RCMP float possible conspiracy in Nova Scotia mass shooting

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The RCMP is looking for possible co-conspirators in the Nova Scotia mass shooting.

According to the latest search warrant application released by a Nova Scotia court on Friday, the RCMP say the phone records of gunman Gabriel Wortman will provide clues on his movements in the days and months before his April killing spree that claimed the lives of 22 people in the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.

The records being sought are for two separate landlines connected to Wortman’s denture businesses in Dartmouth and Halifax. (Wortman didn’t own a cellphone, according to information provided to the RCMP by his common-law partner.)

“This information will assist in determining if there are any co-conspirators to this tragic event,” writes RCMP Sergeant Angela Hawryluk in an application for a search warrant made on April 24. The RCMP has already seized a Toshiba laptop and verbatim SD card from Wortman’s Dartmouth office.  

The RCMP’s suggestion that co-conspirators may have been involved in Wortman’s massacre marks a curious twist in the case.

“You know what I know,” says Halifax-based lawyer David Coles.

Coles is representing various media outlets, led by the CBC, seeking the release of information related to at least 20 search warrants executed so far in the RCMP’s investigation into the massacre. A batch of seven search warrants, some of the contents of which have been redacted, have so far been released in a legal proceeding that has been taking place via teleconference since May.

Provincial and federal Crown prosecutors involved in the case have been keeping a tight lid on the release of information. They have argued in court that the redactions in the information released so far are necessary so as not to prejudice the RCMP’s ongoing investigation into the shooting. Coles will be cross-examining witnesses on the reasons for those redactions in court later this month, but it may be months before all information related to the search warrants is made publicly available.

On the theory of co-conspirators, the RCMP has already cleared two reportedly estranged relatives of Wortman who are former RCMP officers – and an officer with Halifax Regional Police described as an associate of Wortman’s – of any direct involvement in the case.

The RCMP says those individuals are not where Wortman acquired RCMP uniforms and equipment, including emergency lights for the RCMP replica cruiser he was driving during his assault. The RCMP now say Wortman purchased the lights “through a variety of online auctions.”

Meanwhile, more questions about the RCMP’s actions on the night of the massacre – and to what extent Wortman may have been known to the RCMP prior to his rampage – continue to emerge.

A number of individuals have already come forward publicly to say that they warned the RCMP about Wortman’s history of domestic violence and to make firearms complaints. The RCMP says that “this component of the investigation remains active.”

More recently, it’s been revealed that Truro police and the Criminal Intelligence Service of Nova Scotia, an umbrella police organization that shares intelligence with the RCMP among other police services, received an “officer safety bulletin” about Wortman in 2011. According to the bulletin, Wortman “was experiencing a mental health crisis, was in possession of a handgun and rifles, that he disliked police and wanted to kill a police officer.”

The RCMP says that the bulletin about Wortman “was not available to critical incident commanders or responding police officers as the events were unfolding on April 18 and 19,” when Wortman went on his killing spree.

The RCMP revealed in a press conference on June 4 to provide an update on their investigation that they were only made aware of the bulletin “days after the incident” and that the information “existed in the archives of another Nova Scotia police agency.” The RCMP says that “Generally, officer safety bulletins are purged from searchable police databases after two years.”

According to the RCMP, all but one of the five guns used by Wortman during his killing spree were acquired after the 2011 bulletin and all that all were obtained illegally. One of the guns used in the killing spree was taken from RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, who was killed by Wortman.

Here, too, there are conflicting versions of the circumstances surrounding Stevenson’s death.

The head of the RCMP union, Brian Sauve, has been quoted as saying that Stevenson rammed Wortman’s replica RCMP car in an attempt to apprehend the gunman. But the RCMP says that while the two cars collided, “we don’t believe that Cst. Stevenson rammed the gunman’s vehicle.”

The RCMP says that there was an exchange of gunfire between Stevenson and Wortman. Speculation has been that Stevenson was surprised by the gunman and didn’t know he was an imposter.

Despite the massive hunt marshalled to capture Wortman as events were unfolding, other media reports suggest there was little communication between the RCMP and other police forces throughout Wortman’s killing spree.

The RCMP maintains other police agencies were called to “cover calls for service in RCMP jurisdictions while our officers were occupied in the response.” The extent of the participation of other police forces, the RCMP says, involved “providing investigative assistance with priority witness interviews while the situation was unfolding, evacuating potential victims from residences known to the gunman as well as providing lockdown security to an area hospital where some of the injured victims were being treated.”

To date, more than 650 people – including individuals from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the United States – have been interviewed by the RCMP as part of its investigation into the shooting.

RCMP profilers and an RCMP forensic psychologist have been deployed “in an effort to better understand the gunman, why he committed these horrible crimes and to determine if there were any predictable factors that may assist in preventing future similar tragedies.” 

On the last part, debate about the RCMP’s handling of the incident continue to grow louder.

@nowtoronto