April 13, 2022

MCC Day 13 – Hwy 224, the Big Stop, Chief Medical Examiner Testimony, and Gaps Identified

Today’s proceedings involved Foundational Document presentations about the death of Gina Goulet at her home on Highway 224, and then the final moments of the killer’s life when he was shot and killed by Cst. Craig Hubley and Cst. Ben MacLeod at the Irving Big Stop in Enfield. There was also witness testimony from NS Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Matthew Bowes, addressing both the post-mortem on Gabriel Wortman, and then later answering questions about the Fitbit data and time of death of Heather O’Brien, as well as submissions from lawyers regarding gaps in the Foundational Document presentations, and witnesses from whom they would like to hear.

Before we get to those, there were two, somewhat related, items which caught my attention after the proceedings on Monday were finished. First was a story from Saltwire dealing with the possibility that the perpetrator had access to the radio communications from the police at various times during his killing spree. Wortman had purchased a Motorola police radio in 2006, and it is unclear whether it may have been functional. If it was, it may have been helpful to him in evading capture, as police were using unencrypted radio channels overnight and into the morning of April 19, 2020.

The radio question may be relevant to the Onslow Belmont Fire Hall shooting incident. People had questioned whether Wortman may have deliberately misled the police over the radio, and somehow caused the shooting. He had driven his mock cruiser past the fire hall just 10 minutes prior to Csts. Brown and Melanson’s arrival, so there was a hypothesis that perhaps he had falsely radioed that the killer was parked at the fire hall. No such evidence has yet been identified in reviewing the radio communications that have been made available.

The other possibility I have considered is whether Csts. Brown or Melanson may have received a tip on their personal phones. Given the distance from the fire hall where they originally stopped and fired their shots, coupled with the lack of any warning being shouted, supports a conclusion that the officers felt very certain that they had the killer in their sights.

So, either they are protecting someone who had provided them with the incorrect information, or else they acted in a completely reckless fashion. It appears that nobody, including the SIRT or MCC investigators, has requested the officers’ personal phone records.

Day 13 of the Commission proceedings covered important territory, picking up the narrative after the deaths of Cst. Heidi Stevenson and Joey Webber, Commission lawyer Roger Burrill presented the Foundational Document regarding the death of denturist Gina Goulet, who lived on Highway 224, south of Shubenacadie.

Ms. Goulet knew the killer as a fellow denturist. He had apparently pointed out her cottage on the drive the day previously with Ms. Banfield, and she had previously rejected an offer from him to work for him in his Dartmouth operation. News reports also suggest Ms. Goulet may have embarrassed Wortman with a comment at a denturist conference a few years prior to his killing spree. So, they certainly knew each other.

The circumstances suggest, however, that he was not targeting her as a specific victim, but rather took an opportunity to hide from the pursuing police officers, switch vehicles, and change clothing in order to stay disguised. He had originally driven past her home, then did a U-turn and went back and up her driveway, suggesting the idea may have just come to him. After he killed Ms. Goulet, the perpetrator changed out of his RCMP uniform and switched to her vehicle, which was a Mazda 3.

Picking up the narrative, Commission lawyer, Anna Mancini presented the Big Stop Foundational Document. This document outlines the final moments where the perpetrator was shot and killed by two RCMP officers. The key question I had going into this presentation was whether the MCC would support the conclusions reached in the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) report. The SIRT report ignored the earlier stop at the Petro Canada station in Elmsdale, or else perhaps conflated the activities at the two gas stations.

Ms. Mancini did not follow the SIRT report in this regard, but instead did in fact show the images from both gas stations. The killer had attempted to get gas at the Petro Canada station, and at that time had arrived at the exact same time as police in their ERT SUV. The police also needed gas, though neither party could fill up at the Petro Canada, as the tanks were shut off.

The killer then proceeded south on the Trans Canada Highway to the Big Stop exit. There, he stopped at pump five. The ERT SUV (a different one then was at the Petro Canada) stopped at the opposite side of the same pump. Cst. Hubley, the driver, got out, immediately drew his weapon, and started shooting. The killer reached for a gun, in an apparent effort to kill himself before the officers could either do so, or arrest him. He did shoot himself in the head, though Dr. Bowes, testified that the shots from the officers likely killed him first.

The videos from the Big Stop have been previously published in Frank Magazine, though the Commission only showed still images. This is slightly misleading, as when you see the video, one is left with the impression that the officers parked and instantly exited the vehicle and started shooting, leaving no time for either observation or reflection, and suggesting that perhaps they knew it was him before they stopped. That same impression is not quite so clear when you only look at still images. We will hear from the officers tomorrow when they testify, and so perhaps the videos themselves will be played in full at that time.

Not included in the Foundational Document report were two items of potential interest. One was that Cst. Brown had another (his third) near blue-on-blue shooting, when he saw a person near a checkpoint and radioed that he was going to “take him down”. The person was quickly identified to Cst. Brown as a Halifax Regional Police officer.

The other omitted detail was two so-far-unidentified police vehicles driving in opposite directions on the Big Stop on/off ramp by the truck scales (the same ramp the killer took) just before the killer arrived. It is not clear what those officers may have been doing, or what, if anything, they observed.

Dr. Bowes came back in the afternoon to testify about Heather O’Brien and the Fitbit data issue. He says that she likely died nearly instantly, but that sometimes parts of the body other than the brain will continue to function for a few minutes. That does not entirely explain the Fitbit data, but may provide some comfort to the families.

Finally, there were submissions from lawyers on gaps identified in the Foundational Document material. There were many requests for witnesses, and what I would characterize as respectful but highly critical comments about the process of Foundational Document presentations. Among the critiques was the brevity of the presentations (they have been 30 minutes to an hour long, typically), particularly as compared to the length of the documents upon which they are based. Another issue is the gap in time between when the FD’s are presented and when there is an opportunity for other parties to speak to the gaps in the narrative, or witnesses that should be called to give the public a complete and trustworthy factual narrative.

I will be looking to see if the Commissioners come out with a direct response to that criticism. If they do not, there will be increasing pressure for a political intervention in the proceedings.

Tomorrow we will be hearing from Csts. Hubley and MacLeod. I will be watching, and will provide my analysis as things unfold, and after proceedings are done for the day.