Organization structure

Nova Scotia shooting investigation: Mountie describes organization that oversaw response

HALIFAX-

A Nova Scotia RCMP member involved in the response to the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history told an inquest on Tuesday that confusion was inevitable as police forces quickly built a “beast of an organization to stop an active shooter.

The Board of Inquiry is investigating how a man dressed as a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP cruiser managed to kill 22 people on April 18-19, 2020, before being shot at a gas station by the police 13 hours after the start of his rampage.

sergeant. Andy O’Brien, who is now retired, confirmed on Tuesday that he was off duty and had consumed four to five glasses of rum over a four-hour period when he learned from a officer that a suspect was shooting people and burning houses in rural areas. Portapique, NS, about 130 kilometers north of Halifax.

“Every time you’ve been drinking, going to work would call into question the integrity of any decision-making,” said O’Brien, RCMP operations non-commissioned officer for Colchester District.

“I wasn’t drunk, but that’s beside the point. There will always be a perception if people know you’ve been drinking…that you’re compromised.”

Still, O’Brien asked his wife to drive him to the RCMP detachment in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia, where he picked up his portable radio and went home to give advice to responders.

The inquest heard there was confusion over who was responsible that night. One of the three commissioners leading the investigation — former Fredericton police chief Leanne Fitch — described a “significant breakdown in communication.”

On Tuesday, O’Brien told the inquest that the RCMP’s handling of complex, high-risk incidents was akin to building a large company in minutes or hours.

“There are always going to be growing pains in any structure, especially one that you create locally in a ridiculously short period of time with a completely new or unfamiliar business purpose,” he said. “There are going to be cross threads. There are going to be duplication of effort. There are going to be things that are going to be missing.”

O’Brien said this process, while not perfect, is notable for its flexibility.

“We have a long history of figuring things out on the fly,” he said. “We’re all very familiar with the concept of ‘This may not exactly fit my job description, but if it needs to be done, it will be done.’

Commission attorney Anna Mancini drew O’Brien’s attention to his response when a Portapique officer asked by two-way radio if a second team of Mounties could join three colleagues who had already entered the enclave. dark to stop the active shooter. around 10:25 p.m.

When the request came, O’Brien said he waited ‘what felt like a lifetime’ before deciding to ask the officer to stand down as a second team working in the dark could lead to a fire dangerous crusader.

“It was a case where I knew the answer and didn’t hear anyone answer,” he said. “Clearly none of the (other senior officers) heard the transmission…or were in a position to (respond).”

In earlier testimony, the area’s district commander, Staff Sgt. Allan Carroll said he was surprised to hear O’Brien’s voice on the radio because he thought his colleague was home. Carroll also said O’Brien may have breached RCMP protocol by overstepping his authority.

“He should have moved it up the chain, passed it on to the other people,” Carroll said last week.

Earlier this year, a federal labor investigator concluded the RCMP operation lacked clear leadership and created “an environment of confusion” for frontline officers.

Regardless of the protocol, O’Brien remained involved in the decision-making until 3 a.m. the next morning. He was then put in charge of crime scene management in Portapique, where 13 people had been killed in 40 minutes before the killer escaped down a lightly traveled road.

O’Brien described providing advice to officers as they searched for the killer in Portapique the first night, including guidance on RCMP policy for dealing with high-risk incidents.

“I have a very strong sense of responsibility to the members,” he said, pausing to keep his composure. “I lost a limb in 2017 that worked for me. My nightmare that night was that I was going to lose another limb.”

O’Brien was the third senior constable to be granted special accommodations by the commission. Last week, the commission decided O’Brien and Master Sgt. Brian Rehill would be exempt from having to undergo cross-examination by lawyers who represent victims’ families.

The decision, based on unspecified health issues, prompted protest marches outside the courtroom. Additionally, most of the victims’ families told their attorneys to boycott the proceedings last week and this week, prompting speculation that public confidence in the commission was diminishing.

O’Brien and Rehill’s testimony was recorded in a largely empty hotel conference room. The contents were not made public until their testimony was completed.

Rehill told the inquest on Monday there was so much information to process on the first night that he felt like he was being hit by a tsunami. He admitted that his plans to block the escape of the Portapique killer had been thwarted by a subordinate’s “misunderstanding” and a crushing of competing tasks.

“I have to own it,” he said. Rehill said he still suffers from nightmares, poor sleep and constant reminders of what happened two years ago.

Last week, Carroll testified via a Zoom call, but was cross-examined by participating attorneys.


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 31, 2022.


— With files by Michael Tutton.