RCMP felt 'outgunned' years before 3 Moncton officers slain, labour trial hears

The RCMP felt "outgunned" years before the shooting deaths of three Moncton Mounties and the wounding of two others in 2014, a senior officer testified Thursday at the national police force's trial on charges of violating the health and safety provisions of the labour code.

Supt. Troy Lightfoot, a 31-year veteran and expert in the use of force, said he believed better tools and tactics were required to respond to active shooters following the 2005 killings of four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alta.

"We felt the RCMP was outgunned," he told the Moncton courtroom during the fourth day of the trial.

"It was obvious we had a gap in our firearms capability."

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Although carbines — high-powered, short-barrelled rifles with a longer accurate range than pistols or shotguns — were recommended for front-line officers in 2006, the feedback from management was that more research was needed, said Lightfoot.

"It was overwhelming," he said, echoing the comments of Supt. Bruce Stuart, a certified instructor in carbine training, who testified on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Lightfoot said he expressed concerns to management about a lack of resources and personnel on the carbine project. He felt they needed to address the officer safety concerns that had been raised with respect to potentially lethal encounters.

He said he, like Stuart, also advocated for a national rollout, but senior management stuck with plans for a divisional rollout.

The Taser death of a citizen at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007 added to the workload and slowed progress, given criticisms from media and other groups that the force hadn't done comprehensive research before adopting Tasers, said Lightfoot.

"We were told we needed to do independent research" on carbines, he said. "That was the 'new' model we had to follow now."

Asked by the Crown how long the fallout from the Taser death continued, Lightfoot said it was still going on when he left in 2009. 

"And I'm sure it continued until after I left."

"Limited" work was being done on the carbines project during that time, he said. "It was just unattainable to attain it alone, or without any additional resources."

Carbines approved in 2011

Acquiring carbines was ultimately approved by the force in 2011, but no deadlines or targets were set for when all officers should receive them, said Lightfoot.

Codiac Regional RCMP did not have carbines when Justin Bourque went on his shooting rampage in Moncton, killing three officers and wounding two others on June 4, 2014, the courtroom heard.

The Mounties had only pistols to defend themselves against Bourque, who was armed with a high-powered rifle, and the officers who responded to the initial calls were not wearing any hard body armour. Five officers were gunned down within 20 minutes.

It was only after Bourque's attack that carbine training and deployment were sped up for all divisions, including New Brunswick, said Lightfoot.

Instructors were sent to 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown near Oromocto to train front-line officers, and he was asked by senior management to bring body armour to Moncton as soon as possible, he said, estimating he delivered about 50.

Financial concerns

Earlier in the trial, Stuart testified the 2005 killings in Mayerthorpe were the key driver to equip officers with carbines. However, the effort was slowed down because of financial concerns.

Stuart said he voiced his concerns about the project focusing on resources rather than officers' safety, but the project went ahead with financial restrains with some departments waiting years to get carbines.

He also said the 2007 Taser death of Robert Dziekański at the Vancouver airport also affected the roll-out of carbines, contributing to many studies being done out of fear of public scrutiny.

Justin Bourque, who was captured after a 28-hour manhunt that put Moncton's north end under lockdown, was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to the longest jail term in Canadian history.

The labour code trial is scheduled to continue on Friday with cross-examination of Lightfoot. Just over two months have been set aside for the trial.

The RCMP has pleaded not guilty to four charges under the Canada Labour Code. Each charge carries a maximum fine of $1 million. No individual RCMP manager or supervisor is named in the charges.

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Clarification : An earlier version of this story gave Troy Lightfoot's rank as an inspector. Lightfoot is a superintendent with the RCMP.(Apr 27, 2017 9:11 AM)