N.S. inquiry: Senior RCMP officer pushed to withhold police safety bulletin on killer

·3 min read

HALIFAX — One of the RCMP's highest-ranking officers has told a public inquiry that after a gunman killed 22 people in Nova Scotia in 2020, he opposed informing the public that a police bulletin had raised red flags about the killer nine years earlier.

Deputy commissioner Brian Brennan told the inquiry Friday that other senior officers suggested during an "issues management" meeting on May 12, 2020, that the bulletin -- which a municipal force issued but RCMP members received -- should be shared with the public.

But Brennan rejected the idea.

Testifying via video link, he said that he believed the bulletin should not be released because it was unclear what impact it would have on the RCMP and that the Mounties should first speak with the police service that issued the bulletin.

"When they spoke about going out with this information publicly, the question was, 'To what end?'" Brennan testified Friday. "What are we trying to articulate to the public about that bulletin? .... We weren't the originators of that document."

As well, Brennan said he was confident the document would eventually be submitted as evidence at some sort of inquiry into the April 2020 killings.

"There would be other forums to have a discussion around it," he said. "I do recall providing advice that it may be best for RCMP ... to have contact with those police services to have a conversation ... to be on the same page."

The bulletin had been distributed to all police forces in the province on May 4, 2011, after an officer with the Truro Police Service learned from a source that Gabriel Wortman wanted "to kill a cop" and was possibly in possession of at least one handgun and several long rifles.

The internal warning was not made public until May 29, 2020, when CBC News obtained it through a freedom of information request.

The contents of the bulletin confirmed that police across Nova Scotia were aware Wortman could be dangerous nine years before his shooting rampage, even though the RCMP had stated shortly after the murders he was not known to police.

Last year, Truro police Chief David MacNeil told inquiry investigators that shortly after the mass murder, he took part in a call with senior RCMP officers who he said "nudged" him not to release the bulletin.

On Friday, commission lawyer Jamie Van Wart read from a statement given to the commission by RCMP Supt. Costa Demopoulos, who attended the May 2020 issues management meeting with Brennan.

"They recommended not to go out proactively (with the bulletin), which we took as a little bit of a surprise because I didn't think it was a big deal," Demopoulos said. "We reiterated our request that we were going to go out with this, and it was a strong no from the centre, from national headquarters, which I didn't agree with."

Van Wart then asked Brennan: "Would you not think this is information, in May 2020, that Nova Scotians would want to know — that a bulletin ... was directly related to the perpetrator?"

Brennan said he was sure that people would "want to know" about the bulletin.

"But I'm not sure I would know the reasons why or what effect it would have at that time," he said. "As opposed to it coming out ... in terms of a public inquiry. We don't, as a practice in policing, provide intelligence or information bulletins like this to the general public."

The inquiry has heard Wortman assaulted his common-law wife on the night of April 18, 2020, and then fatally shot 13 people in Portapique, N.S., 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.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2022.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press