1. ‘Defund police’ meets ‘overhaul police’

There’s one section in the Mass Casualty Commission’s report that both perfectly illustrates the problem with policing and the pathway to fixing it. It’s laid out in Volume 2 of the report, “What Happened.”

It deals with the seven hours between 4am and 11am on Sunday, April 19, 2020.

By this time, the killer had already escaped Portapique, where he had murdered 13 people and injured two more. He was hiding with his fake police car behind a welding shop in Debert, considering his next move.

Meanwhile, the RCMP officers responding to the murders, led by Critical Incident Commander Jeff West, were collected at the Great Village Fire Hall, considering their next move.

It was a moment of relative quiet. The fires in Portapique were petering out, the ammunition and gas tanks that had been exploding from the fires through the night had been spent. The Blair and McCully children had been brought to safety, the three cops who had formed the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) team had stood down. There was nothing to immediately attend to.

This was the opportunity, says the report, “for the RCMP command to take stock, review, and analyze the information they had received from all sources and to consider alternative scenarios. This opportunity was lost.”

West and his team had already decided, without any evidence whatsoever, that the killer had killed himself in the woods in Portapique. Nothing appeared to shake this belief — not the multiple reports from the children, from Jamie Blair, from Andrew and Kate MacDonald — that the killer was driving a fake RCMP cruiser, not the realization that there was a potential escape route out of the community via the blueberry field road, not the simple fact that neither the killer nor his car had been found.

The commanders thought they knew best. They would keep doing what they were doing, which was basically nothing. No change was needed.

a fake police car
The fake police car. Credit: Mass Casualty Commission

Earlier in the morning, police had contacted Maureen Banfield, Lisa’s sister, to ask about Lisa. At 5:46am, Maureen called 911, clearly trying to be helpful, and was patched through to commanders at the fire hall. Maureen sent them a selfie Lisa had taken with the killer the night before, and that photo was later used in tweets sent out to warn the public of the killer. But, says the report, “No information was sought from Maureen Banfield about the perpetrator’s replica RCMP cruiser or other vehicles, a point that underscores our finding that the RCMP command group was not then actively investigating the clear evidence about the perpetrator’s replica RCMP cruiser.”

Lisa Banfield came out of the woods at about 6:30 and soon gave police a detailed description of both the weapons the killer had in his possession and the fake RCMP cruiser, including that it had a light bar and was fully decaled. That information was relayed to the commanders at around 7:30, but it didn’t change the commanders’ tactics.

They kept doing what they were doing, which was basically nothing. No change was needed.

But at about the same time, Banfield’s family members gave Halifax police a photo of the fake police cruiser, and that was sent to the commanders in the fire hall.

The stark reality of the situation hit home, and RCMP commanders sent out a BOLO (“be on the lookout”) to officers for the fake police car, saying that the killer “could be anywhere in the province.” 

But beyond the “be on the lookout” notice, the commanders at the fire hall took no further action to actually look for the killer by, for example, setting up a coordinated system of road blocks or lookouts. 

Lillian Campbell

Then, at 9:35am, the first calls about Lillian Campbell’s murder in Wentworth came in.

The report explains what happened next:

Many RCMP members were on the lookout for the perpetrator but, for the most part, these resources were not strategically led or deployed. The RCMP response was hyper-focused on pursuing the perpetrator, particularly once it became apparent that he was mobile and once again actively killing community members. However, the RCMP’s approach was largely uncoordinated and reactive rather than tactical. This approach was inadequate to the challenge of a heavily armed man driving a replica RCMP cruiser.

Apparent bullet holes in the side of the Onslow fire hall. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

With no direction, cops in Portapique simply dropped what they were doing, jumped in their cars and sped towards Wentworth. Cops elsewhere also left their posts, jumped in their cars, and sped towards Wentworth. Then word came in about the killer being at the Fishers’ house, so they all sped towards Glenholme. Then Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien were killed on Plains Road, and everyone went zooming around that area, shooting up the Onslow Fire Hall in the process.

This is what cops do: run towards the bad guy and start shooting stuff. No need to think about strategy or the best deployment of resources.

In contrast, the report highlights the actions of Heidi Stevenson. Stevenson was “just” a constable, but when she headed to work for her 7am shift Sunday morning, she found herself the most senior member at the Enfield and Indian Brook detachments, so she was in charge, Acting Corporal Stevenson.

When she arrived at the Enfield detachment, there was no briefing for her about Portapique. But that was obviously the most important thing happening, so she set her team to work, finding whatever they could find about Portapique on the various computer databases, scrolling through social media, calling other RCMP officers to get details.

