Inquiry into Canada’s worst mass shooting criticises police, urges reform
1 April, 2023, 8:05 am
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Officials tasked with reviewing Canada’s worst mass shooting called for sweeping police reforms, stricter gun safety regulations and better public communication on Thursday after an investigation found many shortcomings in authorities’ response to the 2020 incident.
In April 2020, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, disguised in a police uniform and driving a fake police car, shot and killed 22 people in a 13-hour rampage in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, before police killed him at a gas station about 90 km (60 miles) from the site of his first killings in Portapique.
The rampage shocked a country where mass violence is rare, and a Mass Casualty Commission was set up to conduct a public inquiry.
The commission, which offered 130 recommendations in a report with more than n over 3,000-page report, recommended an external review of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and potentially restructuring the agency, which it said may entail a new approach to federal financial support for provincial and municipal policing services.
The commission’s recommendations are not binding.
Calls for reforming the RCMP are not new and there have been similar public inquiries and reviews in the past that resulted in recommendations that have not yet been implemented, the report said.
It found the RCMP was unprepared and untrained to handle the scale of the incident, and mismanaged internal as well as public messaging.
In one example, the commission noted the only information RCMP released to the public was posted on Twitter about 90 minutes after the first killing and underplayed the seriousness of the threat. There were no public communications for more than eight hours after that.
“While we acknowledge and commend the individual actions and courage of many first responders, the overarching approach and response by the RCMP as an institution had many shortcomings,” said commissioner Leanne Fitch, one of the three officials who conducted the inquiry.
Interim RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme, who said he had not read the report, promised to act on the recommendations “in a manner that is transparent to the victims, survivors and their families.”
The commission recommends increasing the RCMP’s transparency and accountability for oversight.
Scott McLeod, who lost his brother Sean in the incident, welcomed the report’s recommendations.
“I think everybody’s always going to have that bit of skepticism about whether it’ll get done properly or not but … I’m hopeful with everything I’ve heard so far,” he said.
Commission chair Michael MacDonald told Reuters he believes there is political will to adopt the changes recommended in the report.
“I think we are at a moment in history where all levels of government have to realize they have to work together,” he said.
The inquiry also found that Wortman illegally owned at least five firearms, including three smuggled into Canada from the United States, that could have been prevented with better police oversight.
Canada has stricter gun laws than the United States, but Canadians can own firearms with a license. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has been trying to tackle gun violence through measures introduced after the Nova Scotia shooting, including a handgun freeze announced last year.
The commission recommended that possessing ammunition and buying firearm magazines should require a license and that the federal government should establish limits on the stockpiling of ammunition.
“I hope today’s report is one of the many steps toward ensuring a tragedy like this never happens again,” Trudeau, who was in Nova Scotia for the release of the report, said in a statement.