The Mass Casualty Proceedings continued today from Truro, with testimony from Staff Sgt. Al Carroll, who was the District Commander for Colchester County at the time of the shootings. Outside of the hotel where the proceedings were taking place, family members and supporters were protesting the Commission’s decision-making on witness accommodation requests for RCMP supervisors.
This was day two of the boycott of proceedings by many of the family participants. The protesters are calling for changes to the Commission procedures to allow more fulsome participation (and specifically cross-examination) by participants and their lawyers. Staff Sgt. Carroll, along with two other staff sergeants (none of whom had direct experience with violence or exposure to scenes of violence during the events of the mass casualty) have been given permission to testify by video, with limits on cross-examination.
Those protesting are justified in their criticisms of the Commission’s approach. Today’s testimony was a good demonstration of why the accommodation requests need not have been granted. Staff Sgt. Carroll testified for 3 ½ hours in the morning, then another hour in the afternoon, with no unscheduled breaks being requested by him, and he displayed no obvious signs of discomfort, nor certainly trauma. He displayed little emotion of any kind, or much energy, in his answers.
The National Police Federation has requested accommodations previously for lower ranking officers. These had been rejected, and the officers thereafter also testified with no obvious signs of discomfort or trauma. All of this serves to undermine the credibility of both the NPF and the Commission.
From doing personal injury work, and especially conducting and observing long discoveries of alleged victims of injuries, I have learned to keep an eye on witnesses who make accommodation requests based on injuries or mental health concerns. If someone is complaining about a severe injury to their back or neck, but seems to be able to sit comfortably for hours at a time, that is noteworthy. Conversely, when representing a client who has such injuries, I would advise them to take breaks as needed, rather than trying to “tough it out”, which though usually an admirable quality, but which can be misleading or even damaging in such a context.
The instinct (or at least effort) to protect these officers seems to me totally misplaced. Testifying about difficult subjects or memories can have the effect of helping the witness process whatever trauma they may be experiencing. We saw some of this from Staff Sgt. Briars yesterday, who had an opportunity to express his feelings of guilt at having missed what could have been key pieces of information while he was on shift. There are no findings of liability at this inquiry, and it seems to me healthy exercise to allow people talk about what happened in such an atmosphere.
Staff Sgt. Carroll has many years of experience as an RCMP supervisor, and was also trained as a crisis negotiator. He was scheduled to retire one month after the events of the mass casualty, and this seems to have affected how up to date he may have been with respect to communications and mapping technology used by the RCMP.
He has not read any statements or materials since the mass casualty, and has not listened to any police dispatches either in preparation for his testimony. He did not say why this was the case, and was not asked by Commission lawyer Roger Burrill whether he has avoided reviewing any material because of concerns for his own trauma or mental health.
Given his requests for accommodation, this would have seemed to be a reasonable line of questioning, and could have been asked without delving into the details of any treatment he might be receiving. It struck me that he was very incurious about the events, and the brevity and vagueness of many of his answers seemed to also reflect this attitude.
Staff Sgt. Carroll was on the radio in the early moments of the mass casualty events. There was some confusion or overlap in command authority in those early stages, with Staff Sgt. Carroll and Staff Sergeant Rehill both issuing orders regarding containment of the Portapique community.
It is certainly notable that Staff Sgt. Carroll’s son, Jordan, was among the first responding police officers to the scene. It was soon after Cst. Jordan Carroll arrived close to the scene that Staff Sgt. Carroll directed that no second team of officers enter the Portapique community itself, so as to avoid “blue on blue” shootings. Though he was quick to dispute the suggestion, it seems that Staff Sgt. Carroll must have had some thought of protecting his son under these circumstances.
Staff Sgt. Carroll was coordinating with the RCMP communication center at times. He was asked about his discussion regarding contacting nearby residents through a “reverse 911” system. In his testimony today, Staff Sgt. Carroll indicated that he knew very little about the communications capabilities of the RCMP in that regard, and he did not follow up on the suggestion that residents be contacted.
On a related topic, Staff Sgt. Carroll was asked about the question of warning the public. Early in the morning of April 19, 2020, there was communication between Staff Sgts. Carroll and Briars regarding a potential public warning. Staff Sgt. Carroll says that he discussed the issue with Staff Sgt. Halliday, who he says then discussed it with others. In his testimony, Staff Sgt. Halliday disputed this description. (This is an instance where thorough and effective cross-examination might have elicited a better factual foundation. As it stands, we are simply left with the two disputing accounts.)
In terms of regrets or things that might have been done differently, Staff Sgt. Carroll said that conveyance of information was a problem, and for example he did not know about the comments from witness Andrew MacDonald in the early moments that he had been shot by his neighbor Gabriel Wortman, and that the shooter was in a fully marked RCMP vehicle. Staff Sgt. Carroll also wishes that he had dug into the Onslow Fire Hall situation more at the time. He says he did not realize that officers Brown and Melanson had shot at the fire hall, and if he had he would have personally gone there himself to talk to the victims.
There was some cross examination and several questions from the Commissioners as well, covering the discovery of the Cobequied Court victims, and questions as to why the Critical Incident Commander was not the one making decisions on public warnings.
The MCC will be back, in a sense, on Monday and Tuesday next week. At that time, from what I can gather, Staff Sgts. O’Brien and Rehill will be interviewed by lawyers for the MCC. It is not clear when, if at all, those interviews will be played or posted publicly.