Top Mountie in area of N.S. mass shooting stayed home to avoid command confusion

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HALIFAX — The senior RCMP officer in the district where the Nova Scotia mass shooting occurred says he stayed home during the rampage because having a "white shirt" present at the command post would have caused confusion.

In his interview last month with the public inquiry, Archie Thompson, who retired about six months after the April 18-19, 2020, killings, said if he had left his home about 90 kilometres south of the command post and driven to the scene, it would have raised questions about who was running the operation.

At the time, the veteran officer had been superintendent in charge of the RCMP's Northeast Nova district for almost four months, and he wore the white shirt of a commissioned officer.

In his interview released Friday by the inquiry, Thompson outlined difficulties reaching his second-in-command for the district, Staff Sgt. Steve Halliday, on the phone during some of the tension-filled moments as the killer drove a replica police cruiser on April 19 and continued his murders in the Wentworth area.

Twenty-two people, including a pregnant woman, would die before police shot the perpetrator at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

Thompson said his notes indicated that at 9:52 a.m. on April 19, Halliday sent him a message saying "shots fired," and then was unable to provide a further update as he was busy. Thompson said that more than an hour later, at 10:57 a.m., Halliday sent another message saying, "We have major issues," and telephoned his commander 15 minutes later to relay information about additional deaths.

However, Thompson said being present at the command post where Halliday was assisting Staff Sgt. Jeff West, the critical incident commander, wouldn't have helped.

"I wouldn't want to do that and inject myself into the investigation .... The rank, the colour of the uniform tends to have an impact when I show up," he said.

While the retired superintendent said it was his role to "get the resources moving along if required," he said through the night he heard that the RCMP officers on the scene had sufficient personnel.

Asked by the commission lawyer if he should have been at the scene to determine this, Thompson responded that he didn't believe that would be the normal procedure.

Thompson's interview also indicated that he was among those asked by Halliday the morning of April 19 to look into notifying the public that police had learned the killer was armed and driving a replica RCMP vehicle.

Halliday testified in May that he confirmed the replica vehicle was still unaccounted for at 7:55 a.m. on April 19, and had noted at about 8 a.m. "this has to be communicated out to the (RCMP) members, all municipal agencies, police departments and border crossings and we have to get it out to the public as soon as possible."

Thompson's notes say that at 8:22 a.m., he and Halliday "discussed the need to ensure this information was made public," and six minutes later, he called Chief Supt. Chris Leather, the second-highest ranking officer in the province, to provide "an update" and get a number for Lia Scanlan, the director of strategic operations.

Thompson said he called Scanlan at 8:39 a.m. and informed her about the marked police car, and she agreed she would call a sergeant at the command post. Thompson told the public inquiry lawyer he then left the matter with her, and said it was her department's responsibility.

Halliday testified in May that he was surprised the message about the replica vehicle didn't go out to the public until 10:17 a.m., more than two hours after his notes recorded he wanted this to occur.

Lawyers for family members have criticized the delay, noting that during the extra hours of delay at least six people were killed on April 19.

The inquiry has said that the precise role Leather may have played in the delay is unclear and in a summary it published May 17 said that inquiry staff were still investigating Leather's role in this. He is expected to testify before the inquiry next week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2022.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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