News

1. How a series of failures likely led to murders on the morning of April 19, 2020

The Onslow Belmont Fire Hall, where RCMP officers opened fire. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

In the days following the murders of April 18 and 19, 2020, we saw people outraged at what seemed like police inaction or incompetence, and those who had no patience for that view, arguing that it was a chaotic situation in which nobody could have been expected to know how to react, and in the confusion, errors were inevitable.

Reality is rarely simple and binary though, and, two years later, the picture that is emerging seems to indicate that in some ways both views were true.

At first, on the ground in Portapique, the three RCMP officers on the scene do seem to have been overwhelmed, often lost physically (since they did not realize their radios had GPS capabilities and those capabilities had not been turned on) and forced to make split-second decisions. (Is this guy approaching with a flashlight and then disappearing into the woods the killer? Do I go after him? Do I shoot?)

But there was also, as Tim Bousquet exhaustively reports, “a series of cascading RCMP mistakes, missteps, and miscommunications” on the morning of April 19 that “allowed the killer to continue his rampage uninterrupted. As a result, nine more people were killed.”

Let’s dive into Bousquet’s story.

First, and perhaps most famously — since it was obvious so early — is the failure to notify the public about what was going on. We got a tweet about a weapons complaint, and then nothing, for hours and hours and hours, followed by what could generously be called spotty communication.

One of the revelations of the Mass Casualty Commission is just how much information the police had, and how early they had it. They knew the killer’s name, and they knew he was driving a replica RCMP vehicle. But, Bousquet writes, they just don’t seem to have believed it.

The witnesses’ description of the police car were specific.

“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.

“Somebody in a cop car shot at us,” Kate MacDonald told the 911 call-taker.

Later, Cst. Adam MacDonald tells Cpl. Rodney Peterson, the Colchester County duty team leader, “We’re looking for a police car… and it has decals on it.”

“I said, ‘Okay, you mean subdued decals?” said Peterson. “I’m trying to process it in my head to figure out what he’s trying to get at… what I meant by that maybe wasn’t he thought. You can buy police cars [and] when you get the, when you take off the decals, it leaves a residue. So, in my head, that’s what he meant. Some of them you can, like, the old decal system, when you remove it, you see clearly it was a police car, right?”

Bousquet notes that the RCMP are told over and over again — including by their own, in some detail, that the killer is driving a car that looks exactly like a genuine RCMP vehicle, yet they fail to warn the public, perhaps because they don’t seem to believe it themselves.

A photo of the vehicle whose appearance Peterson was unsure of had been uploaded to a computer system — but Peterson hadn’t been able to log in.

This is a recurring theme in the story. Bousquet writes:

Peterson got to the Bible Hill detachment, and there weren’t many vehicles in the parking lot besides the vehicle he uses, a fully marked Chevy Tahoe, and a couple of others. Usually the parking lot was full. Peterson went to the locker room, changed and collected his gear, went to his office to log onto his computer…

But Peterson couldn’t log in to the computer. “I’m having issues with the computer, which is fairly common with those,” he said. “You know, you log on, somebody didn’t log off properly, or there’s a communication issue with, you know, it won’t transmit.”

Later, we learn Cst. Dave Melanson was driving a vehicle in which the GPS was not activated.

I would suggest that if “having issues with the computer,” including an inability to log into the system at all is “fairly common” something is seriously wrong. And, as a reader in the comments on the story points out, that’s not necessarily the individual’s responsibility but points to broader failure.

At one point, two officers come close to opening fire on a third, Cst. Rodney MacDonald. Again, failure to use equipment plays a role here:

MacDonald and [Cst. Nathan] Forrest were in such a hurry to get to the crime scene in Wentworth that MacDonald did not sign into the computer system, so his position was not seen by other RCMP officers on the systems in their cars.

Then, Melanson is approached by Cst. Dave Melanson and Cst. Terry Brown:

As Melanson and Brown approached, they saw MacDonald’s marked police car on the side of the road ahead of them and mistook it for the killer’s fake police car. Here’s the transcript of radio transmissions of the incident:

9:52:47am — CST. BROWN: Break! Break! We’ve got eyes on him. Marked PC on the side of the highway ahead of us.

9:52:54am — CST. MACDONALD: 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.

9:53:02am — CST. BROWN: Copy, Copy.

