Neils Harbour priest calls for revamp of RCMP's communication during emergencies

·3 min read
A stack of lobster traps can be seen at a roadside stop that overlooks the Anglican church in Neils Harbour.  (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)
A stack of lobster traps can be seen at a roadside stop that overlooks the Anglican church in Neils Harbour. (Erin Pottie/CBC - image credit)

A Cape Breton priest wants RCMP to reconsider how information is sent out after the death of a senior in her community sparked widespread panic and rumours.

Rev. Carolyn Sharp said a friend called Tuesday morning to tell her to lock her door because someone in the community of New Haven had been killed.

"I just felt afraid," said the rector of the Anglican church in Neils Harbour. "And I thought, well, I can lock my doors, but I have windows in all my doors, so it was frightening."

At around 12 p.m. Tuesday, RCMP issued a news release saying a 77–year–old man had died under suspicious circumstances. He was later identified as Gordon Budge, a well known man in the community.

Sharp said at that time, she heard local businesses were shutting down due to a rumoured threat.

Corporal Chris Marshall of the RCMP said a statement was issued on their Facebook page and website Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. telling residents that reports of an active shooter in the area were false, and there was no threat to public safety.

RCMP also told the public the incident involved people who knew each other.

"If you live in Halifax, that would relieve your fears," said Sharp. "But here, everybody knows everybody, so that didn't mean anything at all. It was a meaningless statement."

Social media updates not effective, says priest

Sharp said she missed the RCMP's afternoon note in her online search. She said many others were left wondering what was happening.

"Many of my parishioners are older, they don't use things like Facebook and no one here uses Twitter, so it would have been handy for RCMP to find a way to communicate to the community that they thought they were safe, that they did not need to be living in fear," she said.

"I think they need to look at how well they know people in a local community with whom they could create alliances with in this type of situation."

Sharp said RCMP could possibly partner with local fire chiefs to help reassure a community that everything is safe when something like this happens again.

She also suggested a possible alert system to reassure people that there is no risk of harm.

Erin Pottie/CBC
Erin Pottie/CBC

Marshall said RCMP only requests emergency alerts in situations of the utmost seriousness, when there is "credible information of a direct or imminent threat to people's lives or public safety."

He said the alerts are one tool used for mass public communication. Others include social media, websites and media relations.

Sharp said people in the community are still deeply upset with Budge's death. "He was very special to many, many people," said Sharp. "And I hope his family realizes how special he was to all of us, and how truly sad everybody is to have seen him leave our community this way."

Police arrested Brian Coady Rose, 22, without incident Tuesday. The New Haven man has been charged with second-degree murder.

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