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Confusion over RCMP leadership roles marked early investigation of N.S. mass shooting

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HALIFAX — When a man disguised as a Mountie started killing people in northern Nova Scotia two years ago, there was considerable confusion over who was in charge of the RCMP operation, newly released documents show.

The public inquiry investigating the tragedy has also heard, in testimony on Monday, about the “chaos in communications” that ensued on April 18-19, 2020, when 22 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history.

In a summary of evidence about the RCMP’s command decisions, released Tuesday, the inquiry was reminded that the first indication of trouble came at 10:01 p.m., on April 18, 2020. That’s when Jamie Blair, a resident of rural Portapique, N.S., called 911 to report that her husband had just been shot by a man with “a big gun.”

As the gunman broke into her home, Blair reported just before she was shot dead that the attacker had a “decked and labelled” police car but was not a police officer.

At the time, Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill was the RCMP’s risk manager at its Operational Communications Centre in nearby Truro, N.S. Following RCMP protocol, he immediately assumed command.

Within the next 30 minutes, as reports came in about more fatal shootings, Rehill engaged the RCMP’s critical incident command structure and he reached out for help from four other staff sergeants: Steve Halliday, Addie MacCallum, Al Carroll and Jeff West.

The 130-page document includes excerpts of an interview with Halliday, who made it clear that he believed he was in charge of the “overall operation” when he arrived at the RCMP detachment in Bible Hill, N.S., at about 11:30 p.m.

But Halliday, the district’s operations officer, told an inquiry investigator that he decided to leave Rehill in control of resources as “ad hoc incident commander.”

In an interview with the commission last year, Rehill said it was his understanding that he would be the “initial critical incident commander” until West, a trained critical incident commander, arrived.

As well, there was another RCMP officer providing direction that night: Sgt. Andy O’Brien, the Bible Hill detachment’s operations non-commissioned officer. Though he was off duty and had consumed four alcoholic drinks, O’Brien later retrieved his portable radio from the detachment — with the help of his wife — and joined in offering direction to investigating officers.

The question of who was in charge in those crucial early hours was addressed in an earlier occupational health and safety report, which found the RCMP had breached the federal Labour Code by failing to ensure employees had necessary supervision.

In a March 29 report, investigator Lorna MacMillan said general duty officers were operating in an “environment of confusion as to who had command and control of the situation.”

MacMillan concluded the supervisors’ training “did not provide the competencies required to allow supervisors to manage an unfolding critical incident such as an active shooter in a large outdoor, rural … environment.”

Testifying before the inquiry on Tuesday, Halliday said he didn’t see confusion in leadership during the early response.

As he drove towards Truro from the RCMP offices in Stellarton, Halliday said he didn’t hear excessive radio traffic as O’Brien and Rehill spoke to the first three officers advancing into Portapique, though he added he wasn’t listening constantly.

Halliday testified that when he arrived at the RCMP offices in Bible Hill, MacCallum was busy looking at maps of the area, and Carroll was tasked with strategies to contain the area. He said it made sense to keep Rehill as the main voice on the radio to the front-line officers because at that point he had “the best situational awareness of anyone.”

Halliday said he was aware that O’Brien was also speaking on the radio, though he didn’t know he was working from home.

“Frankly at that point I was glad to have O’Brien supporting Rehill …. Everybody had a role, everybody had a function and knew what that role was. In my view there was no mistake in that. In my view they were carrying their functions out well and doing what needed to be done to address the issue,” he said.

Tim Mills, the RCMP corporal in charge of the tactical response unit at the time, testified Monday that he and his 12-member team received limited direction as they attempted to find the killer on the second day.

Roger Burrill, senior counsel for the inquiry, asked Mills: “As you’re responding, and the perpetrator is on the move, is anyone directing your response locations?”

“No, no,” responded Mills, who has since retired from the force.

As for the more senior Mounties involved, the latest document mentions Supt. Darren Campbell and Chief Supt. Chris Leather. But few details are provided, aside from confirmation that Campbell had approved deploying a critical incident commander at 10:46 p.m. and followed up with an email indicating there had been a “multiple shooting.” The document says it remains unclear who received the email.

At 11:08 p.m., Leather sent a text to Campbell indicating he was aware of a “double homicide and an active shooter north of Truro.” Campbell responded by confirming he had approved a critical incident commander but had no further details to offer.

At 1:19 a.m. on April 19, 2020, Staff Sgt. Jeff West took over as the critical incident commander at a command post in Great Village, N.S., about 10 kilometres east of Portapique. But due to heavy traffic on the RCMP radios, he was unable to announce the change until five minutes later.

The inquiry has heard that police communication via two-way radio was a mess during most of the initial response, mainly because the system couldn’t handle the number of calls coming in. RCMP Cpl. Trent Milton, an emergency response team member who testified on Monday, said there was “chaos in communications.”

