In this article:
• Did the killer listen in on the RCMP’s unencrypted radio calls?
• Emergency Response Team had no GPS capability
• Ron McGraw slept through hell
• Cst. Nick Dorrington and the killer’s speeding ticket
• Cst. Jeff Mahar’s version of what happened on Plains Road
• Connections to the Hell’s Angels?
The latest “foundational document” released by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), titled “RCMP Emergency Response Team,” details technological missteps and failures during the mass murder spree of April 18/19, 2020.
Did the killer listen in on the RCMP’s unencrypted radio calls?
Most alarming is that the RCMP’s “encrypted” radio communications were twice “patched in” to unencrypted radio channels.
Before April 2020, the RCMP and the Halifax Regional Police converted all radios over to encrypted systems, but for budget reasons smaller municipal police forces and other first responders like fire and ambulance did not.
On April 19, from 12:45am to 4:07am, “an unencrypted channel — Law Enforcement One — was erroneously patched to the encrypted channel being used by RCMP first responders, including ERT members,” reads the newest MCC document. “This error meant that all communications over the encrypted radio channel, including the movements of RCMP resources, were also broadcast over the unencrypted Law Enforcement One channel and were susceptible to interception by digital-capable scanners and other applications.”
A supplementary report produced by lead investigator Dwayne King for the commission details the second incident:
On April 19, 20202 at 7:21am, a Mutual Aid 5 channel was utilized to allow communication with Ken Corkum, who was piloting the Department of Natural Resources helicopter during the search for the perpetrator. The Mutual Aid 6 channel was in operation until 11:42am when the helicopter landed back at their [sic] base. During this period, radio communication to and from the helicopter pilot was being transmitted unencrypted and was susceptible to interception by scanners. ERT radio transmission was being passed on to the pilot verbally by the ERT member who was on board and not broadcast over the Mutual Aid 6 channel.
The ERT member on board the helicopter was Cst. Kyle Josey.
At issue: Did the killer, who the Examiner refers to as GW, access those unencrypted radio communications? And if so, did he use those communications to avoid being captured?
The supplementary report shows that GW had in fact purchased radio equipment, but that in 2011 Motorola stopped supporting that equipment and GW had not purchased software upgrades. King does not think GW used that equipment to listen into the unencrypted radio communications.
However, in 2018 a man named Greg Price sold GW a scanner — Price did not indicate if it was a digital scanner. Moreover, Price met with GW several times at the Portland Street Tim Hortons to provide him with scanner codes for police agencies and first responders. No scanner was found after the murders.
A decade before the murders, on March 19, 2010, GW searched on the internet for RCMP radio codes.
King could reach no conclusion as to whether GW had listened into unencrypted radio communication through the murder spree.
As to the first incident, from 12:45am to 4:07am, if we are to assume that the commission’s understanding of GW’s movements is correct — that is, he spent the night behind a welding shop in Debert — then even if he was listening to RCMP radio traffic, it doesn’t seem to have changed his actions, except perhaps that he stayed hidden until after he lost access to the radio traffic.
But throughout the second incident, from 7:21 to 11:42am, GW was on the move, and if he was listening in to Mutual Aid 6, he may have changed his actions as a result.
Recall that GW had no problem barging into homes in Portapique, on Hunter Road, and on Highway 224 and killing the residents. So why did he abort his intrusion into the Fishers’ house on Highway 4? Why did the Fishers alone survive a house attack?
The MCC has published the radio transcript of Mutual Aid 6. There is one perfunctory acknowledgement communication at 7:21am, then nothing until 9:43:10am. Just before then, the RCMP dispatch had broadcast the murder of Lilian Campbell (at 9:41:57am and 9:42:30am on the two different county channels). The unencrypted Mutual Aid 6 transmissions:
09:43:10 — Cst. Dorrington: 9-11 can reposition if required.
At 9:47:24 Cst. Rodney Peterson radioed on the encrypted system that he had passed a marked police car on Highway 4, and by 9:48:14 it was established that the car was GW’s fake police car.
