The killer outfitted the fake police car with items sourced from various places; the commission said they couldn’t determine the origins for all the items.
The commission learned that prior to the mass killings in April 2020, the RCMP made about $8 million a year from the sale of decommissioned RCMP vehicles.
After April 2020, then federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, Bill Blair, issued a moratorium on the sale of RCMP vehicles. The commission writes:
Conscious of the environmental cost of scrapping vehicles that are in good condition, we encourage the minister of public safety and the RCMP to work with GCSurplus to investigate alternative means of retaining roadworthy vehicles within government fleets, even when they are no longer suitable for policing. The moratorium on selling RCMP vehicles to the public should, however, be retained at least until a third-party review of the decommissioning process has been completed.
Max Liberatore, an employee with GCSurplus, testified at the commission about his dealings with the killer in the purchase of decommissioned vehicles. While the commissioners write that they found Liberatore’s testimony “vague and inconsistent,” they accept his testimony that he had no proper training on how to identify suspicious activity on the part of potential buyers, including if those buyers planned on using decommissioned vehicles to impersonate a police officer.
In one of its recommendations, the commission writes that GCSurplus and other companies that dispose of police assets have a system to track and report suspicious activity, and properly train staff to identify suspicious activity of buyers and potential buyers.
Police uniforms remain symbols of power, authority
The uniform GW wore during the killings included genuine items he received from retired RCMP officers, including his uncle. Other items of clothing he wore resembled items worn by police officers.
Currently, there is no rule against a retired RCMP officer giving his ceremonial uniform to a collector or to someone with no connection to the RCMP or policing, although the uniform remains the property of the Crown. Retired officers must be granted permission to wear those uniforms to public events, such as weddings and funerals.
After the killings in April 2020, RCMP H Division gathered seven tonnes of unused and condemned uniforms and kits from its officers, an amount the report said far exceeded what was expected to be returned. All of the items were incinerated in a waste-to-energy facility.
The commission spoke with collectors of police paraphernalia, who testified about the pride and reward they feel in finding new policing items, and consider doing so as part of recording the history of policing.
Still, the commission writes in its report that for many communities, particularly Black and Indigenous people, police uniforms are “symbols of injustice and exclusion.” The commissioners wrote they heard that the groups most likely to feel most alienated by police, are also the same groups to be harmed by someone impersonating a police officer.
The commission recommends that retired officers or officers who leave in good standing after a minimum period of service be given a veteran’s blazer that looks completely different from the uniform worn by current serving members.
We conclude that going forward, when police officers retire or otherwise cease their roles as peace officers, all aspects of their uniform should be turned in. An unsuspecting public cannot be expected to differentiate between general duty and ceremonial uniforms. Either way, they remain symbols of power and authority. Canadian police agencies should update their discharge processes to ensure that this occurs without exception.
The commission said that while GW searched online for RCMP badges and fake badges, they found no evidence he used a badge, real or fake, during the killings.
Still, the commission recommends that the RCMP along with the RCMP Veteran’s Association work to collect badges from retired officers. Those badges will be encased in plastic so they can’t be used, and then returned to the retired officers.
The commission also said they found no evidence the killer obtained access to RCMP radio or software systems. While GW did purchase an unknown model of a handheld scanner in 1998, the commission writes that technology did not have the capability to listen in on encrypted TMR2 radio channels used by the RCMP.
Shaken public trust
The commission collected responses from surveys in which people shared their experiences about the events of April 2020.
Some of the responses detailed how the killer impersonating a police officer affected people’s trust in police.
“I was pulled over by RCMP for a traffic violation last summer, and I was terrified and distrustful of the officer the entire time. He gave me no reason to be, but the damage is done.”
“Their silence is adding to the mistrust. I have been waiting for the RCMP to address this situation. I do not feel safe to call them. They need to address the fact that we don’t trust their uniforms or cars. How do we know they’re not fake?”
The commission writes that because the killer was dressed in a police uniform and drove a fake police car, witnesses and victims believed he was a real police officer. During their call to 911, Andrew and Kate MacDonald reported seeing a police car in Portapique, only to later realize it was the killer in the fake police car.
Other witnesses, including Mary-Ann Jay, told 911 dispatchers she saw a police car drive away from Lillian Campbell, who was killed by GW when she was out for a walk in Wentworth Valley. Const. Chad Morrison believed the fake police cruiser was the car driven by Const. Heidi Stevenson.
“A police car, a uniform, or a badge permit the person who possesses these symbols to do things we would not otherwise permit a stranger to do: stop our cars, enter our homes, elicit personal information,” the report writes.
Concerns for public safety far outweigh any collector’s right to buy and own police uniforms, badges, or other items that could be used as a disguise, the report concludes.
The commission recommended that RCMP review its policies around managing and disposing of police uniforms and kits to make sure all of the materials are properly tracked and destroyed.
Another of the commission’s recommendations states that the Police Identity Management Act be amended to remove the exceptions for personal ownership of ceremonial uniforms.
The commission also recommended that details of cases of police impersonation, while rare in Canada, be tracked in the Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System Database, and that the Canadian criminal intelligence database be amended to store and share such information, as well.
Click here to read the final report.
Excellent Analysis of the MCC report! The work completed by the MCC was more than I expected.