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Mass shooting inquiry: RCMP facing scrutiny for delayed release of public warnings

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HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting will examine this week one of the most contentious aspects of the RCMP’s handling of the tragedy: public communications.

The Mounties have faced intense criticism for delaying the release of key information about the killer during his rampage, and there was confirmation last month that a senior-ranking officer is under investigation for his role in controlling the flow of information.

“There is still speculation by the public about the lack of transparency about the communication process,” said Christopher Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University in Manitoba who teaches about mass media and police. “This is not good for re-establishing trust in the RCMP.”

The commission of inquiry has heard that late on April 18, 2020, the RCMP issued its first public statement about the start of the killer’s rampage in rural Portapique, N.S., where the first 911 call originated at 10:01 p.m. In all, 13 people were murdered in Portapique that night.

Even though the police force was aware victims had been killed and an active shooter could be still at large, the RCMP posted a seemingly innocuous tweet at 11:32 p.m. saying officers were investigating a “firearms complaint” — a relatively common occurrence in a rural setting.

As well, a series of 911 calls and eyewitness accounts had clearly indicated the killer was driving a car that looked like a marked RCMP cruiser. But that information was kept from the public until the next day, mainly because the Mounties couldn’t confirm what they had been told or simply couldn’t believe it, the inquiry has heard.

According to witness testimony and documents released by the commission, the Mounties gave some consideration to issuing a more detailed public warning that night but never did.

Shortly after midnight, however, RCMP officers were given the name and a photo of the suspect. And at 1:09 a.m., police across the province were warned about an “active shooter incident in progress” involving an “armed and dangerous” suspect associated with an “old police car.”

According to the commission’s investigation, RCMP discussions about “media messaging” took on a renewed urgency the next day around 7:30 a.m. when police received a photo of the killer’s replica patrol car and were told it was filled with weapons and could be anywhere in the province.

At that point, RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather got involved in public messaging, according to a recently released summary of evidence.

In personal notes he provided to the inquiry, Leather confirms speaking with Lia Scanlan, director of the Nova Scotia RCMP strategic communications division at 7:43 a.m.

“Info out to public — tweets,” his notes say. “Picture and name — not there right now.”

At 8 a.m., Staff Sgt. Addie MacCallum was asked to speak to Scanlan about crafting a media release with photos of the suspect and his car. But there was an hour-long delay, which has yet to be explained.

Almost 10 hours after the gunman killed his first victim, the Mounties issued their first tweet declaring an “active shooter situation” in Portapique at 8:02 a.m. But the tweet did not mention the suspect’s name or anything about his getaway car. As well, it did not make it clear that he was on the move.

Relatives of some of the victims have argued that had the RCMP provided earlier public warnings with that key information, several lives could have been saved.

At 8:04 a.m., the RCMP issued an internal alert to its members stating the suspect was potentially using a fully marked Ford Taurus police cruiser and could be anywhere in the province. The same message was then sent to all police departments in the province.

By 8:54 a.m., the RCMP sent a tweet that included a photo identifying 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman as the suspect, but there was still no mention of his car.

The inquiry has heard that just after 9 a.m., Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers contacted Staff Sgt. Al Carroll to ask if a media release was coming about the car. Carroll, the district commander for Colchester County, later responded: “Thought was given to give release about vehicle, but decision was made not to.”

It remains unclear who made that decision. At least one senior officer has claimed no such decision was taken.

According to an evidence summary released May 13, the commission is now investigating “whether the public release of the replica RCMP cruiser information was at any point delayed or denied, by whom, and why.”

Senior RCMP officers have told the inquiry they were reluctant to release details about the vehicle because they were worried such information could panic the public and flood the 911 system.

“It’s an illustration of the RCMP not trusting the common sense of the public,” said Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at the Dalhousie University law school in Halifax. “There’s no doubt there would be some panic … but I think they should have had a little more confidence in the good sense of the public.”