At 9:48:49, Carole Fisher called 911 to say GW had driven onto their property in a police car, and at 9:50:25 to 9:50:45 she explained that he was ringing their doorbell and was carrying a gun.
The unencrypted Mutual Aid 6 channel continues:
09:51:43 — S/Sgt Surette: DNR chopper from the RCMP command post.
09:51:43 — Pilot Kend Corkum: Yeah, it’s uh Helicopter Patrol 4. Go ahead.
09:51:53 — Surette: Um, we have a sighting of the suspect vehicle, un, on Highway 4. Not far from Highway 104. I’l give you a Civic [address]. Will that be able to help you to locate? You should see vehicles going in that direction.
9:52:09 — Corkum: Yeah, we saw the ERT trucks going and we’re just heading up that’s, uh, the Glenholme exit, I think. We’re just coming up over that area now.
09:52:19 — OCC operator Glen Byrne: Copy, you’ll see a number of vehicles converging there. And, uh, a reminder, the suspect vehicle it, it does look like a marked police car.
The Fishers had surveillance video at the rear of their property, but the commission has been unable to determine how off the time stamps are. Still, the video shows that just two minutes and 14 seconds passed from the time the fake police car came into view until it left again.
“Based on the available evidence, it appears plausible that the perpetrator left the Fisher property at some time around or slightly after 9:51:00am,” reads the foundational document on the Fishers’ residence.
“It is uncertain what time RCMP members arrived on scene near the Fisher property on Highway 4,” reads that document, but it continues on to determine that the first RCMP vehicles didn’t arrive at the Fishers “until closer to 9:55am or 9:56am.”
It’s impossible to say definitively, but if GW had a scanner on his person, and if he was listening in to the Mutual Aid 6 radio transmissions, it’s conceivable that he realized a large police response was heading towards the Fisher house, and he left to avoid police.
But this scenario seems unlikely. GW would first have to have the scanner on him — remember that no scanner has been found — and secondly have it on the Mutual Aid 6 channel, even though that channel had been silent for more than two hours before 9:43am.
Yet if that unlikely scenario occurred, then GW’s access to unencrypted radio may have saved the Fishers but may have pushed GW quickly to his next victims — Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien on Plains Road.
For the rest of the Mutual Aid 6 transmissions, the unencrypted radio messages don’t seem to have been of any value to GW, assuming he was listening in.
Emergency Response Team had no GPS capability
Another tech issue is the inability of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) members to track each others’ movements with GPS. That’s because the ERT vehicles were not equipped with the mobile work stations (MWS) that carried the software that would allow any officer to see the location of other officers’ vehicles. This was not deemed essential, as the GPS systems on the MWSes did not automatically refresh — that is, each officer would have to manually refresh their station to get an updated location of another officer.
Each individual ERT member did have an GPS-locating app — the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) — installed on their work-issued cell phone. This would allow each ERT officer to know the location of every other ERT officer.
“However,” reads the MCC report, “the application was not working on April 18 and 19, 2020.”
In a letter from Lori Ward, a lawyer with the federal Department of Justice, to the Mass Casualty Commission, Ward explained that:
Prior to April 18 and 19, 2020, H Division ERT Members had had ATAK enabled on their phones as a pilot project. On April 18/19, 2020, H Division ERT were on Developmental Server device testing ATAK. At that time the encryption keys on the devices had expired and had been sent to Ottawa to be rekeyed, so ERT did not have operational devices at the time.
The lack of GPS capabilities seems to have slowed down the response in Portapique, as officers feared “blue on blue” shootings.
And while the MWS on all RCMP vehicles could theoretically be used to locate all other RCMP vehicles, in practice that was an unwieldy process, so they are used only to locate other vehicles within a particular group — a local detachment, for example.
A more fulsome system, had all vehicles been using it, could perhaps have prevented the shoot-up at the Onslow fire hall.
