MONCTON, N.B. — No one took command during a 2014 shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., so officers were forced to make their own decisions amid the chaos, a retired assistant RCMP commissioner told the national police force’s Labour Code trial Wednesday.
Alphonse MacNeil, who was hired by the force to conduct an independent review of the shootings, said few front-line supervisors were trained to take control of such situations at the time.
He said more than 20 officers initially responded to the call, and no direction was being provided.
“You have to have control. You can’t have all of those members moving on their own,” said MacNeil in Moncton provincial court. “Someone had to be in charge. It’s not a time to consult, and nobody took on that role.”
The RCMP is accused of violating the Labour Code for allegedly failing to provide members and supervisors with the appropriate information, instruction, equipment and training in an active-shooter event.
MacNeil noted that the initial response to reports of a camouflage-wearing man wielding firearms in Moncton’s north end was appropriate, with members setting up a perimeter.
But operations then started to break down.
There was no “lethal force overwatch” during the first encounter with gunman Justin Bourque, meaning no one was in a position to take him down when he turned his weapon on police, said MacNeil.
Const. Fabrice Gevaudan — one of three Mounties who died on the evening of June 4, 2014 — was then fatally shot, he said.
MacNeil said there was a lack of communication, noting that no one went on the radio to clearly indicate what had happened to Gevaudan.
“Nobody really got on the air and clearly articulated what was happening so that responders would be well aware of the gravity of the situation,” said MacNeil, a former head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia.
MacNeil said officers had set up a staging area at a fire station, but it was in a “hot zone.” Ideally staging areas are set up further away from the threat.
There, no one took command.
The street next to the staging area was also not immediately blocked off, so civilians were still in the area, which affected how police reacted to the situation, said MacNeil.
He said the lack of coordination continued after the 20-minute window of the shootings, with members from other detachments arriving in the early hours of June 5 unaware of where they should go.
Officers were at a tactical disadvantage during the initial response because Bourque’s semi-automatic rifle and shotgun were more powerful than the Mounties’ pistols, said MacNeil. He also said none of the responding members had put on hard body armour.
“Both of those stood out to me as concerning,” said MacNeil, the final Crown witness in the trial. “No one went on air to say ‘We’re in a shooting situation, put on your hard body armour’.”
MacNeil’s 2015 report — which he was given a 90-day timeline to complete — made 64 recommendations and concluded that carbines could have made a difference in the incident.
He told the court the lack of carbines was a major factor in police tactics during the incident. When shots were fired, the perimeter was abandoned because the short range of officers’ duty pistols required them to move closer to the suspect.
He said Const. Dave Ross — who was fatally shot in his police cruiser — drove up right up to the shooter. If he had a carbine, he would have had other options, said MacNeil.
Carbines, which Mounties have testified are effective in outdoor active-shooter situations because of their range and accuracy, were not available to the Mounties in Moncton at the time.
The RCMP approved the C8 carbines in September 2011, but the rollout took time.
Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Mark Ertel, MacNeil agreed that it’s impossible to know how arming officers with carbines would have changed the incident.
MacNeil also reiterated to Judge Leslie Jackson that his findings were not to lay blame on any Mounties.
“This was a highly dangerous, highly emotional situation. They were doing the best they could with what they had,” he said.
The defence will open its case on Friday after a break in the trial on Thursday.
Gevaudan, Ross and Const. Doug Larche were killed, while constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were wounded when Bourque targeted police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government rebellion.
Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 75 years after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
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Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press