COMMENTARY: Holes in the RCMP’s Nova Scotia narrative are a bigger story than leaked 911 calls

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
WATCH: Tracy Vaillancourt, a child psychologist and Canada research chair in school-based mental health and violence prevention, said she feels hurt and dismayed over a magazine’s decision to publish the audio recording of a 911 call of a 12-year-old boy whose parents were killed by the Nova Scotia gunman – Jun 4, 2021

Given Frank Magazine’s reputation for being rabble-rousing troublemakers, it’s easy to dismiss the work they do and it’s easy to demonize them when necessary.

In the recent controversy concerning leaked 911 calls from the massacre last year in Nova Scotia, it’s easy to make the story about Frank Magazine and its decision to publish those calls.

By all means, let’s have a conversation about journalistic standards and a conversation about the leaking of sensitive materials such as this. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger story here: the RCMP has not been forthcoming about their version of events. What’s more, there are clearly people inside the force who are concerned enough about that fact that they’ve resorted to this drastic step.

The RCMP are vowing to investigate the leak of the 911 calls and there has been harsh criticism of Frank Magazine from others — including victims’ families — regarding the decision to publish the audio from the calls. To be sure, 911 calls aren’t typically released for public consumption, and hearing the words of a woman who died only minutes after the call is incredibly gut-wrenching for anyone, let alone relatives of the victim.

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Ultimately, though, the issue at hand here is whether there could have been fewer victims on that fateful weekend. This was Canada’s worst-ever mass killing and Canadians deserve to have a full accounting of what happened and what might have gone wrong in responding to and investigating the massacre as it unfolded.

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This was a killing spree that unfolded over 13 hours at multiple locations in Nova Scotia. One of the complicating factors in stopping Gabriel Wortman’s rampage was the fact that he was dressed in police attire and driving a replica RCMP vehicle. The question of when police became aware of that information — and when they finally informed the public of that information — is crucial.

The RCMP has maintained that they didn’t become aware of Wortman’s attire and vehicle until the morning of April 19th, when Wortman’s girlfriend emerged after a night of hiding in the woods. She had been assaulted by Wortman and handcuffed, but managed to escape.

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The three 911 calls that are at the centre of this new controversy shed some important light on this matter. All three calls were placed within a 25-minute span on the evening of April 18th and all three callers reference the fact that Wortman was driving what appeared to be a police vehicle. It is simply not credible to claim that this is information that only came to light on the morning of the 19th.

So why wasn’t that information acted on sooner? Why wasn’t a public alert put out sooner? Even if there was some uncertainty at that point, it would have been easy enough for such an alert to be couched in such terms (eg. “we have unconfirmed reports that the suspect may be driving a replica police vehicle”).

In fact, no emergency alert was ever issued. On the morning of April 19th, Nova Scotia RCMP used their Twitter account to release information to the public, with the first update going out at 8:02 a.m. However, it wasn’t until over two hours later that the RCMP sent out a tweet warning that “Wortman may be driving what appears to be a RCMP vehicle”

(Wortman was shot dead just over an hour after that at a gas station in Enfield, 100 km from Portapique, where the rampage began).

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If the RCMP had disclosed right from the start about the information that was conveyed to them in those 911 calls, there likely would have been no motivation for someone to leak the calls and no reason for Frank Magazine or anyone else to publish them. But given what the RCMP has said about the information concerning Wortman’s vehicle, there’s a motivation there to suppress the information on those calls.

One could reasonably argue that Frank Magazine could have simply transcribed the calls or written up a story quoting the relevant portions of the calls. They made an editorial judgment call and people are free to agree or disagree with that.

But rather than asking the RCMP what they’re going to do about the leak, we should be asking them instead some hard questions about this massive discrepancy. Hopefully the public inquiry into this horrific crime will help answer some of these questions, but that’s not an excuse for the RCMP to avoid accountability until that point.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

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