March 17, 2022

How and When the MCC Will Address Questions of Motive

As we listened to the Mass Casualty Commission lawyers present their version of key early events through audio/visual PowerPoint presentations, and read through what they call Foundational Documents, something has been missing. The question of motive, or any evidence that might reveal potential motives, has not been interwoven with Commission lawyers’ attempts at factual narratives. This is notable.

In a way, not having this element of the individual scenarios included can detract from the overall narrative of the mass casualty, and make it seem like we are only getting part of the story. From media reporting, we know that in many of the fatalities, there was some connection between the killer and his victims that seems to align with theories on possible motives he may have had.

The Commission has made a deliberate choice to separate “What Happened?” from why any of it may have happened. This separation serves a legitimate purpose, in the sense that it allows us for a time to focus on the police response, somewhat in isolation. If we do not yet know too much about the perpetrator involved, it gives us better imaginative access to what we think a reasonable police response should have been, both for individual officers and collectively as a force.

When reviewing the police response to the active shooter situation, the question of whether there may have been any motive(s) matters very little. In such a scenario, the primary responsibility of the police is to stop the active shooter, regardless of whatever their motives may be. If the motive is obvious and clear to the police, there is always a chance that knowing it may help predict the actions of a perpetrator. Such clear predictability would seem to be a rare happening, and so police need to be trained and ready to confront an active shooter where little is known about the individual.

So, in terms of the police response, questions of motive are less relevant. In another sense, however, motive is very important, and a discussion of the motives of the mass casualty perpetrator can serve as a reminder of the other policing issue Commission must address, one that people who have only been following the MCC since the commencement of proceedings may not know is as important that being police intelligence.

In the Mass Casualty Commission Orders in Counsel (which are the federal and provincial legal orders that created the Commission and guide its work) “Related Issues” that the MCC is planning to examine in Phase Two are listed. Phase Two is when the Commission intends to “Explore Related Issues”, such as communication between and within agencies and services, as well as perpetrator interactions and relationships with police and social services. When it comes to communication between and within agencies and services, those agencies and services included are the RCMP, municipal police, Canadian Border Services, the Criminal Intelligence Service of Nova Scotia, the Canadian Firearms Program, and Alert Ready.

It seems as thought the agency at the center of this discussion will be the Criminal Intelligence Service. This is a special policing entity in Nova Scotia that is tasked with fighting organized crime, and managing the exchange of information among police agencies. It is made up of officers from the RCMP, as well as municipal forces throughout Nova Scotia. (There is also a Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, which seems likely to be closely related as an entity, though that is not obvious from publicly available information.)

The killer has been described as a “grievance collector”, and many motives have been speculated for some of the various individuals who became his victims during the mass shooting. There were some past romantic relationships, house and estate disagreements, personal slights, and alleged organized crime connections. Of course, no motive is a justification for murder, but examining these motives, and the potential police awareness of them, may give us a sense of the predictability of such criminal activity in Nova Scotia.

Here, many have come forward after-the-fact to say that the killer could be unpredictably violent (particularly when drinking), held irrational grievances, and had an antisocial and violent upbringing. Some people with that personality matrix go to counseling, or develop healthier friendships as they grow to adulthood, and go about their lives as productive citizens. Others become Gabriel Wortman. If you take that kind of personality, then add guns and a negative life shock of some kind, things can become very dangerous.

How much of the personal information that might prevent such a rare event can, or should, be known to police intelligence? When the Commission asks that difficult question, let us hope that the RCMP and other police services provide their full and honest cooperation. Particularly if there is any connection to organized crime that is relevant, the Commission should examine the extent to which any law enforcement was, or should have been, aware of Wortman as a criminal entity.

From the ongoing legal battle over the disclosure of search warrant documents, we have learned some of what was known and done by police intelligence. After the killings, the RCMP claimed to be doing ongoing investigations, and there was noted in stories at the time to be speculation that there may have been co-conspirators. Various leads were investigated in that regard, and the Commissioners should find out about what suspicions police may have had.

The RCMP had been warned (from very credible sources) in 2013 of Wortman’s history of domestic violence, and complaints regarding unlicensed firearms. Prior to that, in 2011, the Criminal Intelligence Service received an “officer safety bulletin” regarding Wortman, saying he was in a mental health crisis, had guns, and wanted to kill police.

He seems to have been a known weapons and drug smuggler, who crossed the U.S. border regularly in the course of his activities. He had connections, through friends, with criminal organizations, possibly had connections with prison guards, was unusually rich for a denturist, had purchased police articles online, and yet had nothing on his record other than a speeding ticket.

If the RCMP knew of Wortman in this sense, they must disclose it so that it can be examined. There are theories circulating, which have not been compellingly refuted, among people who are engrossed in the facts of this matter. For these people, and many others, bare denials will not be sufficient. Was he newly identified as a smuggler, and concerned about going to prison? Was he a confidential informant who had been outed to dangerous criminal organizations?

If the RCMP and the Criminal Intelligence Service did not know about him, despite factors that make him seem like the kind of guy who might be identified as a person of interest, then we need to look at the structure of our policing and ask why someone like this was not better known.

How much police intelligence activity is currently taking place and what form(s)? This is to be examined in Phase Two of the proceedings. When that happens, another question which has not yet come up, but which certainly will, is to what extent that part of the Mass Casualty Commission hearings will be public.

We know that the RCMP will have concerns about revealing intelligence methods and capabilities, and that they have shown great reluctance to disclose such information to date, through ITO process. There is no reason to expect that approach to change.

So, while we are now focused on one aspect of policing in Nova Scotia, the response to an active shooter situation, there are still more and different aspects to review as the MCC proceedings move along. While the lack of discussion on any motive the killer may have had has perhaps detracted from the public having a full understanding of the mass casualty narrative, that limit on detail has been a deliberate choice, which at this stage is a useful one to allow.

A fulsome discussion on the killer’s motives will take place, in Phase Two, as there is an important discussion yet to be head on those elements of this story. In that discussion, we will examine the detective work involved in police intelligence in Nova Scotia, and imagine ways to modernize our approach.