Surveillance video taken at the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade hall shows two RCMP officers who fired their semi-automatic weapons at a man they mistakenly believed was the Nova Scotia gunman.
The footage is from inside and outside the fire hall and was taken on the morning of April 19, 2020.
The two officers who fired their weapons have not been identified and, according to the RCMP, have been assigned to administrative duty pending the outcome of two ongoing internal reviews.
A report issued on March 2 by the province’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) said the officers acted reasonably and recommended no criminal charges be filed against them.
“The investigation found that based on everything the officers had seen and heard since coming on duty and what they had observed at the time, they had reasonable grounds to believe that the male (they were shooting at) was the killer and someone who would continue his killing rampage. They discharged their weapons in order to prevent further deaths or serious injuries,” the report said.
“Accordingly, no criminal offence was committed, and no charges are warranted against either officer.”
The person the two Mounties mistook for the killer was an on-duty employee of the local Emergency Management Office. He was wearing a reflective vest similar to the killer’s and standing near a marked police cruiser when the shooting started.
Global News asked the RCMP whether it believed the officers acted reasonably when firing their weapons and if they have received any additional training since the incident.
The RCMP refused to answer these questions, citing an internal code of conduct investigation and a Hazardous Occurrence Investigation Team review into the officers’ actions.
“I’m not able to get into the specifics of the incident because of the ongoing RCMP investigations into the matter,” said Cpl. Mark Skinner in a written statement.
Skinner did, however, say the RCMP is working to prevent this type of incident from happening again in the future.
“We share the concerns this incident raised. We referred this matter to SIRT and have fully cooperated in SIRT’s investigation. The incident remains under investigation by the RCMP with the intent of preventing a similar future occurrence,” he said.
Prior to the release of the SIRT report, the RCMP refused to comment on the shooting, citing the ongoing SIRT investigation.
The RCMP has also declined to answer questions about the April 18 and 19 killing spree generally, citing the ongoing joint federal and provincial public inquiry.
The last time a spokesperson for the RCMP appeared before reporters to answer questions about the killing spree was a June 4 press conference. At the time, RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather committed to providing timely and relevant updates about the investigation.
RCMP union response
Following the release of the SIRT report, the National Police Federation, a union that represents roughly 20,000 RCMP officers, said it was pleased with SIRT’s “thoughtful, fair, timely and transparent decision” not to recommend criminal charges against the officers who fired their weapons.
The union also said it is confident in the brave and selfless actions of its members during the 13-hour-long manhunt for the gunman.
“This was an extremely challenging and complex emergency response, particularly given that the suspect was known to be wearing an RCMP uniform and driving a replica RCMP vehicle,” said National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé in a written statement.
“This means that our members needed to be hyper-vigilant in order to stop a killer, as well as keeping the community and each other safe.”
On the weekend of April 18 and 19, 2020, Gabriel Wortman murdered 22 people, including RCMP Cst. Heidi Stevenson, in one of the deadliest killing sprees in modern Canadian history.
Wortman also injured RCMP Cst. Chad Morrison during a shootout on Highway 2 roughly one hour before he was shot and killed by two other RCMP officers at a gas station.
A full-scale inquiry into the killing spree was ordered by the federal and provincial governments in July following a public outcry over an earlier decision to launch an independent review into the matter.
The inquiry, which has not yet begun hearings, must deliver an interim report by May 2022 and a final report six months later.
The RCMP’s response to the killing spree will be a topic considered by the inquiry.