Under questioning by Robert Pineo, a lawyer who represents the families of 14 victims, the RCMP officer said, “Too many people were trying to chime in over the radio, and it was leading to confusion.”

And when Staff Sgt. Dan MacGillivray took over as critical incident commander at 10:20 a.m. on April 19, 2020, he was unable to broadcast the change of command until 11:21 a.m., again because of the clogged airwaves.

The inquiry has heard the gunman, 51-year-old denture technician Gabriel Wortman, was shot dead by two Mounties just before 11:30 a.m. when he stopped at a gas station north of Halifax to refuel a stolen car.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Michael MacDonald and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Celebrations and protests planned for first in-person Canada Day in Ottawa in years

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OTTAWA — Both celebrations and protests are set to take place throughout downtown Ottawa for Canada Day.

Heritage Canada says for the first time in 50 years, Ottawa’s main celebrations are being moved off Parliament Hill, where Centre Block is under construction.

The main events in LeBreton Flats Park and at Place des Festivals Zibi in Gatineau include a daytime ceremony and evening performances, acrobatic shows and activities for families.

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds, however, will not fly over the capital as planned — a recent technical issue has been fixed but the team needs time for practice flights and maintenance before returning to the air next weekend.

Meanwhile, a new round of protests against COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are scheduled throughout Ottawa’s downtown core.

Organizers say they plan to march from the Supreme Court of Canada to city hall in the afternoon, and hold a dance party on Parliament Hill in the evening.

There have been several large demonstrations since supporters of the “Freedom Convoy” occupied the downtown core for three weeks in January and February.

While police have plans in place, preventing demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the national holiday.

Mayor Jim Watson said Monday that people should feel comfortable heading to the Canada Day celebrations, but to be prepared for delays, street closures and other travel disruptions.

The city has put in place a vehicle control zone around Parliament Hill, from 8 a.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Monday, to prevent vehicle-based protests.

The bylaw department has increased fines for unusual noise, shouting, urination or defecation on roads and sidewalks, blocking a highway and idling. Fines are now $1,000 for all five offences, and the city says its zero-tolerance approach will also apply to fires, fireworks and littering.

Ottawa police said there will be significant road closures along with a major increased police presence, including support from Ontario Provincial Police and RCMP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

The Canadian Press

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Putin maintains he’s not relenting on the war with Ukraine

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Ashgabat, Turkmenistan- Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has maintained that he will continue with his military operations in Ukraine until the Donbas region is liberated.

Putin said while the goals stay the same, the tactics used to achieve them may change according to what the military considers appropriate.

“Everything is going according to plan nothing changed, (as the goal is to) liberate Donbas, to protect these people and to create conditions that would guarantee the safety of Russia itself. That’s it!

I am not talking about deadlines, I never do, because that’s life, this is reality. Imposing deadlines is wrong, because it is related to the intensity of the fighting, and the intensity is directly linked to the possible casualties, and we have to first and foremost think about preserving the lives of our guys,” said Putin.

Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, citing Kyiv’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian State. The Minsk protocols were first brokered by Germany and France and were signed in 2014.

As a result, Russia recognized the Donbas Republics as independent States and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (UK) has pledged to provide Ukraine with artillery worth US$1.2 billion.

“UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught, and we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine,” said UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

However, Russia has repeatedly warned against the supplies of weapons to Ukraine by the United States, the UK and other allied nations, saying it will only prolong the fighting while increasing the risk of a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West.

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R. Kelly to appeal 30-year-sentencing

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New York, United States of America (USA)- Jennifer Bonjean, R. Kelly’s attorney has said that the R&B artist will be appealing the 30-year-sentencing handed down by US District Judge Ann Donnelly yesterday afternoon.

Prior to yesterday’s sentencing, Kelly was found guilty of racketeering and sex crimes including kidnapping, sexual misconduct, bribery, and sexual exploitation of a child.

“We were prepared for it. We are now prepared to fight this appeal. Kelly is fine. We are excited about this appeal that we are bringing, obviously, it was a hard day he’s been sentenced to a serious sentence but we are confident in the arguments that we raised.

30 years in prison is like a life sentence for him but at the same time, we knew the government was asking for 25 years, and we were prepared for what the judge might impose. He has regrets and is sad. He disagrees with the characterizations that have been made about him, he is not a predator,” said Bonjean.

In addition, Bonjean said Kelly did not breach the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

“Our position is this was not a RICO or racketeering act violation. These were isolated events that happened many years ago and the government simply tried to plead around the statute of limitations to bring it in a RICO charge, which was inappropriate. All I can tell you is there was no enterprise. It was one man with allegations by a number of women, which doesn’t make it an enterprise and that is why he is not guilty of racketeering,” said Bonjean.

Kelly’s sentencing comes years after sexual misconduct allegations were first made. He was charged with 21 counts of making child sexual abuse videos involving various sexual acts in June 2002 but was acquitted on all counts following a trial in 2008.

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