Mass shooting inquiry: Former Mountie says he quit over quashed alert system proposal

·4 min read

HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the Nova Scotia mass shooting has heard from a former Mountie who says he became so frustrated trying to get the RCMP to adopt a new public alerting system that he quit the police force.

Mark Furey, who later served as Nova Scotia's justice minister, said that in January 2012 he was an RCMP staff sergeant when he recommended the police force should start using the National Public Alerting System, which at the time could broadcast intrusive alerts via television and radio.

"Managed properly, the availability and application of a (public alerting system) in Nova Scotia could be considered an asset to front-line police service providers in response to emergency situations; i.e. forest fires, floods, meteorological events," Furey's briefing note said.

But Furey said in a statement submitted to the inquiry last month that his superiors shot down the idea, leaving him feeling frustrated.

"There were numerous and difficult discussions" with senior RCMP officers, Furey told the inquiry in a statement dated Aug. 22. "They were not supportive of the concept .... These frustrations were key factors in my decision to retire early in September 2012."

After a gunman killed 22 people in rural Nova Scotia during a rampage that stretched over 13 hours in April 2020, the RCMP faced intense criticism for failing to use the public alerting system now known as Alert Ready. The system can be used to issue intrusive public warnings through radio, TV and wireless devices.

The Mounties have repeatedly said Alert Ready was not part of their "tool box" at the time, though the police force was in the process of preparing such an alert when the gunman was shot dead by two Mounties on April 19, 2020.

Furey's 2012 recommendation and its subsequent rejection was discussed during inquiry hearings on Friday, when one of the RCMP's highest-ranking officers was asked why the police force had turned its back on the idea.

Deputy commissioner Brian Brennan, who in 2012 was the RCMP's criminal operations officer in Nova Scotia, said he recalled conversations about the proposal, in terms of investment, resources, training and policy compliance. "We just didn't have the infrastructure," he testified. "I just don't think the pieces were in place."

Brennan said he did not recall any direct conversations with Furey in 2012, and he indicated that other senior Mounties turned down the alert system proposal.

"I don't recall anything coming to my level for a decision," he said, adding that no consideration was given to using the system to alert the public about police investigations, including active shooter situations.

In his statement, Furey told the commission of inquiry that he never received a written response from the RCMP.

Earlier this year, the head of Nova Scotia's Emergency Management Office, Paul Mason, confirmed that the Mounties hadn't considered using Alert Ready on April 18-19, 2020, until his organization suggested it.

"At the end of the day, it didn't cross their minds," Mason told inquiry investigators on Feb. 15. “I find it surprising you could have an event go on from, like, 10:30 on Saturday night till 11:30 on Sunday and nobody thought about an alert until we called them."

The inquiry has heard the RCMP largely relied on Twitter to issue public warnings about what was happening. But some of the victims' relatives have complained the warnings on social media were of little use to people in rural settings, where Twitter isn't that popular.

As well, previously released evidence has confirmed senior RCMP officers were worried that a broader public alert could have put officers in danger by causing a panic. The Mounties have also suggested that 911 operators could have been overwhelmed by callers seeking information.

Mason said the Mounties were well aware of the system's capabilities by 2020. In 2016, the RCMP rejected an EMO offer to assume responsibility for issuing police alerts, he said.

But on April 30, 2021 — more than a year after the shooting rampage — the Nova Scotia RCMP signed an agreement authorizing the Mounties to issue their own alerts through the Alert Ready system.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2022.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press