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RCMP’s silence about Nova Scotia shooting spree could be to blame for recent leaks: ex-cop

Click to play video: 'Magazine facing backlash from public, victims’ families after releasing leaked audio' Magazine facing backlash from public, victims’ families after releasing leaked audio
A psychologist says the release of 911 audio from night of the shooting spree in Portapique last April is a 'terrible failure.’ A magazine is facing backlash after the audio was leaked. – Jun 4, 2021

The RCMP’s near-blanket refusal to provide information about its investigation into the shooting spree that terrorized Nova Scotians in April of last year may be to blame for a series of leaks to a Halifax magazine, policing experts told Global News.

The most recent leak, which Frank Magazine published on June 8 and has attributed to an unnamed source, includes surveillance video and photos from the gas station where gunman Gabriel Wortman was shot and killed by police, and what appears to be portions of the gunman’s autopsy report.

A first leak came on June 2 when Frank Magazine published audio recordings of 911 calls made by victims the night the killing spree began.

Read more: ‘A terrible failure’ — Child psychologist condemns publication of Nova Scotia 911 tapes

Two experts, including a former senior RCMP officer, told Global News these kinds of leaks most often occur when individual police officers don’t trust the institutions they work for to tell the truth. Leaking this information, they said, is a way of ensuring accountability and transparency.

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“It’s disheartening,” said Garry Clement, a former director of the RCMP’s proceeds of crime unit.

Based on the type of information leaked, Clement says the source is likely a current RCMP officer or someone working closely with the RCMP on its investigation.

“Most police officers that finally leak something to the media, it’s because they feel, rightly or wrongly, that that information is not going to be forthcoming to the public,” Clement said.

Click to play video: 'Child psychologist ‘disgusted’ by publication of N.S. shooting 911 calls' Child psychologist ‘disgusted’ by publication of N.S. shooting 911 calls
Child psychologist ‘disgusted’ by publication of N.S. shooting 911 calls – Jun 4, 2021

Darryl Davies, a criminology instructor at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the RCMP is feeding into public distrust by refusing to answer questions or to offer new details about its investigation.

“(The RCMP) talk about being transparent and open, but they’re not,” Davies said. “They’re just the antithesis of that.”

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The RCMP declined an interview request for this story.

In a written statement, the force said it is investigating the source of the leaked 911 audio and any offences that may have occurred with its “unauthorized release, possession and subsequent publishing.”

Cpl. Lisa Croteau, a spokesperson for the RCMP, initially told Global News she was unaware of any investigation into the leaked surveillance video, crime scene photos and autopsy report.

In a followup email, Croteau said the force is investigating the leak, but won’t provide any more information because of the ongoing public inquiry into the killing spree and the proposed class-action lawsuit launched by victims’ family members.

Content of the leaks

Frank Magazine published two surveillance videos from a gas station in Enfield, N.S., that show the moments leading up to and after Wortman’s death. Wortman was shot and killed while sitting inside a vehicle he stole from his last victim on the morning of April 19.

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The videos show two officers in full tactical gear exiting their vehicle at the gas station immediately after it stops.

Read more: Son of Nova Scotia shooting victims expresses ‘disgust’ over publication of 911 tapes

One of the officers, who was driving the vehicle and was located closest to Wortman, is seen opening his door, drawing his pistol, and then pointing it toward Wortman’s car within seconds of stopping their vehicle. A few seconds later, both officers open fire when Wortman appears to reach for something in the front passenger seat of his car.

Frank Magazine also published audio recordings of 911 calls made by victims of the shooting spree.

The recordings make it clear that 911 operators were told the gunman was driving a police vehicle when he went from house to house in Portapique killing his neighbours and lighting homes on fire. At least two of the callers identified the gunman, either by name or by indicating his profession.

This information is consistent with what court documents say a witness told police shortly after they arrived on scene in Portapique at 10:26 p.m. on April 18.

Davies said the RCMP’s decision to remain silent about what it knew — and when it knew it — about the gunman has caused significant reputational damage to the force and led people to distrust what it says.

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“What it smacks of is, basically, protecting the herd,” Davies said.

Despite multiple witness statements describing the suspect’s vehicle as a “police” car the night the killing spree began, the RCMP didn’t tell the public about this vehicle until nearly 12 hours after its investigation started.

The gunman killed 13 people in Portapique, between approximately 9:30 and 10:45 p.m. on April 18. He murdered nine more people on April 19.

Global News has reported that the RCMP said it was operating under the assumption that the gunman owned three decommissioned police vehicles and that all of them were located by police on the night of April 18.

The RCMP also said that on the night the killing spree began, they believed the gunman may have died by suicide and that his remains might have been inside one of the properties he burned in Portapique.

Click to play video: 'Timeline of RCMP communications during Nova Scotia killing spree' Timeline of RCMP communications during Nova Scotia killing spree
Timeline of RCMP communications during Nova Scotia killing spree – Feb 15, 2021

Police said it wasn’t until the gunman’s common-law partner told them at 6:30 a.m. on April 19 about a fourth, unlicensed police cruiser — complete with lights, sirens and insignia — that the RCMP decided to notify the public.

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It was more than three hours after the time police said they found the gunman’s common-law partner that they sent out a tweet with details about the suspect’s vehicle.

Transcripts of call logs from the Truro Police Department also show that the RCMP shared details about the suspect’s mock police cruiser with provincial policing partners two hours before this information was shared with the public. The gunman killed at least three people during this time.

Need to be cautious

Clement said he’s concerned about the leak of confidential 911 tapes. He said it’s especially troubling for the families of the victims.

He also said the public needs to be cautious and avoid jumping to conclusions about Wortman’s death based on surveillance video without knowing all the facts.

Global News has not independently verified the audio recordings and surveillance video, and it’s not clear where they came from. Frank Magazine has not said whether the source, which it’s dubbed “True Blue,” was a police officer.

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Read more: One year later — How the Nova Scotia mass shooting shook and changed a province forever

A report completed by Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) concluded the officers who shot and killed Wortman were justified.

One of the officers recognized Wortman when they stopped to fill up their vehicle with gas, the report said. He and his partner opened fire after they saw Wortman raise a pistol that he stole from RCMP officer Heidi Stevenson after killing her earlier that morning.

“(The officer) exited the vehicle to begin re-fueling and as he looked across to the adjoining pump he observed a male with a noticeable hematoma and some blood on his forehead,” the SIRT report said. “(The officer) drew his service weapon and alerted (his partner) that the (gunman) was in the vehicle parked next to theirs.”

Click to play video: 'Police seized guns at scene of killing Nova Scotia mass shooter' Police seized guns at scene of killing Nova Scotia mass shooter
Police seized guns at scene of killing Nova Scotia mass shooter – Nov 20, 2020

Felix Cacchione, a former Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice and SIRT’s current director, said the events surrounding Wortman’s death as described in his report are accurate.

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“I stand by the report,” Cacchione said. “When you have reviewed the amount of information that I reviewed, I think you would come to the same conclusion.”

Read more: RCMP officers who killed Nova Scotia gunman will not face criminal charges

Clement, meanwhile, said he thinks the RCMP needs to publicly clarify its position regarding the 911 audio recordings and their contents.

He also thinks the force needs to do everything it can to ensure the public and police officers trust that the RCMP will co-operate fully with the ongoing public inquiry.

The RCMP and federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair have said the force will co-operate fully with the public inquiry.

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