April 12, 2022

MCC Day 12 – Onslow Belmont Fire Hall and Shubenacadie

I attended the MCC proceedings in person for the first time, and heard the Foundational Document presentations on the police shootings of the Onslow Belmont Fire Hall and the subsequent events in the Shubenacadie area. Those later events included the deaths of Cst. Heidi Stevenson, and Joey Webber. There was also a witness panel from the Fire Hall, which featured Chief Greg Muise, Deputy Chief Darrell Currie, and Richard Ellison.

The proceedings are taking place in a cavernous room in the new Nova Centre, where the setup leant the proceedings more of a feel of a law conference than a courtroom. The presentations and panel discussions reinforced this conference feeling.

It was good to see people face to face with whom previously I had only interacted virtually. I was able to speak with some of the lawyers involved as well, many of whom it turns out have been following The Rodgers Brief. They are certainly frustrated with the process that has been developed by the MCC on evidence presentation. MLA Tom Taggert was present as well, ably supporting his constituents.

The presentation of the fire hall shooting was lead by MCC lawyer, Roger Burrill. He discussed the mistaken shots by two RCMP officers at a fellow officer and an EMO coordinator who the officers claim to have thought was the killer. Though you would not know this from hearing the Commission’s presentation, there are significant discrepancies in the accounts of the officers, as compared to other witnesses, including the suggestion that a warning was shouted to the mistaken targets. It was a very dangerous situation, which will no doubt be the subject of further witness examinations.

The panel of witnesses revealed the terror felt by those inside the fire hall, who thought the killer was the one firing at them, and the mental health struggles the memories have engendered. They also discussed how nobody told them things were safe once the misunderstanding was established. Instead, they had to wait nearly an hour to learn they were not in mortal danger. Those inside the fire hall very reasonably presumed that it was the killer who was shooting at them, and some of them sent texts and made calls that they thought would be their final words.

In addition to the shots themselves, the actions of the officers after they realized their mistake are curious. They circled the building and pounded on an exterior door, which terrified those inside even further. Did they think Cst. Gagnon was being held hostage? Why move so slowly when you know the killer is still on the loose, and likely not far away?

The panel was a valuable exersie, and the participants demonstrated courage by attending and speaking out. It was clear, however, that from the MCC perspective, this was a performative excersie, rather than an attempt to actually learn anything. They had practiced their exchanges with the MCC lawyer, which can carry the risk of losing the natural energy that comes with telling a story. That did not happen, but what did happen was the MCC lawyer seemed unable or unwilling to ask obvious follow-up questions when unexpected answers or comments took place. When Darrell Currie said he did not believe Cst. Terry Brown, and Richard Ellison said he saw Wortman’s illegal guns, the comments were just left hanging. This demonstrates to me that the MCC was not so much looking for answers or information, but rather just wanted to placate witnesses and community members by allowing some to “share their experience”.

The Shubenacadie Foundational Document presentation laid out two confrontations the killer had with two individual RCMP officers, including the fatal encounter with Heidi Stevenson. Cst. Chad Morrison was able to drive away from the killer despite being shot. Cst. Stevenson was rammed head on by the killer in his mock police cruiser, and though she was able to fire 14 or 15 shots at him, she was killed in the firefight.

The MCC stated that they have concluded that the push bar on the killer’s mock police cruiser was not an advantage in the head-on collision, and we will have to wait to see whether the lawyers for the other parties question that conclusion. Cst. Stevenson may have been disoriented by the collision, and thus been at a major disadvantage during the subsequent firefight.

There was a tragic, not unreasonable, misunderstanding involved in Cst. Morrison’s shooting. He saw a police car and asked over the radio who was approaching. Cst. Stevenson was, in fact, approaching, but from the opposite direction and radioed back that it was her. Cst. Morrison was able to escape and get himself to the nearest EHS depot. Had Cst. Stevenson arrived seconds earlier or later, things would have unfolded much differently.

Earlier that morning, Heidi Stevenson had suggested that an alert go out to the public about the active shooter situation. Had her advice been heeded, Joey Webber would likely still be alive. He was out running some errands, and happened upon the scene of the two officers. Being a good Samaritan, he stopped to offer his help, and was also killed. We did not hear much about Mr. Webber in the presentation, and hopefully his family will have a chance to tell more of his story as the proceedings unfold.

The MCC is back on Wednesday.