Ever since the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020, one unanswered question has been: Why did the RCMP wait so long to notify the public about the killer’s fake police car?
An answer comes via RCMP Staff Sergeant Steve Halliday, who was interviewed by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC) on November 3, 2021.
According to Halliday, RCMP communications director Lia Scanlan was notified about the active shooter situation at about 4:30am or 5am on April 19, and there was a discussion about “the best way we could get this information out to the public without creating an even worse situation than we already have. How do we put this out without putting our members at more risk than already at without overloading the system?”
Halliday explained that while they couldn’t be certain — the fake police car was unaccounted for — but they felt the scene had been contained, and the killer and his car was likely somewhere in the woods in Portapique.
But at about 7:30am, the RCMP received a photo of the fake police car, and knew the burned out Ford Tauruses in Portapique were not that car. They shared that photo with Lia Scanlan.
Scanlan called him at around 8am, said Halliday. Halliday spoke of his concerns — he didn’t want to “send the public into a frantic panic and overload our OCC operations.” OCC is the Operational Control Centre, then in Truro, which took 911 calls and dispatched police. “In your mind’s eye, you could envision, you know, by this point there’s 100 police cars on the road and, you know, everybody who sees a police car starts calling 911, then the critical information that we ended up with that we needed to ultimately end up getting the suspect.”
“And you know, that was top of mind when we were trying to frame up how this was going to be communicated,” continued Halliday. “We knew we had to get it out, but you know, I don’t — none of us had ever had any experience with sending a message like that out to the public… It was pretty heavy. It was very heavy.”
The public wasn’t notified.
Then, the RCMP Emergency Response Team responded to the Fisher residence on Highway 4, and Halliday thought they would soon have the killer, so there was still no need to notify the public. Only with the murders of Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien on Plains Road did Halliday realize the killer wasn’t isolated.
In his interview with the MCC, Halliday did not address how the decision to finally alert the public was made.
Commission staffer Krista Smith asked Halliday about communications between Staff Sergeant Briers and Staff Sergeant Carroll, which read:
At 9:00:57am, Staff Sergeant Bruce Briers, the risk manager at the Operational Control Centre (OCC) in Truro, called Staff Sergeant Allan Carroll. The pair had this exchange:
BRIERS: Listen I um, came from one of the members out in eh, Enfield, I don’t know if there’s any consideration about doing a media release about this vehicle, potentially out on the go, so that.
BRIERS: Like uh…
CARROLL: We’re uh, it’s been discussed here uh, I think they’re looking at it.
BRIERS: Okay um.
CARROLL: I’ll run it by later, later on, I uh (INDISCERNIBLE) wherever bring it up (INDISCERNIBLE)
At 9:08am, Carroll sent an email to Briers: “Thought was given to give release about vehicle, but decision was made not to.”
“Very good,” Briers responded at 9:15am. “Kind of figured they may not want to release.”
Halliday said he was completely unaware of that exchange, and had never heard it until Smith had asked him about it.
“That’s the first I’ve heard anything like that, and I’m shocked to hear that,” said Halliday. “I don’t think that’s accurate, frankly.”
At any event, those in charge at the command post decided how to re-orient the police response.
“So as this is unfolding, the conversation taking place in the command post is around what the next steps are to try to contain the situation without any more loss of life,” said Halliday. “You know, do we shut the highways down, let’s close the roads. Well, if we close the roads and we have a line of traffic and then the subject is all of a sudden in a marked car in a line of traffic, there’s a whole target-rich environment for him to just sort of open fire and everyone’s just going to follow his commands or his instructions and it’s like, leading them into…”
Instead, they decided to post police officers at strategic points “to try to intercept him while still allowing the flow of traffic to move.”
The RCMP Twitter account first alerted the public about the fake police car at 10:18am, in a tweet that included a photo of the car.
The 911 call logs so far released by the MCC and reviewed by the Halifax Examiner don’t reveal any “frantic panic” of people reporting any RCMP cars they saw. Instead, the only calls in the logs about the police car concerned the actual fake police car.