Suzanne Davis scrolls through the messages on her tablet, warm sunshine falling on words her best friend will never read.
Davis still writes to her friend Susie Butlin, five years after Butlin was killed in her home in Bayhead near Tatamagouche, N.S., by a neighbour she'd reported to police for sexually assaulting and harassing her.
She tells Butlin how much she misses her, how Butlin's children are doing — and how she will never stop fighting to have Butlin's story heard.
But now she has good news to share.
On Tuesday the chairperson for the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), the RCMP's national watchdog, announced it will investigate how the Mounties handled Butlin's case leading up to her murder.
"I was like, I cannot believe this. I cannot believe that someone is going to listen. And out of the blue," Davis said from her home in Truro Heights, N.S.
"It's caused so much pain and heartache … she should never have died. This should never, ever, ever have happened."
Butlin was shot and killed by neighbour Ernie (Junior) Duggan on Sept.17, 2017. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder, and given a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 20 years.
The outline of the CRCC review from chairperson Michelaine Lahaie said she decided to launch the investigation after reviewing materials in Butlin's case and finding "several areas of concern" with how the RCMP responded to Butlin's complaints about Duggan.
The CRCC will look at all the events leading up to Butlin's murder, including her sexual assault complaint from August 2017 and the peace bond application against Duggan that the RCMP suggested she should pursue.
According to the agreed statement of facts of Butlin's murder, Butlin's peace bond application angered him even more than her spreading the word of the alleged sexual assault. He made threatening phone calls to Butlin "non-stop," Davis said, and during one incident in the month before the murder he was acting so aggressively his wife called the RCMP, worried for Butlin's safety.
But, while officers responded and talked to Duggan about his "problems" that night, he was only charged with impaired driving when the same Mounties saw him driving soon after.
Despite Butlin's regular calls to the RCMP reporting that Duggan had guns, may have vandalized her property and was leaving harassing phone calls, no actions were taken.
After one meeting Butlin had with an officer in Bible Hill, Davis said she called her and told her the RCMP had warned her she was becoming a "menace to society."
The peace bond application lays out Butlin's account of the sexual assault, in which she said Duggan exposed himself to her and forced her to touch him. Butlin said she kept saying "no" but was afraid that Duggan would rape her, and relented for her own safety.
The Truro provincial judge handling the application, Judge Alain Bégin, was concerned that Duggan's actions could be criminal and wrote to the Crown suggesting the RCMP look into the case further as it was "probably more than a peace bond."
Davis spoke out after mass shooting
But the RCMP reviewed Butlin's file again and decided not to lay charges.
"Susie at one point phoned me and she said, 'I'm not going to make the next court date … he's going to kill me before then.' And he did," Davis said.
The mass shooting that began in nearby Portapique in April 2020 led Davis to speak out. She told the Halifax Examiner that she felt the RCMP in Bible Hill ignored red flags around the gunman for years, just as they had ignored Butlin.
When Cathy Mansley read about how Butlin had been treated, she said it kept her awake at night.
As a retired RCMP officer of 24 years, who worked along the South Shore and Halifax area, Mansley said she was shocked but unfortunately not surprised to see how Butlin was treated.
So, Mansley reached out to Davis —who calls Mansley "my angel" — gathered all the documents, and took it to the CRCC last fall.
"I'm hoping that the CRCC really lays it on thick and gives Susan Butlin's family some closure and something that they can hang their hat on at the end of the day and say, 'You know, Mom, like this was for you,'" Mansley said.
Butlin's case was brought up during the public inquiry into the N.S. mass shooting this week. Various experts in a roundtable on gender-based violence said the officers seem to have had a fundamental misunderstanding of consent that affected the rest of their interactions with Butlin.
The inquiry also released a copy of an internal police review of Butlin's case, done a year after her murder. The report said Butlin's initial sex assault investigation was "incomplete," and suggests more training.
But Mansley said Butlin's family never knew this internal review was happening, and there was no apology. She also said more training is not the answer.
"What the problem is, is attitude ... they're trained to do this. They just don't do it. They neglect to do their jobs. And then people end up dead because of it," Mansley said.
"It's not just Bible Hill. It happens everywhere."
A spokesperson for the Nova Scotia RCMP said they are cooperating with the CRCC investigation, but it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on Butlin's case while it's underway.
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