April 25, 2022

Book (and Book Launch) Review – ’22 Murders’, by Paul Palango

I attended the launch event for Paul Palango’s book on the NS Mass Shooting, entitled ’22 Murders’. The launch was held at the Old Triangle in downtown Halifax, the pub to which the statue of Joseph Howe points from it’s perch at Province House. Any journalist would be proud to be associated with Mr. Howe, and Palango is just such a fearless journalist that would have fit Howe’s hopes for the future.

There was a good crowd for the launch, including many people who were previously known to me more by their usernames. Jordan Bonaparte, from Nighttime Podcast was there, as was Andrew Douglas from Frank Magazine. Many from the Portapique and Onslow-Belmont areas were on hand as well. Palango did not read extensively from the book, instead choosing to highlight a certain passage and then invite the subject of the note to come up to speak.

This was my first opportunity to meet Palango in person. I have had a few chances to talk with him on the phone, and before that had taken in several of his podcast appearances on The Nighttime Podcast with Jordan Bonaparte. I have also kept up on his journalism since the early days after Gabriel Wortman’s killing spree. His reporting has been invaluable for me as an analyst, being detailed and specific about what he has been able to discover, and being unafraid to venture into potentially sensitive material.

Knowing that I was going to be attending the launch, I finished the book itself a few days ahead of time, so I would have a chance to digest and reflect on what it contained, and of course so as to be able to converse about it at the event. Palango’s writing style is very engaging, drawing you into the story from a first-person narrative perspective. It follows the author’s own discovery journey to the facts, and also the perspectives of those he has interviewed, all of which helps give the reader a sense of how difficult it is to get straight answers from the RCMP. In that sense, it is also a good guide for those interested in pursuing journalism as a potential career option.

Many of the details Palango was able to uncover come from civic-minded, sometimes anonymous sources, including some within the RCMP itself. Those familiar with his reporting will already know this, but in the book the background and context to those revelations are fleshed out in greater detail, building a strong circumstantial case around various RCMP coverups. He does not force conclusions upon the reader, but rather gives enough information so as to allow the reader to form their own.

Palango self-identifies his journalistic style as being an incrementalist, building a story over time, rather than presuming the first look is complete or accurate. He is always trying to say something new to move a story along, but to also write in such a way as to invite the readers to add to the story as well with information they may have, and which they might be inclined to provide to him. Throughout the book, there are examples of this methodology being effective.

The book was written before the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings began, and yet Palango has many of the details laid out with precision and accuracy in the book, which were otherwise unreported prior to the proceedings. Unlike the MCC (so far at least) Palango then also tests various hypotheses against the known facts, and works out some plausible (and as yet unrefuted) theories of what went wrong. His analysis is all the more useful and compelling, given his background knowledge of how policing operates in Canada. Included in the book are some histories of some of the leading RCMP supervisors in Nova Scotia, and what brought them all here.

There is much to recommend about the book. It is written with an appropriate level of cynical awareness of how institutions like the RCMP market themselves to the public, while not venturing into conspiracy-mindedness. At the same time, if a theory fits the known facts, Palango is not afraid to express it.

There were some brave people involved in putting this together, and their efforts have certainly been of great benefit to me as I do my legal analysis work through The Rodgers Brief. They are also of great benefit to the public in helping us all understand what took place, what went wrong, and what kind of things need to change. I highly recommend the book, and hope to see more great work from Paul and his team of citizen-journalists.