Regardless of the Mounties’ rationale, questions remain about what happened after 9:11 a.m. when Leather, the RCMP’s second-in-command in the province that morning, sent an email requesting a copy of the alert sent to police about the suspect and his replica vehicle.

According to the commission, another investigation “is ongoing into the role of Chief Supt. Leather … in relation to the release of information about the replica RCMP cruiser.”

Scott Blandford, a former police sergeant in London, Ont., said he couldn’t comment on whether chief superintendents in the RCMP should be involved in public communication, but he said involving police chiefs in media releases wasn’t the practice when he was with the London Police Service.

“As a general rule, the incident commander is the ranking officer on scene, and only in exceptionally rare circumstances are they overruled by a higher-ranking officer,” said Blandford, who teaches policing at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

The inquiry has heard that a draft tweet showing a photo of the replica cruiser was approved at 9:49 a.m. But again there was another unexplained delay.

It wasn’t until 10:17 a.m. that the RCMP sent a tweet showing a photo of the car. That key warning came 12 hours after the Mounties were first told about the vehicle, and more than two hours after they received the photo. By then, another six people had been murdered that morning.

Two Mounties fatally shot the killer at a gas station north of Halifax at 11:26 a.m. At that time, the police force was crafting an Alert Ready emergency message to send to radios, TVs and cellphones in the province. But the message was never sent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2022.

— With files from Michael Tutton.

 

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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ERs in Canada overwhelmed, face closures – CTV News

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Hospitals overwhelmed by the pandemic’s onslaught are still facing a number of challenges, causing unprecedented wait times in emergency rooms across the country.

Along with limited hospital beds and a backlog of surgeries, a primary cause for dysfunction has been a shortage of physicians and nurses.

Many of the problems facing hospitals are not new, but experts say that the pandemic has exacerbated the situation, leading to a crisis so dire that patients are now starting to see emergency department closures in hospitals near them.

A LONG, ‘LONG WEEKEND’ FOR EMERGENCY ROOMS

On Saturday, Perth and Smith Falls District Hospital (PSFDH) announced a shutdown of its emergency department until Thursday, citing a COVID-19 outbreak. However, its doctors say the real reason is an ongoing staff shortage.

“Yeah, COVID caused the closure of the emergency department, but the reality of it is that we had no built-in resilience of our nursing staff,” Dr. Alan Drummond told CTV National News on Saturday.

Drummond said that PSFDH’s emergency room dropped from 50 nurses down to five, leaving the unit exceptionally thin.

“Somebody needs to be held accountable for the fact that we lost 50 per cent of our nursing staff within several months, which set us up, basically, to fail,” he said.

Drummond said the catchment area for the PSFDH is about 25,000 people in a large geographic area between Smiths Falls and Peterborough, meaning many patients travel long distances to get to the emergency department.

Patients needing urgent care will now have to drive 20 kilometres from Perth to Smiths Falls.

“I don’t think it’s fair for the people in this community,” local resident John Hastings told CTV News on Saturday.

The Town of Clinton in Ontario was without an emergency room for the entire Canada Day long weekend, as the Clinton Public Hospital’s emergency room announced a shutdown from July 1 to 5.

This marked the longest 24-hour closure of the Clinton Public Hospital’s emergency room.

Physician and nurse shortages are to blame, according to Deborah Wiseman, the chief nursing executive with the Huron-Perth Health Alliance, who anticipates more service disruptions this summer.

“Not just this weekend, but what you’ll see is more to come. I’m going to say for the next six months to several years, with our human health care shortages, both in the nursing and physician areas. We are really struggling to maintain services,” Wiseman told CTV National News.

Wiseman said they are investigating everything to try to resolve the health-care worker shortage and keep their emergency rooms open, including using paramedics in emergency rooms.

Other provinces are experiencing similar issues. Six emergency departments in Quebec will be partially shuttered this summer owing to a staffing shortfall, the provincial government announced on Thursday.

