Nova Scotia shooting – In defence of the RCMP

While we have the right to criticise our agencies, we also have to recognise the complexity of what they do – this applies to the RCMP in Nova Scotia last weekend.

No investigation that takes place while a mass shooter is active is perfect: the police do the best they can.

NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA — As we continue both to grieve over the heinous shootings in Nova Scotia last weekend and seek to understand how any human being can carry out such crimes we are also resorting to an all-too-frequent human post-shock reflex: finger pointing. All this week, as we learned a little bit more about what transpired over a 12-hour period in the central parts of the province, I have read account after account of how the RCMP ‘blew it’.

Yep, it is open season on the Mounties it seems.

I would like to push back a bit. Not out of any sense of loyalty or knee-jerk aversion to criticism as I am not an ex-RCMP employee. As a CSIS analyst I did engage with the force on hundreds of occasions, helped to train thousands of members on terrorism, and happen to think highly of what they do for Canadians. Are they without fault? Absolutely not! They are an organisation formed of defective men and women just as any other agency likewise composed in the known universe.

Should they be taken to task and challenged over what they did (or did not do)? Absolutely. We cannot get better as people and institutions if we do not review our actions (and inactions) and soberly look at whether we could have done better. This is what all mature organisations do on a regular basis.

There are several aspects of the reactions I have seen that continue to bother me however and I would like to weigh in. I do so not as a former cop but as a former spy would worked on intelligence (namely counter terrorism) investigations for a decade and a half at CSIS, and while I am sure there are differences between a criminal and an intelligence probe (the most important one being the former’s need to be careful to gather and protect from contamination evidence that may be used in a future trial: spies do not have that added responsibility), I am also certain there are similarities.

#1 – ”The RCMP did not warn the public early enough”

As to criticism that the RCMP did not warn the public early enough late Saturday/early Sunday there is a marked lack of appreciation of what the police faced late that evening. Several bodies. Several burned out homes (which may have contained more bodies). Sifting through this takes time: it does not unfold like in a TV series in 48 minutes. Arriving on a scene of this nature the police’s first task is to ensure that the perpetrator is not lurking around seeking to take out first responders. Then the laborious job of determining who the bodies are and whether the killer is among them (as in a murder-suicide situation). In all this confusion, it seems the killer escaped the security cordon.

#2 – ”The RCMP did not warn Nova Scotians that the suspect may be wearing a uniform”

As to criticism that the RCMP did not warn Nova Scotians that the suspect may be wearing a uniform and driving what looked to be a real police car, what could they have done and to what effect? If they had posted messages along those lines how would average citizens have reacted to REAL Mounties trying to help? Would they have refused to talk to them? Would some who happened to own firearms shoot at them in the perceived act of ‘defending’ themselves? Would the killer find out the police had determined his MO and changed into regular wear with a regular car (that last part did indeed happen)?

#3 – ”The RCMP did not use the emergency broadcast system”

As to criticism that the RCMP did not use the emergency broadcast system (the one that piggy backs on your cellphone) when they should there may be some validity to that claim. RCMP Commissioner Lucki has admitted as much. But I return to my point #2 – would the killer not also have received the same notice and adjusted his plans?

An unspeakable crime has occurred in Nova Scotia. What do we know about the killer? Was it tied to COVID-19? Will we ever find out?

The ONLY person responsible for the deaths of 22 innocent Canadians is the murderer, NOT the RCMP. Would some be alive if things had been done differently? Maybe. We will never know and I caution that hindsight is always 20-20.

There are always lessons to be learned in the course of any operation and I do hope the RCMP subjects this particular one to a full analysis. If changes can be made to make future ones better then they must be implemented.

The ONLY person responsible for the deaths of 22 innocent Canadians is the murderer, NOT the RCMP. Would some be alive if things had been done differently? Maybe.

Let us not forget, however, that among those in danger last weekend in central Nova Scotia were also RCMP officers. They were moving TOWARD the threat, not away from it. They knew that the gunman looked like them and drove one of their cars: what did that do to intra-agency trust? What if he had been a REAL RCMP officer seeking revenge for whatever grievance he had? Let us also not forget that one officer was killed and another wounded trying to stop this maniac.

Grief makes us question lots of things. Our emotions dominate and we lash out, seeking answers for events that may not have any. The demand for explanation, including an explanation from the RCMP for what it did and failed to do, is natural. And yet we must still recognise that situations like these are incredibly difficult to manage. The men and women in serge did their best for us in a complicated, constantly shifting criminal act. It is time to give them their due.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

2 replies on “Nova Scotia shooting – In defence of the RCMP”

I totally agree, to me the one point the public missed is that if the RCMP had « advertised «  this maniac was driving a Police vehicle it would of added confusion and total chaos on the roads. People Police Officers are humans, STOP putting blame on the RCMP. If your so smart why don’t you join the force. Retired RCMP Bomb Technician.

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