At 8:04, Stevenson received the BOLO about the fake police car. Her first reaction was to call the control centre and ask, ‘Shouldn’t we be warning the public about this?’ Commanders rejected her suggestion.

The report continues:

By contrast to the overall pattern of reactive response, Active Cpl. Heidi Stevenson was leading her members strategically and calmly. From 9:45am, the Enfield and Indian Brook members had taken lookout positions at the border of Colchester and East Hants counties and were monitoring the Colchester radio channel. These members had been assigned positions by Acting Cpl. Stevenson, and she continued to manage the members under her supervision strategically as the mass casualty continued to unfold.

Stevenson placed her team at all the bridges across the Shubenacadie River, which meant there was no way the killer could move south, towards Dartmouth, without being encountered. It was smart, strategic policing. When two of her officers were called into Colchester, she rearranged the rest of them to maintain the surveillance at the river crossings.

A map showing the Highway 2/224 cloverleaf intersection south of the Shubenacadie River, and the second Highway 2/224 (Gays River Road) intersection north of the river. Google Maps

It wasn’t Stevenson’s fault that the commanders in Great Village weren’t thinking strategically, but she paid for that failure with her life. The killer worked his way through Truro and Brookfield, and then through basically dumb luck, managed to shoot Cst. Chad Morrison at the Highway 2 river crossing and then ram Stevenson’s cruiser at the cloverleaf just south of it. Before she died, Stevenson fought bravely and injured the killer, which is what ultimately slowed him down enough to be killed.

Consider the seven hours between 4am and 11am on April 19 a metaphor for how we as a society go about policing.

First, we don’t take the time to think about and analyze what’s going on. Like the commanders in the Great Village Fire Hall, we ignore all information that challenges our preconceptions.

We know best. We’ll keep doing what we’ve always been doing, which is basically nothing. No change is needed.

Then, when bad things happen, we are simply reactive, throwing everything we have at hand into the problem. As with the RCMP after Lillian Campbell’s death, we run around willy-nilly with no strategic thinking, no planning. In real terms, we just throw more money at cops.

Stevenson shows us the better way. First: research and think. Next: consider possibilities. Then: deploy limited resources in the most effective way possible.

And that’s what the Mass Casualty Commission’s report is calling for: We can’t just keep doing things as we’ve always done them. We need to think about the problems facing us, and not respond to them in a simply reactive way. We need to deploy our limited resources strategically, and that means not simply throwing money at cops. Rather, we need to support mental health services and domestic violence intervention programs, and recognize the already existing violence in our communities that sometimes blows up into mass casualties, before those mass casualties happen.

People can argue about “defunding police” all they want. But it was a slogan that arose more or less spontaneously from the streets by people reacting to the plain truth that throwing more money at cops doesn’t address the issues that need addressing, and creates a lot of harm besides.

But when 22 people are killed in a dramatic and traumatic fashion that clearly illustrates repeated police failures, and when $45 million is spent on studying those failures and including academics, policing experts, social scientists, and more from around the globe in that analysis, we get a more sophisticated version of Defund the Police: Overhaul the Police.

The Mass Casualty Commission’s final report is a radical document. It even suggests dismantling the RCMP, but it insists that police be held to account, to the point of making admitting mistakes a criterion for promotion.

It calls for closing the RCMP Depot in Regina, the six-month training program that all recruits go to, and replacing it with a Finnish-style three-year university program. To be blunt about it, the goal is to stop having policing be the go-to job for good old boys who couldn’t get into university, and turn it into an educated profession instead.

The report demands that the RCMP meet the terms of its rural policing contract.

Most important, the report tells us we must stop addressing all problems with policing, and that we need to instead get ahead of the problems by valuing and supporting the helping professions.

The report clearly spells out that the problem in our society is unchecked violence — in our homes, in our communities, towards women and marginalized people — that is both ignored and tolerated. Nearly all the recent mass murder events in Canada were caused by men who had been violent towards women in their lives, but that red flag was never attended to before it was too late.

In the case of the April 2020 murderer, dozens of people had witnessed him physically attack Lisa Banfield over many occasions. Even more people were aware of that violence, if they hadn’t witnessed it firsthand. But hardly any of those people did anything about it. The very few, like Brenda Forbes, who tried to intervene were ignored by police.

Yesterday, Commissioner Leanne Fitch, who was a police officer before retiring, put it this way: “Whenever I was at a traffic accident, people driving by would slow down to rubberneck, get a better look at what’s happening. But when there’s domestic violence, everyone looks away.”