Nova Scotia Health says people should expect long wait times in all four health zones because of high demand during the long weekend.

“Unfortunately, we’re currently experiencing what we call ‘bed block,’ where we have a large number of admitted patients and nowhere to send them,” Dr. Margaret Fraser, a physician at Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney, N.S. told CTV National News on Saturday.

Bonnie Nunn, a resident from Trehern, Manitoba, told CTV National News on Saturday that her daughter recently needed emergency treatment and had to be taken to Portage la Prairie, about 45 minutes away, because the Trehern emergency department was closed due to a lack of staff.

“I’m really angry, angry at everything. I don’t think enough thought went into this,” she said.

“I’m not angry at nurses. They need time off too.”

WHAT IS CAUSING THE STAFF SHORAGES?

Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, told CTV News Atlantic in May that the rate of physician and nurse burnout is double what it was pre-pandemic.

“Our health-care system is at a level of crisis we’ve never really seen, and the health workers are in a state of crisis we’ve never seen,” said Smart.

A June survey released by Statistics Canada showed that 95 per cent of health workers feel that the pandemic has impacted their mental health and has added stress to their work-life balance.

During the pandemic, health workers have faced extended work hours, decreased vacation time, and changes in the method of delivering care.

In the fourth wave of the pandemic between September to November of 2021—the period in which the survey was conducted—many health workers were looking to leave or quit due to job stress or concerns around their mental health.

“How do we retain workers? Probably a raise,” Halifax-based ICU nurse, Elinor Kelly told CTV News Atlantic in May.

“Probably a decent one. I think that’s going to have to help. Especially for critical care nurses because critical care, we have a lot of people that we train and recruit, but after a year or so they can go work privately at triple the amount of money I’m making after 27 years.”

Dr. Paul Saba, a family physician and president of the Council of Physicians at Hôpital de Lachine in Montreal, said he wants the government to make substantial changes.

“The health-care system has to be improved. And it can’t just be a short-term electoral promise … for the next few years, but long-term,” he told CTV National News on Saturday.

With files from Deena Zaidi and CTV News Atlantic

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Missing 13-year-old Edmonton girl found alive in Oregon, 41-year-old man arrested

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EDMONTON — Police say a 13-year-old Edmonton girl missing for more than a week has been found alive in the United States.

She was located following a week-long search that began when she was seen arriving at her junior high school but didn’t show up for class.

Edmonton Police Insp. Brent Dahlseide says the girl, who was reported missing June 24, is currently in an Oregon hospital for a precautionary examination after being found safe in the state early Saturday morning.

Dahlseide says a 41-year-old Oregon man will be charged with child luring and is expected to face additional charges in Canada and the U.S.

He says Edmonton police received assistance from other agencies in Canada, as well as from the FBI and other police services in the U.S.

Dahlseide says it’s believed the suspect came to Edmonton, but it’s not yet clear how he initially made contact with the girl or how she crossed the U.S. border.

“We would be speculating to say they crossed the border together, but I do know that they were located together, again, in the U.S. once they gained entry,” Dahlseide told reporters during an online news conference Saturday, noting he believed the two had been communicating online.

“I don’t know how long they may have been in contact with one another. I do know that the reason we’re going with a child-luring charge at this point is that it’s one we can support because of some of the online history.”

Photos of the girl have appeared on billboards and posters across Alberta this past week asking people to be on the lookout for her and contact police with tips.

Dahlseide said an Amber Alert was not issued because investigators lacked a description of a suspect or a suspect vehicle. He said police got that information on Friday and were drafting the alert that afternoon when they learned from Canada Border Services the suspect had crossed into the U.S.

At that point the suspect was no longer in Canadian jurisdiction, Dahlseide explained, which is another criteria for an Amber Alert. He said they made a deduction about where the suspect was going and alerted authorities on the U.S. side.

Dahlseide said he believed the arrest was made outside Gladstone, Oregon, just south of Portland, away from the suspect’s residence. He said the suspect’s name would not be released until charges are formally laid.