“I’m standing outside the car with hard body armour on,” said MacDonald, and “the radio went off and I believe it was in the car because I believe I reached in to respond and it said, ‘we’ve got a marked police car at the end of the Fisher road.’ And I turned and looked, and 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.”

“So, because they’re talking about me,” continued MacDonald, “I got on the radio and I said, ‘it’s MacDonald, for fucks sake, don’t shoot,’ or along those lines.”

Shortly after MacDonald convinced Melanson and Brown not to shoot him, Melanson opened fire on the Onslow Belmont Fire Hall.

At the Onslow fire hall, evacuee Richard Ellison had arrived. Through the night, one of Ellison’s sons, Corrie, had been shot dead by the killer, and another son, Clinton, had spent much of the night in the woods, thinking he was being pursued by the killer.

[Dave] Westlake, the emergency coordinator, went out to the parking lot, got something out of his own car, and then walked over to the police cruiser to ask [Cst. Dave] Gagnon for details about Ellison’s situation. Westlake was wearing jeans, a blue stocking hat, and a reflective EMO vest. He was carrying a clipboard and a radio was tucked into the vest. He stood outside the open driver’s side door, but a bit behind the car; Gagnon was sitting in the driver’s seat.

Just then, a Nissan Altima pulled up across the road.

“As we approached the Onslow Firehall, I observed a fully marked RCMP car parked in the driveway with a man standing next to the drivers side door,” wrote Brown in his statement to SIRT. “The man was wearing an orange reflective vest. The description that Lisa Banfield gave to me in the back of the ambulance was that [the killer] was wearing an orange vest. The description that Cpl. Peterson gave was that he was wearing a reflective vest and driving a fully marked police car. I believed the person standing next to this fully marked police car, wearing an orange reflective vest was [the killer].”

Melanson came to the same conclusion. “That’s him!” he yelled.

“Melanson stopped in the middle of the road and we both bailed to the trunk area of the unmarked Altima we were driving,” continued Brown. “We both had our carbines. I was yelling to the man ‘police’ and to show his hands. Melanson was trying to get out on the portable radio and I was covering us with my carbine pointed at the subject.”

Meanwhile, Gagnon figured the guys getting out carbines were about to set up a roadblock, and was going to go over and give them a hand:

“But then as I looked I saw them pointing guns towards my direction,” Gagnon wrote in his notebook soon after the incident. “I quickly grabbed radio and yelled out, ‘you’re pointing your guns at me.’ Then I heard shots being fired and could hear noise behind me so I shouted on radio ‘you’re shooting at me! Blue! Blue! Blue!’”

“The shooting stopped,” continued Gagnon. “I looked up and members still pointing towards my location. I poked my head out yelled out ‘it’s Gagnon 30B6.’ The members yelled back ‘get down.’ I yelled back ‘Gagnon 30B6, look at my car’ (something to that effect). The members realized I was with them. They lowered and walked up to me. I was shaken up.”

Family members of victims also had guns drawn on them:

I drove up to see two RCMP standing with rifles on the side of the road,” wrote Michaella [Scott]. She got out of her car “and they lifted their rifles and proceeded to tell me that I needed to leave and I couldn’t be there.”

“I remember shouting back at them, saying ‘that’s my mom’s car, where is my mom?’” continued Michaella. “They never answered me. The more I approached, the more aggressive they got with me, telling me that I couldn’t be there and needed to leave the scene immediately, all while having guns drawn towards me. I was confused and scared.”

Michaella then saw her mother’s car, pressed against a tree, the driver’s side door opened. “I couldn’t see her,” she wrote. She tried calling her mother, but no one answered. She got back in her car and was about to leave.

“As I started to drive away, I noticed a blanket/tarp laying on the ground.”

Michaella went home, but then turned around and went back to the scene. By then, the road was blocked off; Michaella pulled off the road and the same two RCMP officers walked towards her. “That’s the daughter,” said one.

Michaella told them she needed to see her mother. “The male officer then handed me a card, apologized to me and said, ‘This is now being investigated as a homicide.’”

“This day burns in the back of my head,” wrote Michaella. “They took away my right to hold my mother’s hand, to say goodbye, to tell her I loved her one last time.”

There is, of course, much more, and you should make time to read the whole piece.

