Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to include new information about the death of Joey Webber.
The body of a Nova Scotia shooting victim was allegedly transported from a crime scene by a tow truck while inside a vehicle, according to an amended version of a proposed class action lawsuit filed against the RCMP, the federal government and the province.
“(The RCMP) allowed a deceased victim’s body to remain in a vehicle while said vehicle was towed from a crime scene to be collected and analysed as evidence, rather than ensuring that the body was first removed and cared for in the appropriate manner before the vehicle was seized,” the amended lawsuit claims.
The claim does not identify the victim by name. However, the two lawyers who represent victims of the shooting spree and victims’ family members told Global News the body was that of Joey Webber, a 36-year-old man who was killed by the gunman when he reportedly stopped to assist RCMP Cst. Heidi Stevenson after she was attacked.
“Joey Webber’s family is deeply troubled by how his body was treated,” said the family’s lawyer Sandra McCulloch.
Webber was one of 22 people killed in a 13-hour shooting spree on the weekend of April 18 and 19.
McCulloch and Robert Pineo, the second lawyer in the class action case, initially told Global News Joey Webber’s body was found inside his vehicle. However, the Webber family said this is incorrect and that the body was found inside the gunman’s mock police car, McCulloch explained.
“I now understand that Joey Webber was apparently persuaded into the gunman’s cruiser in Shubenacadie, where he was shot. His body was left in the cruiser and the gunman lit the cruiser alight, after which the gunman left in Joey Webber’s (Chevy) Tracker, alone,” McCulloch said.
Pineo told Global News the Webber family received information from the public that showed Webber’s body was transported by a tow truck from the crime scene near Shubenacadie.
Pineo said the RCMP had not informed the family of these details before they were contacted by members of the public.
“They received videos and photographs from just regular citizens that showed Joey’s body was left in (the) car for eight or nine hours and then transported on a tow truck,” Pineo said.
“They’re almost inconsolable over that.”
McCulloch and Pineo are representing Tyler Blair and Andrew O’Brien, who are named as the lead plaintiffs in the proposed class action case.
Blair’s father, Greg, and stepmother, Jamie, were killed in Portapique. O’Brien’s wife, Heather, was killed in Debert, N.S.
Police have received widespread criticism for their response to the shootings, including claims from victim’s family members contained in the class action lawsuit that they misled the public about what really happened.
The proposed class action disputes earlier statements made by the RCMP in June, when investigators said the gunman did not use his replica RCMP vehicle to “pull over” any of his victims.
According to the lawsuit, at around 10:08 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, Heather O’Brien was stopped by the gunman, as he was posing as a police officer, and shot and killed in her car.
Global News asked the RCMP detailed questions about the allegations contained in the amended lawsuit about Webber’s body and claims raised by Pineo. These included questions about whether the allegations were true, how long Webber’s body remained inside the vehicle and why the family wasn’t notified of these details by police.
The RCMP did not respond to any of these questions. The force also declined multiple requests for an interview.
“There was no communication,” Pineo said. So (the Webber family) were rightly left with the impression that nobody cared and that they paraded his body around central Nova Scotia. And that’s just ridiculous.”
None of the defendants named in the lawsuit, including the RCMP and the federal and provincial governments have submitted responses to the class action lawsuit.
Official responses to claims in proposed class action lawsuits are not required until after the class is certified by a judge. This process is not automatic and can be contested by the government.
The RCMP has previously said that its initial remarks about the gunman pulling people over were not correct and that witness statements and changes to how police interpreted these statements have since left them convinced that no one was pulled over by the gunman while he was driving his replica police vehicle.
Other new allegations
The amended statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Tuesday formally added the province’s attorney general as a defendant in the case.
The delay in adding the province to the claim, originally filed on June 16, is because of rules that require the province be given 60 days notice before any legal action is taken against it.
According to the amended claim, the RCMP “failed to employ an Emergency Response Team when it ought to have done so” during the shooting spree, When such a team was deployed, it was done so in a manner that was unlikely to have located and contained the gunman, the claim reads.
The claim also alleges the RCMP failed to use all resources available to it to “track, locate and stop” the gunman. This includes a helicopter capable of conducting both nighttime and daytime searches of the land and forested areas in and around Portapique and neighbouring communities where the gunman may have been hiding, the claim reads.
Another new allegation contained in the claim is that a witness informed the RCMP shortly after they arrived in Portapique on the evening of April 18 that the gunman was driving what appeared to be a police car “like those of the RCMP members who arrived on scene.”
The witness, described in the claim as an “unnamed victim” who was shot by the gunman, also said he believed the shooter was “‘Gabe’ who owned property in the area,” according to the claim.
Global News asked the RCMP if any of these new allegations were true. RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said police only learned the gunman was driving a fully-marked replica police car and wearing what appeared to be an authentic police uniform at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, after a witness, later revealed to be the gunman’s ex-parter, called 911 with this information.
The RCMP has previously said that an Emergency Response Team was deployed to assist in the manhunt. It was a member of this team that killed the gunman, 51-year-old denturist Gabriel Wortman, at a gas station near Enfield, N.S., on the morning of April 19.
The RCMP have also disclosed that a helicopter provided by the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forestry was used in the search for the gunman. However, the force did not respond to questions from Global News about what time the helicopter was first deployed.
In court documents released in May, the RCMP described an interaction between police who first responded to 911 calls in Portapique on April 18 and an unnamed witness who said he was shot by the gunman.
According to the documents, which were created by the RCMP in order to obtain search warrants for the gunman’s properties, the witness told the RCMP the shooter was driving a “police car” but no further details or description of the car were included in the documents. Some portions of this section of the document were also redacted.
“The ‘police car’ came up from behind them and then pulled up alongside them,” the court document said.
“(Redacted) noted that the driver of the ‘police car’ had a firearm (redacted) and shot at them.”
During an April 24 press conference, RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said the unnamed witness told police the gunman was driving a vehicle that looked like a police car.
Campbell also said police confirmed the gunman owned “several vehicles that looked like police cars.”
When the RCMP first visited the gunman’s Portapique home on the evening of April 18, they found it entirely engulfed in flames, Campbell said. At the home, they also found two burning Ford Taurus vehicles, believed to be old police cars.
Campbell said a police background search revealed the gunman owned three licensed Ford vehicles that were probably old police cars. In addition to the two vehicles burning outside the gunman’s home, police located the third licensed vehicle at Wortman’s Halifax residence.
At this point, Campbell said, officers responsible for the investigation believed they had located all of the police look-alike vehicles the gunman owned. The RCMP were also considering the possibility that the gunman had committed suicide and that his body was inside his burning home.
These assumptions were the reasons why police believed they had the gunman contained in the Portapique area, Campbell said. Even though they did not.