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Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation unprecedented in scope, say criminologists

Nova Scotia mass murder could lead to changes in law
WATCH: The fact that the gunman imitated a police officer is an extra element for investigators to deal with, and could lead to changes in the law.

The investigation into the Nova Scotia mass murder is complex and far-reaching.

The province’s RCMP have slowly begun to fill in some of the holes in the timeline of the 13-hour mass shooting rampage that stretched from a rural northern area of Portapique, south to central Nova Scotia in Dartmouth and Halifax.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia shooting: A detailed timeline of how the rampage unfolded

RCMP superintendent Darren Campbell provided more information around the killer’s moves leading up to the murderous rampage at Tuesdays’ press briefing at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth.

There are 16 crime scenes in all, with investigators dealing with a list of 435 witnesses, he said.

Police continue to investigate what drove the 51-year-old denturist, Gabriel Wortman to commit the country’s worst mass shooting, and take the lives of 22 people.

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Nova Scotia RCMP reveal gunman eluded capture at first crime scene
Nova Scotia RCMP reveal gunman eluded capture at first crime scene

“I know of few — if any — cases anywhere, where the spree as it were, covered this amount of distance and went on for so long,” said Western University criminology professor Michael Arntfield.

Key evidence from a witness, the mass shooter’s common-law partner, revealed the killer was able to extend his rampage by dressing like an RCMP officer with authentic police clothing and driving a mock police cruiser. The disguise helped the killer evade police as he carried out targetted murders, and the shooting of apparently random victims.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia gunman was involved in several disputes before shooting, RCMP says

“The shooter capitalized on the use of police legitimacy to actually enact his shootings and then eventually evade police,” said assistant professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University, Rylan Simpson.

“It’s a total tale of legitimacy betrayal.”

“He identified a niche in this case, the fact that the community had trust in its police, and then used trust against them to go about completing his extreme act of violence,” Simpson said.

Nova Scotia shooting: Photographs detail timeline of gunman’s movements
Nova Scotia shooting: Photographs detail timeline of gunman’s movements

The ability to impersonate a police officer presents a number of policing issues like public trust.

During a COVID-19 press briefing, Premier Stephen McNeil was asked how laws could be re-written to protect against imitating an officer and acquiring police paraphernalia.

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“I want to let the RCMP follow through with this investigation and I’m sure there will be recommendations coming out of this,” said McNeil. “Not only here in Nova Scotia but nationally. I’m sure they’ll be looking at the issue of how we deal with surplus equipment from law enforcement agencies from across the country.”

READ MORE: Nova Scotia opposition leaders say public inquiry is the next step to examining mass shooting

It also remains to be seen what effect the COVID-19 lockdown had on the mass shooting. According to Arntfield, you can’t separate the two.

“In terms of victimology, when else in history can people be predictably be found in their residences all at the same time,” he said. “This is a dimension that has not been critically examined.”

The RCMP investigation continues.