Ron McGraw slept through hell
Ron McGraw is a self-described “workaholic” who was good friends with Greg and Jamie Blair — “they treated me like a brother,” McGraw told police a couple of weeks after the mass murders.
McGraw would visit with the Blairs in Portapique often, and would help them clear brush on their property on Orchard Beach Drive. Through that connection, McGraw met Keith (McGraw didn’t say what Keith’s last name is). Keith oversaw the road grading on the private roads in the community, and hired McGraw to help with that work. Keith also gave McGraw permission to place a trailer on his property in Portapique, down by the beach.
On April 18, 2020, McGraw went to Portapique at 7am to help the Blairs clear brush — “we started work with the mini excavator, just grubbing stuff around his place,” explained McGraw. They worked most of the day, and after, the Blairs invited McGraw for supper. Another neighbour, Leon Joudrey was there as well. The four ate, and Joudrey said his good-byes. That was McGraw’s cue to leave as well. “What time do you want to start tomorrow?” McGraw asked Greg Blair, referring to doing some more brush-clearing. “Seven-thirty,” answered Blair.
McGraw got in his car and drove down to his trailer. He figured it was around 9:30 or 9:45pm when he arrived at the trailer.
“I plugged in my heater, my electric heater, made my bed… then shut off the lights and went to bed,” McGraw recalled.
Over the next hour, all hell broke out in Portapique. Thirteen people were shot dead in their homes to the north of McGraw’s trailer, to the west, to the east. Multiple fires erupted, exploding gas tanks, propane tanks, ammunition. Responding RCMP officers called it a “war zone.”
McGraw didn’t hear a thing. “I didn’t hear no commotion,” he said. “I must’ve been really beat, all I can say.”
McGraw is an early riser, and April 19 was no exception. He arose at 6:30am. With an hour to kill before heading back to the Blairs’ house, he decided to walk on the beach. He first walked along the road. “I was looking for a nut that the guy that plowed the road, lost a nut, so I was trying to find that nut. And sure to God, I did find it.”
He continued on to the beach.
Soon, two Emergency Response Team vehicles drove up to him — “two black trucks. Club trucks, but fully armed,” said McGraw. “They hollered, ‘come here!’ and then they just told me it was a hot zone. I just assumed it was the virus.”
McGraw “sauntered” — his word— back up to his car and decided to head to the Blairs to tell them. He drove back up Orchard Beach Drive, so must have passed the body of Corrie Ellison, still lying just off the road, but McGraw didn’t see it.
He did, however, see Lisa McCully’s body.
“Very nice lady, friendly, laying right there beside his driveway,” said McGraw. (I believe the “his” refers to Greg Blair, as the McCully and Blair houses were next door to each other.) “Just five feet, ten feet, couldn’t even recognize her face. Just driving by, I glanced.”
McGraw pulled into the Blairs’ driveway, parked, and got out to walk to the front door. That’s when he saw Greg Blair’s body.
“Once I seen the body, I [inaudible] no sense me being there.” He walked back towards his car when RCMP officers arrived with their guns drawn. “They talked to me and I asked them how the boys were? That’s the first thing I asked, if they were fine.” McGraw was referring to the Blairs’ two children.
The police told McGraw to leave, and he left Portapique.
Cst. Nick Dorrington and the killer’s speeding ticket
On February 12, 2020, the killer had two interactions with police — one in Dartmouth, in which he argued with two Halifax Regional Police officers who had parked on his property when they went to get coffee at the Tim Hortons next door, and a second that evening, when he received a ticket from RCMP Cst. Nick Dorrington on Portapique Beach Road for travelling 1 to 15 kilometres per hour over the posted speed limit.
In November 2021, investigators with the Mass Casualty Commission interviewed Dorrington, and he explained how he came to give GW a ticket for speeding on a gravel road:
I was out on the Number 2 highway, again to the east of Portapique Road, doing — serving paperwork to another individual in regards to traffic stops. And I was out there with Cst. [Vicki] Colford because I was expecting it to not go very well.
