Canadian Security Magazine

‘Things are going to change.’ RCMP report on response to mass shooting inquiry

By The Canadian Press   

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RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme waits to appear before the Procedure and House Affairs committee in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. Duheme released a strategy Wednesday outlining how the national police force will respond to the inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that claimed 22 lives. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme released a strategy Wednesday outlining how the national police force will respond to the inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that claimed 22 lives.

Almost a year after the public inquiry released a final report that offered a blistering critique of the Mounties’ response to the shooting rampage, Duheme said he can understand why Canadians remain skeptical about the RCMP’s commitment to change.

The inquiry’s report found the RCMP missed warning signs about the killer, including reports of domestic violence, possession of illegal firearms and repeated run-ins with the law. As well, the inquiry found the Mounties failed to promptly send alerts to the public until it was too late for some of the victims.

“This was the worst mass shooting that Canada has ever seen,” Duheme told a news conference in Millbrook, N.S. “I’m sitting here in front of you, committed to saying, ‘Things are going to change.’ If we don’t change, then we’re going to lose the trust of the Canadian people.”

Millbrook is one of more than a dozen largely rural communities the killer drove through during a 13-hour rampage that started in Portapique, N.S., on the night of April 18, 2020. Disguised as a Mountie and driving a car that looked exactly like an RCMP cruiser, Gabriel Wortman fatally shot 13 people on the first night, and the next day he killed another nine people, including a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer.

“I struggle with what they went through,” Duheme said Wednesday. “I can’t even imagine what they went through, losing loved ones in such a way. I’m sorry for what happened.”

In the new strategy document, Duheme admits RCMP responses to previous external reviews have “not always been fulsome.” As well, he says the organization hasn’t been transparent about the work they have done to change.

“I want you to be able to put your trust in the RCMP,” he told the news conference before citing a long list of steps the Mounties have taken since 2020 to improve public safety. “When I accepted the job of RCMP commissioner (almost a year ago), I knew we could change. You have my commitment we will continue on this path.”

Lawyer Sandra McCulloch, who represents most of the victims’ families, said the clients she spoke with Wednesday were not impressed with the RCMP strategy.

“The (RCMP) is taking responsibility for recommendations and change, but there’s a lot of vagueness and ambiguity when it comes to the changes that have been made,” she said after the news conference.

The public inquiry, formally known as the Mass Casualty Commission, found widespread failures in how the RCMP responded to the mass shooting. Last March, it issued 130 non-binding recommendations to improve public safety, a majority of which apply in some form to the Mounties.

Duheme said 33 of those recommendations apply directly to the RCMP, and another 55 apply to the police force and its partners in the federal and provincial governments, as well as other police agencies.

The RCMP say they have already responded to two key recommendations that each had six-month deadlines — one dealing with critical incident response training and the other with management culture.

In terms of critical incident response, the inquiry’s three commissioners found that when the shooting started in Portapique, the Mounties were quick to discount witness statements and were so poorly managed that officers were always one step behind the killer.

The RCMP have posted online a review of how they train front-line supervisors, saying they are following through on findings from the study.

As for the RCMP’s selection of senior officers and staff, the inquiry’s final report cited a 2015 task force that concluded RCMP management culture discourages leaders from relaying bad news up the chain of command and from making decisions that may be criticized.

“We identified evidence in our proceedings that suggest the continuing operation of this tendency today,” the inquiry’s final report said.

The inquiry found that RCMP management culture thwarts institutional learning and accountability. It cited a long list of “unhealthy patterns,” including a resistance to acknowledging errors; a lack of resources for responding to criticism and a resistance to acknowledging the existence of sexism and systemic racism within the ranks.

“The RCMP will not resolve these problems until it can recognize the persistence of these problems within its management culture and address the tendency to resist acknowledging that errors have been made,” the inquiry’s 3,000-page report said.

As a result, the commission of inquiry asked the RCMP to explain how they will change their criteria for selecting senior managers “to disrupt the unhealthy aspects of the RCMP’s management culture.”

In an RCMP report posted online last fall, the Mounties said that transforming its workplace culture is a priority. “Regarding leadership, while much work has been done, it is recognized that there are opportunities for improvement in a number of areas.” The police force has also posted online an extensive report on how it selects, develops and promotes senior leaders.

Duheme and assistant commissioner Dennis Daley, commander of the Nova Scotia RCMP, pointed to several other changes that were announced earlier, including expansion of the RCMP emergency response teams and the introduction of Blue Force Tracking, which offers commanders real-time GPS tracking of officers in the field.

The RCMP have also adopted the Alert Ready emergency alert system across Canada, improved radio communications in Nova Scotia and tightened rules about when officers can consume recreational drugs and alcohol.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2024.

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