Public outrage and disgust is spreading over a magazine’s decision to publish leaked audio recordings of 911 calls made the night the Nova Scotia shooting spree began last April.
The audio, published late Wednesday by Frank Magazine, included a call made by Jamie Blair, who along with her husband Greg was murdered in Portapique, N.S., on April 18, 2020.
The magazine also published audio of a 911 call made by Greg and Jamie’s 12-year-old son moments after he witnessed his parents being murdered.
“This is a terrible failure,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, a child psychologist and Canada research chair in school-based mental health and violence prevention.
“I can’t imagine how anybody could think this is ethical or morally appropriate… We’re exploiting the distress of individuals and especially the distress of a child who is experiencing the worst moment in his life. And we’re voyeurs of that worst moment.”
Police, politicians and victims’ families were quick to condemn the magazine’s decision to publish the audio, many saying they were disgusted.
Late Thursday, Frank Magazine removed the audio from its public website and placed it behind a paywall, meaning only subscribers can listen.
Andrew Douglas, the magazine’s editor, told Global News in an email that this decision was made following a request from victims’ families.
Douglas also reportedly told CTV he received several notices about possible legal action if the audio wasn’t removed.
“Robert Pineo, the lawyer for the families, requested that we remove the audio,” Douglas said in the email to Global News. “Of course, that wasn’t going to happen.”
Douglas said he was willing to put the audio behind the magazine’s paywall, making it “off limits for casual viewers/listeners.” He said Pineo and a very upset family member thought this was a “good idea.”
“We initially felt that we couldn’t be seen to be profiteering off this material, and we would be doing a public service by giving unfettered access to material that is very much in the public interest,” Douglas said.
“But as it turns out, putting it behind the paywall ended up being a way to make at least some of the family members feel a little better about it, so we were happy to do that.”
Demands to take down audio
Jon Farrington, whose parents Frank and Dawn Gulenchyn were murdered in Portapique on April 18, said he was mortified when he found out the 911 calls were made public.
He said Frank Magazine didn’t notify him ahead of time and that he learned about the publication from Facebook.
“I’m just angry,” Farrington said.
One of the 911 calls published was made by a witness who described seeing the Gulenchyns’s home on fire with a marked police car sitting out front.
Farrington said hearing the audio of the call and the description of his parents’ home burning triggered painful memories, brought on a panic attack, and caused nightmares to return.
“I instantly went back in time,” he said. “It makes it impossible to heal.”
Farrington said he’s looking into what, if any, legal action he can take to have the audio taken down completely. He also thinks the government should do everything it can to figure out who leaked the confidential 911 recordings.
“This shouldn’t have happened,” Farrington said. “We have enough battles and enough court proceedings to deal with.”
There’s also a growing online petition to have the audio removed from Frank Magazine’s website. The petition, started Thursday, had garnered more than 5,100 signatures as of Friday afternoon.
The RCMP said Thursday they are investigating who may have leaked the 911 calls.
Content of the audio
Frank Magazine’s justification for publishing the audio recordings is that doing so is “in the public interest.”
An online article that accompanied the audio alleges the recordings show the RCMP have been engaged in a cover up of what they knew about the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, on the night the killing spree began.
A review of the audio and transcripts of the calls published by Frank Magazine reveals at least three witnesses told 911 operators the person who was shooting that night was driving a police vehicle.
Jamie Blair, who was killed moments after witnessing her husband being murdered, stated the shooter was a “denturist” who drove police cars, adding that the vehicle he was using that night was a marked RCMP cruiser.
Another witness, the only person to survive being shot by the gunman that night, told 911 operators the person who shot him was a neighbour named “Gabe,” and explained he was driving a police vehicle.
The RCMP have previously said they didn’t learn about the fully-marked RCMP vehicle the gunman was driving until the shooter’s common-law partner emerged from the woods at 6:30 a.m. on April 19. This was at least eight hours after the 911 calls published by Frank Magazine would have been made.
But various news organizations, including Global News, have previously reported details contained in court documents that show police were told the night the killing spree began that the gunman was driving a marked police vehicle.
This information includes statements made to the first RCMP officers who arrived on the scene in Portapique at 10:26 p.m. on April 18. These statements were made by the same witness heard in one of the audio recordings published by Frank Magazine.
While the audio recordings do provide some additional evidence to support the claim that police knew very early in the investigation that the gunman was driving a marked police vehicle, Farrington believes the audio should never have been published.
He said these additional details aren’t worth the horror of having to relive that moment when his parents were killed.
“We can’t even make calls to try and save people’s lives without it being exploited,” Farrington said. “It’s just sickening.”