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2. Nick Beaton has every right to be angry, but…

Nick Beaton speaks to reporters before the start of a victory march on Wednesday morning in Halifax. The event was intended to celebrate the decision to hold a public inquiry rather than a review into April’s mass shooting. Family members of the victims’ and their supporters marched from the ferry terminal to Province House. Photo: Yvette d’Entremont

“Nick Beaton has every right to be angry, but…” is the headline on Stephen Kimber’s column this week.

Kimber writes:

It is impossible not to sympathize with the frustrations of Nick Beaton.

His pregnant wife, Kristen, was among the 22 victims of the senseless April 2020 shooting rampage during which a killer — dressed as a Mountie and driving a down-to-the-decals perfect replica police car — wandered, seemingly at will, along Nova Scotia’s highways and byways, murdering erstwhile friends, neighbours, associates, acquaintances, even total strangers like Kristen…

At 9:37, Nick sent Kristen a Facebook screenshot photo of the now-identified killer along with the official statement from the RCMP:

51-year-old [GW] is the suspect in our active shooter investigation in #Portapique. There are several victims. He is considered armed & dangerous. If you see him, call 911. DO NOT approach. He’s described as a white man, bald, 6’2-6’3 with green eyes.

What the RCMP did not say — even though they’d been aware of the facts from multiple sources since soon after the murders began the night before — was that the murderer was dressed as a Mountie and driving a vehicle tricked out as an official RCMP cruiser.

Twenty minutes later, Kristen Beaton was dead, murdered by a man she would have assumed was a real Mountie.

Beaton has been a vocal critic, first of the provincial government’s seeming desire to avoid having a proper inquiry at all, and second of the actions of the Mass Casualty Commission itself. And Kimber says he gets it, but that it’s also important to let the commission get on with its work — and that there are still many, many more documents and revelations to come.

There are those who will read this column as being apologist, I’m sure, but that is clearly not Kimber’s intent. And anyone who knows Kimber or his work will recognize that. Saying let’s just wait a bit isn’t the same as giving commissioners a free pass.

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3. Opposition bills aim to change how Nova Scotia Power operates

Tufts Cove Generating Plant. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Nova Scotia Power has applied to the Utilities and Review Board for a rate increase (what else is new?). But the Liberals and NDP have both introduce bills in the legislature that would change the way the utility operates, Jennifer Henderson reports.

The bills were introduced by NDP leadership hopeful Claudia Chender and Liberal Leader Iain Rankin. Of course, as opposition bills, they have pretty much no hope of being adopted by a legislature with a Progressive Conservative majority, but they do offer some insight into how the opposition parties think about the utility.

Chender’s bill would tie earnings to performance standards related to service and emissions, and would offer an opportunity for the public to buy back part of the utility. It also has a provision to help people on low incomes cover their power bills. The Liberals meanwhile, propose capping profits. Henderson writes:

From the Liberals’ Ratepayers Protection Bill:

“Notwithstanding the Public Utilities Act, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board shall limit Nova Scotia Power Incorporated’s equity share to 37.5% of its capital investments and its rate of return to between 8.75 and 9.25 %.”

According to the Liberals, their bill would prevent Nova Scotia Power from making even higher profits. But it would not have much impact on ratepayers.

These are the very rough outlines. Henderson walks us through the proposals in much more detail, and speaks with Brendan Haley, Director of Policy at Efficiency Canada, for his take.

There is a value in bills like these, even if they don’t lead to adoption, because they can initiate a conversation on what may be possible. Henderson does a great job unpacking the ideas and their implications.

Henderson’s story is for subscribers only. Subscribe here.

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Views

1. Old baseball cards

I finally opened these puppies up. They’ve been sitting in my office for ages, since someone handed them to me on my birthday a few years ago. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to open them. Why?

The thrill of the unopened pack of baseball cards. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

One of these packs contained a card valued at $1.75. Screw the Examiner; I’m retiring.

Cards in one of the three packs. Photo: Philip Moscovitch

I don’t recommend trying the 34-year-old gum stuck to the back of the Bret Saberhagen card, which was in one of the other packs. (The $1.75 card is the Martinez one.)

I finally got around to ordering The Wax Pack, by Brad Balukjian. It is sitting at the King’s Co-op Bookstore waiting for me, and I’ve got to go pick it up. The premise of the book is simple and brilliant:

The Wax Pack: On the open road in search of baseball’s afterlife is the true story of tracking down all the players in a single pack of 1986 Topps on a 11,341-mile road trip across the U.S. What started out as a fit of nostalgia became something much bigger than baseball: A meditation on the loss of innocence, what it means to grow up, and the surprising gift accessible to us all: Impermanence.