I left that residence and I was heading back to Bible Hill and I had a white unmarked that looked like it was like an RCMP Taurus with the subdued markings on it. So, it has just kind of iridescent taping, and I couldn’t make out if it had anything on the sides or not, which struck me as odd because traffic services typically wouldn’t be out on that road and not typically by themself necessarily, and not at that time of night.
So I ran a status check on traffic, comes back with nothing. So I realize it’s not a traffic vehicle, so I turn about and try to close up on the vehicle. But the vehicle doesn’t have its headlights activated, so he’s got his daytime running lights on but he’s got no taillights, which is how the Tauruses work. So I initially thought I had lost him until he actually put his brakes on to turn into Portapique [Beach] Road and then I reacquired him. So I initiated a stop on Portapique Road. So that’s why the stop was on Portapique Road itself.
So I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of traffic stops and I could count, I think, maybe six times I’ve had somebody get out of their vehicle. So I was barely stopped behind him and he exited his vehicle, came back and my impression was, I would classify it, is — is my impression was fairly aggressive and confrontational was the impression I was left with, like he was looking for — like he was looking for a fight. So because I do a lot of traffic stops, my mic is always beside me and I instructed him to get back in his vehicle, which he did.
So unbeknownst to me, this was the same day in question where he had been stopped by Halifax Police force at his denturist clinic in relation to some sort of parking issues, and there was some sort of heated development at HRM, with police, which I knew nothing about. So he — when I got to his vehicle to have a conversation with him, so he feels like it’s rather kind of conspiracy theorist that we’re all working together. And I just told him straight up, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” because I didn’t. I told him, I said, “The only reason I pulled you over is because of your speed.” I said, “it’s a traffic stop, nothing more.”
So from that point, he seemed to de-escalate. And that was fine. He provided me with his licence, insurance, registration, that was fine. I go back, I print out a ticket for him, I issue him the ticket. We have a conversation about his affection for the Tauruses. He asked me what I think of them. He tells me that he has multiple Tauruses that he’s picked up at auction and a bunch of different RCMP kind of paraphernalia. I tell him the car’s okay. And really, that’s about the gist of our conversation.
If only the part about “multiple Tauruses”and “a bunch of different RCMP kind of paraphernalia” had raised some red flags for Dorrington.
As is his practice during traffic stops, Dorrington took a photo of GW’s driver’s licence and the licence plate on the vehicle, in case he had to testify in court. That photo was still on his work-issued cell phone the morning of April 19, 2020. When police first learned GW’s name, they ran a records check on him and his most recent interaction with police was on Feb. 12; Dorrington forwarded all RCMP officers responding to Portapique, and the photo was printed up and taped to the wall at the Command Post at Great Village.
Cst. Jeff Mahar’s version of what happened on Plains Road
On May 6, I reported on the discrepancy between the oral testimonies of Cst. Ian Fahie and Cpl. Duane Ivany with regard to their respective responses to the murder scene of Heather O’Brien on Plains Road. O’Brien’s Volkswagen Jetta had rolled down an embankment and into a ditch.
Fahie and Cst. Devonna Coleman were the first police to arrive at the scene. Fahie testified that he provided “lethal overwatch” — surveying the scene from the road with his carbine drawn and ready — while Coleman went down the embankment and assessed O’Brien from the passenger side of the car. Colman’s hands were too cold to get a pulse from O’Brien, so the two switched positions. Fahie said he put the car in park, and felt for O’Brien’s pulse but “I can’t say for certain if I felt it — if it were her pulse or if it were mine.” Just then, Ivany, a trained medic, tapped him on the shoulder and took over the evaluation of O’Brien, sending Fahie back up to the road.
But, as I previously reported:
Ivany said that when he and his partner, Cst. Jeff Mahar, arrived at the Plains Road scene, both Fahie and Coleman were on the road next to their police vehicle, and not down at O’Brien’s Jetta.
