Changes made to N.S. alert system following mass shooting scrutiny

·2 min read
An RCMP vehicle is shown parked last year near Portapique, N.S., where the mass shooting began. (CBC - image credit)
An RCMP vehicle is shown parked last year near Portapique, N.S., where the mass shooting began. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia announced changes Thursday to the province's emergency alert system, a move that comes following heavy scrutiny of how police communicated with the public during last year's mass shooting rampage.

Nova Scotia RCMP and Halifax Regional Police will now have direct access to the Alert Ready System, which can send out emergency warnings by television, radio and to mobile devices. The option is available to other policing services across the province when and if they choose.

"Protecting the public is serious and difficult work, and we know that in certain situations alerts are one of the tools that can help to do that," Brendan Maguire, the minister responsible for the province's Emergency Management Office, said in a news release.

The province and police came together in a recent review and collaboration on the effective use of the Alert Ready System. In order to issue an alert, police had previously needed the help of EMO officials.

RCMP were criticized last year for not issuing an alert about the gunman disguised as a Mountie who went on a 13-hour shooting rampage through rural Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020, killing 22 people.

Instead, the force issued updates through its Twitter account, even though records show provincial officials were ready to send an alert and were waiting for word from the RCMP.

Alerts have been issued for 12 events in Nova Scotia between April 2020 and July 2021, nine of which have been police-related events.

EMO will continue to issue police-related alerts at the request of all policing agencies in Nova Scotia and for non-police matters such as floods and forest fires.

"Police across Nova Scotia are pleased to have the ability to seamlessly alert the public to major events occurring in their community and that, very importantly to all Nova Scotians, we have established consistent criteria to issue an alert," said Julia Cecchetto, the chief of the police for the town of Kentville and president of the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association.

Last year's mass shooting began in the small community of Portapique. In all, the killer travelled more than 150 kilometres before he was fatally shot by RCMP officers who recognized him when he pulled into a gas station about 30 kilometres north of Halifax, driving a car stolen from his last victim.

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