And even recognizing that without intervention, violent men become even more violent men, the report doesn’t simply call for siccing cops on domestic abusers. It instead calls for a nuanced response that protects women but doesn’t automatically or necessarily criminalize their abusers.

I was skeptical that the Mass Casualty Commission would produce much in the way of meaningful recommendations, but the commission has proved me completely wrong. It’s worth reading the report, reflecting on it, and taking action.

I’m also proud of the work the Halifax Examiner team has done on the final report. We got it at noon Wednesday and had 24 hours to digest it, and turned around and produced five articles, which follow in the next items.

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2. Policing

A white woman in a white blouse with rainbow zebras on it makes a hand gesture
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on August 24, 2020

“The Mass Casualty Commission is calling for a complete overhaul of policing in Canada, including potentially breaking up the RCMP,” reports Jennifer Henderson:

Even without going that far, the commission recommends sweeping changes within the RCMP, including:

• The RCMP Training Depot in Regina be phased out by 2032 and replaced by a three-year university degree program to educate police officers. 

• More people from under-represented groups such as visible minorities should be actively recruited and financially supported during training.

• The RCMP should stop using rural policing as the first rung in a career ladder and consider incentivizing officers to make rural policing a career choice. 

The final report issued by the commission today goes on to call for changes in practically every aspect of police work: “Most important, the RCMP must undergo the fundamental change called for in so many previous reports.”

Click here to read “Mass Casualty Commission calls for overhaul of policing in Canada, including potentially breaking up the RCMP.”

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3. Brenda Forbes said the killer was a violent man. The RCMP ignored her

A white woman with a blue jacket and glasses.
Brenda Forbes testified before the Mass Casualty Commission on July 12, 2022 via video link. Credit: Mass Casualty Commission

“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),” reports Joan Baxter:

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.

Click here to read “RCMP ignored ‘red flags’ about the killer’s violence and illegal firearms: MCC Report.”

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4. Lisa Banfield

A woman with dark blonde hair looking to her left
Lisa Banfield testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on Friday, July 15, 2022. Credit: oto: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

“Despite the fact that the mass murders of April 18-19, 2020 started with an assault on Lisa Banfield, the RCMP never considered Banfield a victim — ‘that is, as an important witness who required careful debriefing and who would need support service,’ according to the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report,” I report:

“She provided additional details to the RCMP members about the perpetrator, and confirmed that he had a fully marked replica RCMP cruiser,” reads the report. Those details included information about the weapons the killer had placed in the car, and that the car “contained a ‘silent patrolman’ and that it had stripe decals, RCMP logos, a light bar, and a siren.”

But, as with the the women and children before her who told police about the fake police car, Banfield’s information about the fake police car was not taken seriously. 

Banfield “provided the RCMP with vital information, and a further interview could have yielded additional information and details,” states the report.

Click here to read “RCMP ‘revictimized’ Lisa Banfield: MCC Report.”

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5. Lack of family support

Memorial for Heather O’Brien on Plains Road. Photo: Joan Baxter.

“The RCMP failed survivors and surviving family members of the April 2020 mass murders, according to the Mass Casualty Commission,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The report found that RCMP H Division and the Nova Scotia Victim Services were unprepared for the “immense need” in the mass casualty’s aftermath. Some individual officers and service providers did their best to adapt existing services, but those attempts “fell short,” showing “a lack of institutional preparation and coordination for an incident of this scale.” 

Among several examples, it pointed to three instances where concerned family members had guns pointed at them or were threatened by RCMP members as they tried to determine what had happened to their loved ones. 

Click here to read “RCMP failed victims’ families: MCC Report.”

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6. Uniforms

An RCMP patch and uniform were discarded by the killer at Gina Goulet’s house on Highway 224. Credit: Mass Casualty Commission

“RCMP officers who retire or leave the job must return all parts of their uniforms and their badges to the RCMP,” reports Suzanne Rent:

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.

Click here to read “RCMP must gather uniforms from retired officers, keep track of inventory: MCC Report.”

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7. Reaction

A man hugs a woman in a crowd
Premier Tim Houston, right, hugs an attendee following the release of the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry’s final report into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia in Truro, N.S. on Thursday, March 30, 2023. Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

“Premier Tim Houston joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the families of victims, survivors, and community members in Truro Thursday afternoon for the presentation of the Mass Casualty Commission’s final 3,000-page report and 130 recommendations,” reports Jennifer Henderson.

Henderson goes on to relate the official statements from the leaders of the three political parties in Nova Scotia.

