Mountie who got to know killer before N.S. mass shooting says they weren't friends

·6 min read

HALIFAX — A Mountie who got to know the man who later murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia told a public inquiry Tuesday he did not consider Gabriel Wortman a friend, even though he visited the killer's rural home 15 or 16 times between 2007 and 2011.

Testifying under oath via video link, Const. Greg Wiley told the commission of inquiry that people following the case may have the wrong idea about the nature of his relationship with the killer, based on the number of times they met.

"He was never a personal friend of mine," said Wiley, an RCMP member since 2006. "I only ever stopped (at his home) to see him as a community contact," he added. "It's someone that might point you in the right direction informally."

The RCMP officer said Wortman was not an official "coded source," adding that he got to know him after the denture-maker called police to report a property crime in 2007 or 2008 — long before the killing rampage in April 2020.

"He was somebody who was handy .... He did a lot projects around his home," Wiley said. "He showed me some of those things and I got to know him."

Wiley went on to say Wortman helped him solve the property crime case by "keeping his ear to the ground" and reporting a probable suspect.

"I know in retrospect, as everyone looks at this and sees what he has done, they probably think I'm out of my mind. But at the time, that individual ... was level-headed, articulate, well-spoken, mannerly, seemed pro-police and he helped me with the investigation without taking things into his own hands."

Wiley said that during visits to Wortman's home in Portapique, N.S., he was always on duty and in uniform, and he said their interactions typically lasted less than 45 minutes, with most meetings wrapping up after 10 or 20 minutes.

Unlike other witness who have appeared before the inquiry in Halifax, Wiley was given an exemption from having his testimony broadcast via livestream.

On Friday, the commission said Wiley's appearance could only be viewed by inquiry participants, media and members of the public who submitted a request by email. The commission's decision also stated that audio and video of his testimony cannot be shared or published.

On the night of April 18, 2020, Wortman assaulted his common-law wife and fatally shot 13 people in Portapique while disguised as a Mountie and driving a car that looked exactly like an RCMP cruiser.

The next day, he killed another nine people — including a Mountie and a pregnant woman — before two RCMP officers shot him to death at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

The inquiry, which started hearings in February, has heard that in June 2010, Wiley was told to investigate allegations that Wortman had threatened to kill his parents. But his efforts led nowhere.

On Tuesday, Wiley repeatedly told the inquiry he did not recall the case or the Halifax Regional Police officer who asked him to contact Wortman to determine if he owned any weapons, which could have prompted a request for a search warrant.

According to an inquiry report released in May, the Halifax Regional Police service led the 2010 investigation into the alleged threats. The investigating officer, now-retired Sgt. Cordell Poirier, said he asked Wiley to visit Wortman's home to check for firearms.

Wortman's spouse, Lisa Banfield, told the inquiry on July 15 that Wiley had come to their Portapique property in June 2010 to see if there were guns at the residence. Banfield said Wiley was shown a couple of non-functioning antique guns during a visit that lasted 10 minutes.

On Tuesday, commission lawyer Jamie Van Wart read related statements from Poirier and Banfield and asked Wiley if they refreshed his memory.

"No it doesn't," he said. "Either my memory has slipped ... or it's coincidental that we talked about firearms around that same period of time."

Wiley was also asked about a second incident in May 2011, when an officer safety bulletin about the gunman was sent to all police agencies in the province, alleging Wortman owned firearms and wanted to "kill a cop."

Poirier has told the inquiry he recognized Wortman’s name and called the RCMP’s Bible Hill detachment and spoke with an on-duty supervisor who told him Wiley's file on Wortman would be reviewed to "determine what action, if any, was taken last year," and he would get back to Poirier.

However, Wiley again testified he didn’t remember the bulletin or any interaction with the supervisor about it.

Wiley testified he only had a vague memory, unconnected to the 2010 or 2011 incidents, of an email that had circulated among the RCMP that “talked about there being a threats complaints from New Brunswick to do with the perpetrator and members should be cautious in dealing with him.”

Near the end of the testimony, Commissioner Leanne Fitch said she was troubled that some of Wiley's memories of the perpetrator were fairly detailed, while he had "zero recollection" of the 2010 and 2011 incidents, adding "I'm struggling with that. I don't know how there can be that gap."

Wiley was also questioned about a 2017 murder case that is under federal review.

In August 2017, Wiley was an investigator after Susie Butlin complained about being sexually assaulted and harassed by her neighbour, Ernest Ross Duggan, in of Bayhead, N.S., according to an internal police report previously released by the inquiry.

The report says Wiley "determined there was no basis for charges" and advised Butlin to block Duggan on Facebook. Duggan killed Butlin the following month.

The investigation into Butlin's death is now under a federal civilian review examining the RCMP's response to her complaints and the adequacy of its handling of sexual assault investigations.

On Tuesday, Wiley testified that on Aug. 26, 2017 he took a call from Butlin and offered to phone Duggan and/or go to his home to speak with him, but she was concerned this would worsen the situation. He also said he told her not to hesitate to call police back if there was any change in the situation.

The officer became emotional, saying that when he heard of her murder, heclearly recalled the conversation.

"I can tell you as a human being I ran my phone call with Ms. Butlin innumerable times asking myself if there was anything more I could have done .... It's branded in your memory forever."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2022.

Michael MacDonald and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press