HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia was asked Wednesday to sort out conflicting evidence about how the RCMP responded to a woman who says she alerted police years ago to the killer’s arsenal of illegal weapons.
Brenda Forbes, a former neighbour of the man who killed 22 people on April 18-19, 2020, says she told police in 2013 that Gabriel Wortman possessed illegal weapons when she filed a complaint about an alleged incident of domestic violence involving him and his spouse in Portapique, N.S.
Anastacia Merrigan, a participating lawyer at the inquiry, said there are discrepancies in evidence provided to the inquiry about two complaints involving Wortman — the one from Forbes and another investigated by RCMP Const. Greg Wiley, who had a personal relationship with the killer.
In a summary of evidence released Tuesday — known as a foundational document — the inquiry learned that responding officers took “minimal notes” at the time of Forbes’s complaint and that other information had been purged from RCMP files.
“To date, the foundational document has adopted the evidence provided by the RCMP almost without question,” Merrigan told the inquiry on Wednesday. “(The commission) has not made significant attempts to investigate the conflicting evidence that arises from Brenda Forbes and from Const. Wiley.”
The summary of evidence indicates the RCMP had doubts about Forbes’s complaint when she publicly complained about the lack of followup soon after the massacre in 2020.
An RCMP email dated June 9, 2020, says there “seems to be a discrepancy” in Forbes’s memory of her call to police. The email says there was no record of a “domestic occurrence” on the day Forbes described. “Our member who spoke to her in 2013 says he believes that call was about Brenda — not about a domestic against someone else,” the email states.
Forbes subsequently told the inquiry in an Aug. 19, 2021, interview that police never called her back about her complaint.
Merrigan, who represents an anti-violence organization called the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, said Forbes should be asked to testify at the inquiry.
“The commission needs to understand what happens when complaints are made,” Merrigan said. “This will inform the understanding of why people do not complain.”
As well, Merrigan said Wiley should be asked to testify about his friendship with Gabriel Wortman and the officer’s handling of a complaint in June 2010 that alleged the gunman had threatened to kill his own parents in New Brunswick.
“That relationship relates directly to whether or not investigations were made into threats against the perpetrator’s family and whether he possessed weapons — legal or illegal,” she said.
The inquiry has heard the RCMP in Moncton and Halifax Regional Police received two complaints about the alleged threat, but an investigation led nowhere.
A report from Halifax Regional Police Sgt. Cordell Poirier says he went to killer’s home in Dartmouth, N.S., where he and another officer spoke to his spouse, Lisa Banfield. The report says the officers left after she told them there had been a dispute over money and that there were no weapons in their home.
A check of the Canadian Firearms Registry showed Wortman had no registered weapons, Poirier said. The inquiry has heard Wortman had by that time obtained a number of illegal firearms and never obtained a firearms licence.
Eventually, Poirier said he spoke with Wortman, who told him over the phone that he did not own any usable weapons.
That’s when the file was handed to Wiley, who had known Wortman since 2007 or 2008. Wiley told the inquiry’s investigators he couldn’t recall speaking with Poirier in 2010. As well, RCMP lawyers later confirmed that Wiley has been unable to find any of his notes related to the killer.
The inquiry has heard that plenty of Wortman’s friends, neighbours and acquaintances knew about his cache of illegal weapons and the replica RCMP cruiser that he used to evade police capture during his 13-hour rampage. The RCMP say they have no record of any related complaints.
Lawyer Linda Hupman told the inquiry that raises tough questions as to how this happens.
“People don’t feel compelled to act on that information,” said Hupman, whose firm represents relatives of four of the killer’s victims: Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck and their 17-year-old daughter Emily Tuck, as well as Lillian Campbell.
“Is it a product of our culture, our communities, our laid-back Nova Scotia lifestyle?”
Hupman said the inquiry should pursue these questions as part of its mandate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2022.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press