RCMP returned car to family with victim’s remains inside following N.S. massacre, proposed lawsuit alleges

HALIFAX—Nova Scotia’s RCMP are being accused of a series of crucial failings and mistakes in their response to April’s deadly massacre in northern Nova Scotia as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit.

Among the allegations made against the national police force is that it returned a victim’s car to her family with human remains and bullet casings still inside the vehicle.

The suit initiated by family members of some of the gunman’s victims alleges that the RCMP failed in their duty to protect the safety and security of the public during the 13-hour shooting rampage in Colchester County on April 18 and 19.

The suit further takes the RCMP to task for their handling of the investigation after the fact, claiming the police force “handled the Spree and its aftermath in a high-handed, self-serving and disrespectful manner.”

A claim filed to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia this week, naming Tyler Blair and Andrew O’Brien as representative plaintiffs, alleges, among other things:

  • That the RCMP failed to investigate reports prior to the shootings that the gunman possessed illegal weapons, that he was physically abusive to women and that he had said he wished to harm police officers;
  • That the Mounties failed to adequately secure the perimeter of the scene of the initial shooting in Portapique, allowing the gunman to escape;
  • That the RCMP failed to accept and act on credible information, including a witness who had been shot by the gunman, who told police the gunman was driving a replica police car;

  • That the force failed to alert the public adequately by choosing to use Twitter rather than the provincial Alert Ready system; and
  • That the RCMP failed to accept the assistance of the nearby Truro Police Service even after it had offered to help.

Tyler Blair is the son of Greg Blair and the stepson of Jamie Blair, two victims who were among the first killed in Portapique. Andrew O’Brien is the widower of Heather O’Brien, a nurse who was killed in her car in Debert, N.S., along the same stretch of road that another nurse, Kristen Beaton, was also shot and killed.

Twenty-two people were killed over 13 hours between April 18 and 19 in Colchester County, Nova Scotia, in one of Canada’s deadliest mass shootings.

Gabriel Wortman, a 52-year-old denturist, began his crimes by assaulting his longtime girlfriend, who managed to escape and hid in the woods until the morning.

When police arrived on the scene of the initial shooting in Portapique, they found bodies in the road and houses engulfed in flame. Thirteen people were later reported dead.

Wortman, driving a replica RCMP car and wearing a Mountie uniform, managed to escape the area that evening, and holed up in nearby Debert, N.S., overnight before continuing his rampage the next morning.

By the time he was shot and killed by police, 100 kilometres away at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., the gunman had killed nine more people and burned another house to the ground.

Shortly after police arrived on the scene in Portapique at approximately 10:20 p.m., according to both RCMP reports and the proposed class-action suit, they were approached by a man who had been shot by the gunman. This unnamed witness told police that he had been shot by a man in what appeared to be a police car.

When police issued their first alert to the public, they did so at 11:32 p.m., advising the public to stay in their homes. They did not mention that the gunman might have been driving a replica RCMP car.

In fact, it was not until 10:17 a.m. the following morning — almost four hours after the RCMP talked to the gunman’s longtime girlfriend, who confirmed the information about his replica police car and Mountie uniform — that the RCMP announced — again on Twitter — that the gunman “may be driving what appears to be an RCMP vehicle and may be wearing an RCMP uniform.”

A half-hour before that tweet, around 9:48 a.m. the gunman had attempted to enter another home in Glenholme. The residents there contacted the RCMP to tell them that they knew it was Wortman at their home, and that he was in an RCMP uniform and driving and RCMP car.

According to the suit, “RCMP did not respond to the call, appearing to disagree with the information provided by the Glenholme residents.”

In taking issue with the RCMP’s use of Twitter to alert the public rather than the provincial emergency alert system, the proposed suit says that residents of the area are older and not as likely to be Twitter users; that internet coverage in the area is inadequate to disseminate warnings to the affected population; and that the information contained in those Twitter alerts was “either inaccurate or insufficient to allow the population affected by the spree to properly protect itself.”

The lawsuit also looks to seek punitive damages against the RCMP. Among other things, it alleges that the RCMP misled O’Brien by telling him that his wife, Heather O’Brien was shot and killed from “across the road.”

Get more of what matters in your inbox

Start your morning with everything you need to know, and nothing you don’t. Sign up for First Up, the Star’s new daily email newsletter.

Sign Up Now

The RCMP also misled the public during a June 4 news conference, alleges the lawsuit, when it said that nobody was pulled over by Wortman using his replica RCMP car.

Further, says the lawsuit: “(The RCMP) released the automobile of a deceased family member to a Class Member after the investigation with gun casings and body parts still in the automobile. The Class Member was required to clean the automobiles (sic) themselves.”

The class-action suit is the second to be initiated in connection with the mass killing. The first, filed May 5, was a class-action suit against the gunman’s estate.

TORONTO STAR