MONCTON, N.B. — A former RCMP commissioner was “contrived” in his testimony at the national police force’s Labour Code trial stemming from the shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., the Crown said Tuesday as he argued senior management knew for years that front-line officers were at risk.
Prosecutor Paul Adams called the testimony of recently retired commissioner Bob Paulson “virtually incomprehensible” and said he contradicted himself in categorically refusing to acknowledge that officers were not properly trained or equipped to respond to the fatal shooting on June 4, 2014, despite overwhelming evidence that says the opposite.
Paulson had testified he was involved in initial discussions about the introduction of the C8 carbine, which the RCMP approved in September 2011. He testified officers were reasonably trained and that the carbine rollout was reasonable.
“It’s disappointing. It’s evasive, contrived, self-serving evidence,” Adams said in his closing arguments before Moncton provincial court Judge Leslie Jackson.
“There was an entrenched unwillingness on the part of senior management … to admit anything that would have reflected badly on the RCMP’s position.”
The RCMP faces four Labour Code charges stemming from Justin Bourque’s 2014 shooting spree that left three officers dead and two injured. It is accused of failing to provide officers and supervisors with the appropriate equipment and training in an active-shooter event.
The C8 carbine rifles — a version of an assault rifle similar to an M16 — were not available to general duty officers during the rampage, and numerous witnesses have testified they could have made a difference.
Adams argued at least some of the deaths and injuries in Moncton could have been avoided had the force provided Mounties with the appropriate equipment and training.
He said the officers who responded to the shooting were outgunned and at a tactical disadvantage.
Adams said a briefing note roughly seven years before the shooting had recommended the RCMP look at adopting patrol carbine rifles, and argued the force therefore knew front-line officers were at risk. A subsequent study identified a firearms capability gap that needed to be addressed.
He argued evidence presented at the trial has established “without question” that the officers were not properly equipped or trained to deal with an active shooter incident.
Earlier Tuesday, RCMP lawyers argued the national police force exercised due diligence in arming general duty officers with C8 carbine rifles.
Defence lawyer Ian Carter said bureaucracy dictates how governments work and adopting patrol carbines for the RCMP took time for a number of reasons, including finances and federal procurement regulations.
But he argued that doesn’t mean the force wasn’t exercising due diligence in studying, approving and rolling out the carbines.
“They were working hard within the confines of what they had to deal with,” Carter said in his closing submissions.
“This is not a case where they were sitting back and doing nothing about carbines. Could a few things have been done differently? Maybe, but hindsight is 20-20.”
Adams argued the RCMP pushed the patrol carbine issue to the back burner for at least two years when it was dealing with the public backlash from the 2007 Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski, and that cannot be considered excising due diligence.
“Where’s the leadership? Where’s the prioritization? Where’s the due diligence?” asked Adams. “It’s not there.”
Carter said independent research was needed to support arming general duty officers with carbines, and said: “It wasn’t just about public relations.”
“The issue was complex and serious,” Carter said. “You just don’t go out and buy guns as a potential solution to every problem.”
Carter’s colleague, lawyer Mark Ertel, argued that when it comes to training officers for an outdoor active shooter event, the RCMP could not have reasonably foreseen that risk, and the frequency of such incidents is extremely low.
In fact, Ertel argued it was not possible to train officers for such an incident because that type of training did not exist for front-line officers in North America in 2014.
“The evidence establishes here that the training course that (the prosecutor) will say would have been a reasonable precaution did not exist. It was not available to the RCMP. They had to develop and implement it, and that’s what they did,” said Ertel.
“The analysis here is fatal to any submission that the RCMP had to provide something that did not exist.”
But Adams took issue with that, saying training could have been provided to front-line officers as special forces had such training for years.
“Doing nothing to address the risk cannot be due diligence,” Adams said.
Ertel also reiterated that the RCMP is not responsible for the deaths of constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Dave Ross and Doug Larche.
He said because of the nature of policing, “You cannot expect the RCMP to eliminate all threats to health and safety.”
The three Mounties were killed, and 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.
The rampage set off a 30-hour manhunt that drew in officers from around the region.
Jackson reserved his decision until Sept. 29.