When he arrived at the Jetta, said Ivany, both the drivers side and passenger windows were up, but there were gunshot holes in the windshield. The doors were “jammed shut” — he couldn’t say whether the doors were simply locked or if they had been distorted in the crash into the ditch. He was on the passenger side of the car and reached for his baton in order to break the car window, but then he heard the glass shattering from the driver’s side window, which Mahar had broken.
In this telling, there would have been no way for Fahie or Coleman to check for O’Brien’s pulse, as she was trapped in the car.
Moreover, Ivany said he never tapped Fahie on the shoulder, and he never saw Fahie anywhere near the car.
Ivany went on to testify that it was he, and not Fahie, who was confused by a pulse.
It’s difficult to understand how their accounts vary so greatly with each other…
It would have been useful to have had testimony from Coleman and Mahar, but they are not listed among witnesses to testify. This makes no sense to me: there are contradictory accounts from two people at the scene, each of whom was with another person, and yet those people aren’t being called in to help clarify the accounts.
However, while he’s not scheduled to testify publicly, Mahar was interviewed by commission investigators on April 1 of this year, and a transcript of that interview was released today.
Mahar’s account of Plains Road agrees with Ivany’s account:
We first came to a Volkswagen in the ditch, vehicle still running, and there were two general duty members standing up on the road taking cover behind a [fully marked RCMP] SUV… they had their carbines out, hard body armour. I pulled up kind of on an angle, so I was closest to the vehicle in the ditch. We identified ourselves as medics and I went immediately down to the driver’s door. We basically told them, like, “Just watch our backs,” sort of thing as we went down.
So then at that point, I went to the driver’s door handle, the door was locked. I relayed that to Cpl. Ivany, and he was kind of approaching at the same time, so he went around the passenger door. While he was doing that, I — the window was broken, I believe, but I pulled portions of the window out so I could reach inside to open the door. So I was able to unlock the door, open it. The female victim was still buckled, slumped over towards the centre console and the car was still running and in drive. I was trying to engage her verbally, was getting no response at all. So I unbuckled her, I grabbed her under her arms and removed her from the driver’s seat…
So, got her to the ground. At that point I turned back to the vehicle to put it in park so it couldn’t roll over on top of us while we were there working. And in that sort of transition phase is when Cpl. Ivany came back around, and he was just basically checking her pulse as I came back.
Commission investigators also interviewed Coleman, on Sept. 15, 2021. Her account mostly but not entirely agrees with Fahie’s account:
When we go to Plains Road, we saw a vehicle that was off the road that had hit a tree. I got out and I checked, the — there was one occupant in the vehicle, it was a female driver. I could see that she had a gunshot wound [redaction in transcript]. I checked for a pulse; I couldn’t feel anything. And that’s when EMERT, which is the Emergency Medical Response Team, they had arrived very shortly after and they actually pulled her out of the vehicle to check for a pulse, and that’s when it was determined that she was deceased on scene.
So in essence, two people travelling together agree with each other but disagree with two other people travelling together, who also agree with each other. It may seem like I’m belabouring the point but this is important to Heather O’Brien’s family, as it obscures who determined that she was dead, and when, with the lingering suggestion that had more medical attention been brought to the scene, she may have survived.
In his interview with RCMP investigators after the murders, Greg Price, the man who sold GW a scanner and had coffee with him several times at the Portland Street Tim Hortons, said that GW boasted of “connections with Hell’s Angels… he had connections with Satan’s Choice in, um, it would be eastern Canada.”
Asked to elaborate, Price said that GW “said that he had friends, relatives — that, the kinda one of the things that stuck out. So. And um, I can’t even remember names, it would be… one of my friends. She was dating a fella —who is from New Brunswick. And I um, remember one occasion where we met and he [GW] was inquiring then about buying a firearms kinda of, ah, off the books. Not, not legitimately.”
This is Nova Scotia. The Hell’s Angels have obtained a legendary status, and seemingly every third person claims some tortured connection to the group, so this is probably nothing.