He said the girl’s family were informed early Saturday she’d been found safe and they are making arrangements to bring her home.

“I’m sure we likely woke them up, showing up at their door so early,” Dahlseide said.

Canadian investigators have not had a chance to speak with the girl or the suspect yet, Dahlseide said, and other questions remain.

He said investigators believe the suspect was in Mission, B.C. for three to four days, so they’ll be asking RCMP there to speak to people who may have seen him or the girl during that time. The FBI will also be able to help supply bank or credit card information to piece together the suspect’s movements, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022

 

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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People planning to attend AIDS conference in Montreal still struggling to get visas

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MONTREAL — International AIDS organizations say people from Africa, South America and Asia who are planning to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal are still struggling to get visas from the Canadian government.

The groups say a growing number of activists — including some who were scheduled to speak at the conference which begins at the end of the month — are having their visa applications denied, often on the grounds that the Canadian government doesn’t believe they’ll return home after the event.

Tinashe Rufurwadzo, the director of programs, management and governance at Y+ Global, an international organization of HIV+ youth, said the chair of his organization’s board and another of its employees, who are based in Malawi and Kenya, are among the young activists who have been denied visas to attend the conference.

He said both have travelled extensively to speak at AIDS-related events.

“Personally, I’m sick and tired of seeing young people from Africa mostly portrayed on PowerPoint slides as pictures, as photos on banners, as footnotes on case studies. Why can we not have them at conferences to share their lived experiences of what exactly is happening?” he said in an interview Friday.

Rufurwadzo said representatives of populations most at risk of HIV — such as people who inject drugs, transgender women, sex workers and gay men — need to be able to participate, as do adolescent girls, who are increasingly affected by HIV.

If people from the most affected countries aren’t able to attend, he said he doesn’t know how realistic the learning at the conference will be.

While those whose applications are denied will be able to attend the conference virtually, Rufurwadzo said that won’t allow the same level of participation. He also said young people, especially those from rural areas, may not have consistent access to the internet.

Last week, almost 250 organizations from around the world sent a joint letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling on him to take action to ensure participants can attend the International AIDS conference.

Aidan Strickland, a spokesman for Fraser, said in response to earlier questions from The Canadian Press that the department has been working closely with event organizers and that applications “have been assessed in a timely manner.”

“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Strickland said in an email. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”

Javier Bellocq, an Argentine who runs a community journalism project called the Key Correspondent Team which focuses on people living with HIV and high-risk groups, said from the stories he’s heard, it seems like each Canadian consulate is applying different rules.

In some places, he said, applicants have been required to pay for medical examinations as part of the visa process.

“The conference, in theory, arranged with the Canadian government that there will not be medical examinations, but there are, there are many medical examinations.”

Of a group of 40 Argentines, including Bellocq, who are planning to participate in pre-conference activities, only two have received visas so far, he said.

Tumie Komanyane, who runs programs for international NGO Frontline AIDS in South Africa, said groups she works with were planning to help more than a dozen young people attend the conference, but decided not to even bother applying for 10 visas after the first four applications were rejected.

Komanyane said she’s aware of other young people from the region, including some who had scholarships to attend the conference funded by the Canadian government, who have had their visa applications denied.

“It’s incoherent,” she said in an interview Saturday. “With the strides that Africa is making in the HIV field, all the lessons and evidence that could be coming from the beneficiaries directly is going to be lost.”

While she works with young people, she said, she doesn’t want to speak for them.

“They have agency, they have voice, and they shouldn’t be represented by people like me. They should be able to go and share what this work means for them,” she said.

Bellocq said he’s not worried about himself, noting the Argentine passport is relatively powerful and he’s a professional who has been travelling internationally form more than 30 years. But he worries about people  from countries with less passport privilege and members of marginalized groups who are at high risk of HIV.

With pre-conference events starting in just over three weeks, he said, “time is not on our side.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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