January 3, 2022

Analyzing the SIRT Report on the Final Moments of the NS Mass Casualty

As I covered in my last piece, SIRT is the Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response Team, a civilian oversight body that examines situations where police officers use their firearms. SIRT has reviewed the final moments of NS Mass Shooter Gabriel Wortman’s killing spree, when he was shot dead by two RCMP officers at the Irving Big Stop in Enfield at 11:25am on April 19, 2020.

To almost nobody’s surprise, SIRT has cleared Cst. Craig Hubley and his partner of any wrongdoing in the incident, which brought to an end a terrifying ordeal for the people of central Nova Scotia and beyond. Reviewing the SIRT report and further evidence uncovered since that time does not detract from the skill and mettle of these two officers in those critical moments, but does raise questions about what was known to SIRT when the report was written, and also about possible connections between Wortman and the police.

The SIRT report notes that when he arrived at the Big Stop, Wortman was driving a stolen vehicle, and had a cache of weapons, including three handguns and two semi-automatic rifles. Notably, Wortman had switched vehicles at his previous stop, changing from the Ford Escape (improperly noted in the SIRT report to be a Chevy Tracker) he had driven after killing Joey Webber, to a grey Mazda 3 he had stolen from his last victim, Gina Goulet. He had also changed out of his RCMP clothing.

The SIRT report notes that Wortman stopped for gas at the Big Stop, and that two Emergency Response Team officers coincidentally stopped at the same time, on the opposite side of the same pump. The report states that one officer saw that the man in the car was bleeding and recognized him as Wortman, exited his police vehicle “to begin refueling”, saw Wortman reach for a gun, and opened fire.

It all sounds like something out a movie, but the vague language used by former Justice Cacchione may also have the effect of concealing some details we have come to know from other sources.

Reliable sources have provided media with details of police radio traffic, and we have been able to see the actual video of the Big Stop shooting, as well as Wortman encountering the police just minutes prior to the Big Stop shooting at a gas station down the highway in Enfield. Collectively, these additional details significantly change the narrative of the final moments of Wortman’s killing spree.

First of all, we have video from the Petro-Canada in Enfield that shows Wortman pulling up to a gas pump, then getting back in his car (Ms. Goulet’s grey Mazda 3) and driving to another pump, before finally driving off without filling up, all while being watched by ERT officers who were at the next pump.

Then, we have a witness from the Onslow Fire Hall incident, who after seeing the shooting there, went to tell officers at a nearby checkpoint about what had happened, and overheard on the police radio that the killer was “driving a grey Mazda 3”, after which the officers all suddenly took off in the direction of Halifax.

Finally, the video from the Big Stop does not show Cst. Hubley exiting his vehicle and making any motions consistent with filling up a vehicle with gas. Instead, he and his partner quickly exit their vehicle and start shooting immediately, killing Wortman. This is consistent with what civilian witnesses have stated took place at the Big Stop, who also noted that the RCMP Suburban pulled up to the pump at ‘high speed’.

It appears that the police knew they had Wortman spotted at the Petro-Canada in Enfield, then tracked him to the Big Stop intending to stop him there one way or another. The officers in the Suburban exited their vehicle ready for action, and, knowing what kind of threat they were confronting, they fired at the first sign of a sudden movement from inside the car.

That still seems like a justifiable shooting on the part of the RCMP officers, and so it is all the more curious that the RCMP account does not match the available evidence. That suggests there is still something they are trying to conceal from the public.

Consider the question that is not asked if you accept the RCMP explanation. Nobody is asking why not stay at a distance, set up some kind of perimeter and try to take him alive, if the story is that they just “coincidentally” happened to pull up to the adjacent pump and then were effectively forced to spring into action.

One might imagine some reasonable explanations for not wanting to risk setting up something like that in such a public and potentially fluid situation. You would need to know in advance exactly where he was, and clear an area around him somehow before he took off, or worse, killed more innocent people. After this SIRT report, however, that question was never asked, though it must have been considered by someone in the RCMP during those crucial minutes.

A mass shooter, who clearly intended to keep killing, was stopped with no further loss of life at a very public location. From that perspective, things could be said to have worked out very well at the Big Stop. The question is whether any planning took place in the 4-5 minutes Wortman took to get from the Petro-Canada to the Big Stop, and whether those plans or instructions included orders to kill on sight rather than risk trying anything else.

What we have is an organized effort made to craft a story that does not seem to need crafting. That in itself lends credibility to the doubtful.

The SIRT report covers the final moments of the NS Mass Casualty event, and perhaps because of the more narrow focus of SIRT, coupled with the fact that Wortman was the victim affected the conclusions. The Mass Casualty Commission should delve into these details so that we can learn how our police prepare for and deal with these scenarios, and why they have chosen to conceal or obfuscate some of the mass shooting’s final moments.