June 6, 2022

MCC Day 32 – Truro Police Chief Dave MacNeil Testifies

The focus of the MCC was on the Town of Truro today, with a Foundational Document and witness discussing the interaction between the RCMP and Truro Police as Gabriel Wortman made his way towards, and ultimately through, the Town of Truro.

We have heard from Chief Dave MacNeil before today, as he has been interviewed about the Truro Police role in and knowledge of the killer’s movements through Truro, and the Truro Police relationship with the RCMP. Chief MacNeil has been critical of the RCMP’s response, their lack of information sharing with Truro Police during the mass shooting, and their efforts after the fact to keep important information from being made public.

The information the RCMP was trying to see withheld was a bulletin from 2011 regarding Wortman, which was recalled by an Amherst police officer, and which was disclosable by Truro Police in response to a freedom of information request by Global News and CBC News. RCMP Superintendents Chris Leather and Janice Gray both tried to pressure Chief MacNeil into not disclosing the existence of the bulletin.

The RCMP has had their membership in the NS Association of Police Chiefs downgraded since the shootings, in part due to their attempts to pressure other police services into agreeing with a narrative that the Alert Ready system was not workable. Chief MacNeil stated that he felt the Alert Ready system worked, and he knew how it could be used.

Today’s proceedings started off with a 20-25 minute presentation by Senior Commission Counsel, Rachel Young. This presentation was unnecessary, as it mainly covered evidence which could have been lead through Chief MacNeil on timeframes when information was passed on from RCMP to the Truro Police, and when Chief MacNeil learned about the shootings. While the MCC is (properly) moving away from reliance on these Foundational Document presentations, they seem unwilling to drop them entirely.

Part of the effect of having the MCC lawyer go over these details means that Chief MacNeil did not verbalize when Truro Police learned these details, including that they did not learn that the killer drove through town until a week after the killings. That means that the news will not show Chief MacNeil saying some of the most damaging facts. There was very little told to Truro Police overnight, and really until S/Sgt. Briars took over from S/Sgt. Rehill in the morning when communication became as regular as one might expect.

Chief MacNeil stated that the relationship between the Truro Police and RCMP was quite good at the local level, with many examples available to show significant cooperation among the front-line officers. There is a collaborative relationship on coverage areas, and on individual files. The Chief noted that since the events of the mass casualty, the relationship has been strained, especially at the supervisor level.

Substantively, the evidence from Chief MacNeil showed that the RCMP did not provide timely or accurate information to the Truro Police on what was happening in Portapique and other parts of Colchester County. The Truro Police were getting information in pieces from being at the hospital where victims were being taken, by seeing RCMP vehicles speeding through town, and in the morning via social media posts.

There was vigorous cross examination of Chief MacNeil from the lawyer for the National Police Federation. This of course carried some irony, given the NPF’s repeatedly stated position that police officers should not be subjected to any questions, let along a thorough cross examination.

Among the questions asked by Ms. Nijhawan was a set of questions about Truro Police failing to ‘lock down’ the town, which was a frantic, vague request from the RCMP when it was made. There were other RCMP jurisdictions which were not blocked off in any way between Portapique and Truro. Chief MacNeil stated that there had to be a lot of catastrophic failures for the killer to get from Portapique to Truro.

Chief MacNeil, by his basic honesty and forthright statements throughout this ordeal, has stood out as a voice of reason in contrast to the management class of the RCMP. Among other things, he refused to agree to sign off on the originally planned “review” as requested by the Provincial Minister of Justice. This was a process that the RCMP supported, but Chief MacNeil felt a more fulsome inquiry was needed, and that was what the public demanded and deserved.

The Truro Police had presented to Colchester County prior to the shootings, when the County was conducting a police review and exploring their options. Truro taking on the responsibility for policing the region around Truro may yet come to pass, given the events that have unfolded. Watching him today confirmed for me that he would make an excellent Chief of the new NS Police. He appeared to be just the kind of competent and trustworthy leader Nova Scotia needs right now in policing.