Here is the pack in question, along with the book’s cover:

The Wax Pack. Photo: waxpackbook.com

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2. When the new chain comes to town

Chickens — Photo by William Moreland on Unsplash

I am not a fast food fan, but I will admit to a weakness for Popeyes when I visit places that have them. Not enough of one to go line up for hours and hours and hours — in Bedford, mind you.

In the Chronicle Herald, John DeMont has a story called “Nothing new about the Popeyes frenzy” — but it could just as easily have been titled “Nova Scotia is so embarrassing.”

He writes:

On Twitter one guy seemed to be ecstatic because he had managed to bring home a takeout feast after waiting only, and this is no typo, five hours to get his grub.

DeMont reminds us that Nova Scotians love to go wild whenever a new chain comes to town. Remember IKEA? “We Haligonians have always had a slavish relationship with the giants of retail glory,” he writes, before going into a remembrance of what it was like when McDonald’s first appeared here, in the 1970s:

Recently, when I asked about the location of the first Halifax-area McDonald’s— Main Street Dartmouth, it turns out, followed soon after, perhaps, by Kempt Road and Spryfield — one of my Facebook friends recalled going to a restaurant on the Bedford Highway during the first week it was open and waiting two-and-a-half hours, with cops directing traffic, to get his first burger.

I also wonder if part of why the arrival of McDonald’s mattered so was that it made us all feel good to know that one of the world’s most famous companies saw enough in this small city to open up an outlet here.

I remember reading in Fast Food Nation that McDonald’s were so good at predicting population growth, seeing a new one was a sign of much impending sprawl. Soon after I read that, if I recall correctly, the Tantallon McDonald’s opened. (The one that used to have a fake lighthouse.)

Also, note the talk below in the listings on the history of drive-thrus! Timely.

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Government

City

Monday

North West Community Council (Monday, 6pm) — virtual meeting

Tuesday

Halifax Regional Council (Tuesday, 10am, City Hall) — also virtual

Province

Monday

Law Amendments (Monday, 10am, Province House) — agenda here

Legislature sits (Monday, 4pm)


On campus

Dalhousie

Smart biomaterials for osteochondral regeneration: From innovation to translation” (Monday, 12pm, Room 3156, Dentistry Building) — seminar by Masoud Mozafari, candidate for the Faculty of Dentistry’s Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in functional polymeric biomaterials.

PhD Defence: Nursing (Monday, 1pm, online) — Keisha Jefferies will defend “A Black Feminist Study of African Nova Scotian Nurses and Their Leadership in Healthcare”

PhD Defence: Sociology and Anthropology (Monday, 1:30pm, online) — Katie Kristina MacLeod will defend “Localizing Rural Acadian Identities: Interstitial Ethnicity and Social Reproduction in Pomquet, Nova Scotia”

PhD Defence: Microbiology and Immunology (Monday, 2pm, online) — Prathyusha Konda will defend “Understanding the Role of T Cell Mediated Immune Responses in Cancer Immunotherapies”

Saint Mary’s

Playwright’s Showcase (Monday, 4pm, Room 225, Sobey School of Business) — workshop and reading of new works in progress by the playwrights of SMU’s English/WGST course “Writing Plays”. Masks and proof of vaccination required.

Operationalizing the Co-operative Identity – Strategy to Practice (Monday, 11am) — online course

Mount Saint Vincent

Monday

No events

Tuesday

A History of Food: Fast Food (in partnership with Halifax Public Libraries) (Tuesday, 6pm) — via Zoom; Jonathan Roberts will discuss how

As humans move faster and faster, their food moves with them. Join us to learn about the history of pick-ups, drive-ins, and drive-thrus.


In the harbour

Halifax
06:00: Tropic Lissette, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 42 from sea
09:30: NYK Romulus, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for sea
17:00: X-press Irazu, container ship, moves from anchorage to Pier 41
18:00: Horizon Enabler, offshore supply ship, sails from Dartmouth Cove for sea
20:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England
20:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove Norfolk, Virginia

Cape Breton
17:00: Yasa Golden Marmara, oil tanker, sails from Point Tupper for sea


Footnotes

It’s snowing and people have opinions.


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Philip Moscovitch

Philip Moscovitch is a writer and audio producer, and the author of the book Adventures in Bubbles and Brine; Website:...

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