Click here to read “Nova Scotia political leaders respond to final report from Mass Casualty Commission.”

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8. Second Story

A building with a steep peaked roof with pale yellow siding and brick trim. A eavesdrop is built only the side of the building providing some shade over the sidewalk. A sign hangs from that roof that says Second Story Women's Centre.
Second Story Women’s Centre in Lunenburg. Credit: Second Story Women's Centre/Facebook

“The doors remain closed at a Lunenburg women’s centre following the mass resignation of staff due to what supporters say is ‘a complete erosion of trust’ between staff and its volunteer board of directors,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

For 40 years, Second Story Women’s Centre has provided support, counselling, referrals, advocacy, and other services and programming for women, girls, and other gender oppressed people. 

“What we have come to understand as supporters, and heard over and over again directly from all eight staff, is that there is a complete erosion of trust between the board and staff,” Stacey Godsoe said in an interview Tuesday evening. 

Click here to read “Rally set for Second Story Women’s Centre after impasse between staff, board of directors.”

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9. Spring Garden Road

Two buses are seen on a street on a sunny day, with pedestrians on the sidewalks.
Buses and pedestrians on Spring Garden Road during the short-lived pilot in July 2022. Credit: HRM

“Halifax councillors aren’t satisfied with a plan to reboot the Spring Garden Road bus-only pilot project, and it won’t happen this summer,” reports Zane Woodford:

The municipality first tried, in July 2022, to close Spring Garden Road between South Park and Queen streets to traffic other than buses and bikes from 7am to 8pm. The pilot was supposed to last a year, but when drivers didn’t obey the signs, HRM shut it down after five days.

In September, council’s Transportation Standing Committee heard from staff on what went wrong. On Thursday, project manager Jason Genée brought the new plan to the committee.

Click here to read “Halifax councillors punt ‘imperfect’ Spring Garden Road bus-only pilot to next year.”

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Budget Committee (Friday, 9:30am, City Hall and online) — contingency meeting


Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House) 

On campus


Keep Me In, Coach: The Short- and Long-Term Effects of Targeted Academic Coaching (Friday, 2:30pm, online) — Serena Canaan from Simon Fraser University will talk

Parched (Friday, 6pm, Joseph Strug Concert Hall) — a Creative Music Ensemble production; from the listing:

Since the spring of 2022, Torin Buzek and Tim Crofts have been collaborating in building a series of new micro-tonal instruments inspired by those conceived and built by American composer, philosopher and inventor, Harry Partch. With support from the Traves Performance Excellence Fund, the two artists have collaborated in researching Partch’s methods and balancing them with the realities of our current place, time, and access to materials. Combining Crofts’ unique musicality and Buzek’s creative carpentry, the two have created a collection that ranges from direct Partch replicas to modifications of pre-existing instruments and found objects.

Free, masks required, more info here

Peer Gynt (Friday, 7:30pm, Dunn Theatre) — Dal Theatre production, until April 1; tickets $15/$10, more info here

In the harbour

10:30: Atlantic Star, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Liverpool, England
11:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
16:30: MSC Bhavya, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea
20:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Pier 42 for St. John’s
21:00: East Coast, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
04:30 (Saturday): CMA CGM Magellan, container ship (151,446 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco

Cape Breton
11:00: Strymon, oil tanker, sails from EverWind for sea


We have more in the works about the Mass Casualty Commission.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. I’ll add my thanks to that of the others. The Halifax Examiner is by far the best of the best when it comes to reporting on the issues that matter. In relation to the MCC, thank you to all for the extra effort that has to have gone into keeping this reader well informed.

  2. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, the Halifax Examiner consistently punches above its weight. From the moment they became aware of the horrific event members of the Examiner team jumped into action and put all the other media – provincial and national – to shame with their reporting. Thank you for your hard work and the journalistic integrity you display in every edition of this important publication.

  3. Why become an RCMP officer to be sent to remote rural communities in the prairies or the Yukon,NWT and after being married your spouse finds a career doing ….?
    I read the one section dealing with Municipal Policing. HRM staff and council will not like the recommendations relating to independence of police governance.

  4. Thank you Tim and the whole Examiner team for your truly outstanding reporting on Portapique and the MCC. Your series of articles over the last few days in response to the report are 100% the best in Canada. You have covered all of this with a level of journalistic rigour, ethics, depth, nuance, and sensitivity that is leaps and bounds beyond anyone else. Truly a job well done

    1. CBC, CTV, CNN et al. could all learn a lot from you guys. Thanks for all your great reportin–on everything not just Portapique. Onward!