The RCMP officers who responded to the Moncton, N.B., shootings that left three Mounties dead and two others wounded in 2014 did not have the proper equipment or training, the Crown said Monday, the first day of the national police force's trial on charges of violating the Canada Labour Code.
"Had the RCMP complied with labour code requirements, our position is that at least some of the deaths and injuries could have been avoided," prosecutor Paul Adams told the Moncton provincial court during opening statements.
He said the officers were outgunned, bringing pistols and shotguns to a lopsided gun fight against more accurate and more powerful weapons used by Justin Bourque during his shooting rampage.
Seven of the officers were being trained to use six patrol carbines in Gagetown only a few days earlier, but neither the officers, nor the guns were in Moncton on the day of the shootings, said Adams.
Those weapons and hard body armour would have saved lives, he said.
But defence lawyer Mark Ertel argued the RCMP did not cause the deaths.
The force is committed to the training and safety of its members, he said, as Nadine Larche and Rachael Ross, who both lost their husbands during the shootings, looked on from the public gallery, along with about 30 other people.
On June 4, 2014, five officers were gunned down within 20 minutes as they responded to reports of a heavily armed man walking around the north end of Moncton.
Bourque was captured and convicted of the killings — he's serving the longest sentence in the country's history — after a 28-hour manhunt that put the north end under lockdown.
The trial was initially set to get underway last week, but was postponed because of a scheduling conflict.
After sitting for about two hours on Monday, court was adjourned until Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. AT., when the first witness is expected to be called.
Terry McKee who was the supervisor of two of the Moncton Mounties who died, told reporters outside the courthouse he's looking for accountability.
"Clearly decisions were made by management positions. So hopefully names will be brought to light," said McKeee, who is retired now but serves as media liaison with the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada (MPPAC).
Const. Louis-Philippe Thériault, who was working the night of the shootings, still finds it difficult to speak of the events. Like many members of the force, he dreaded the trial, but believes it's necessary.
"Hopefully during these procedures, we're going to find out the truth and get some answers to our questions," said Thérialt, who is the national secretary for MPPAC.
- RCMP faces Labour Code charges in Moncton Mountie shootings
Almost immediately after the fatal shootings, questions arose around whether the officers were prepared to deal with what awaited them.
The Mounties only had pistols to defend themselves against Bourque, with no one in the local RCMP detachment yet trained to use high-powered carbine weapons.
The officers who responded to the initial calls were also not wearing hard body armour.
Employment and Social Development Canada investigated, which happens any time a federal government employee dies on the job.
The investigation concluded in May 2015 with charges against the national police force, which was accused of four health and safety violations under the Canada Labour Code.
No individual RCMP manager or supervisor is named in the charges, which are:
- Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate use of force equipment and related user training when responding to an active threat or active shooter event.
- Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure their health and safety when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.
- Failing to provide RCMP supervisory personnel with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure the health and safety of RCMP members when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.
- Failing to ensure the health and safety at work of every person employed by it, namely: RCMP members, was protected.
Each charge carries a maximum fine of $1 million.
Just over two months have been set aside for the trial.
The RCMP pleaded not guilty to all charges and elected to be tried by judge only.
There have been a series of closed-door discussions between the national police force and the Crown since the charges were laid, but a resolution has not been reached.
Not the first time
An internal review of the shooting by retired assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil found the officers were outgunned by Bourque.
MacNeil's 64 recommendations included expediting the deployment of patrol carbines and training, which has since been undertaken across the force.
But the internal probe failed to satisfy some critics, who repeatedly called for a public inquiry into the shootings.
A similar review of the shooting of four Mounties who were ambushed and killed by a farm owner in Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005, had already concluded frontline officers needed high-powered rifles and training immediately.
- On mobile? Follow the live blog