Two probes have been launched into the Moncton shootings that could culminate in recommendations to improve Mounties’ safety just as fresh questions emerge over whether RCMP officers have the gear they need to counter heavily armed suspects.
The probes – one by the RCMP’s hazardous occurrence investigation team, and the other by health and safety officers at Employment and Social Development Canada – are both mandated by the Canada Labour Code because the three fallen Mounties were federal employees who died on the job.
Constables Fabrice Gévaudan, Douglas Larche and Dave Ross were killed in the June 4 shootings, which also injured two other Codiac detachment officers.
“If there are lessons to be learned, they will be learned,” said Staff Sgt. Abe Townsend, the head of the Special Relations Representative (SRR), an elected body for more than 22,000 RCMP members. “They will go over every facet of evidence collected, and they’ll compare it to our policies, our procedures and the law. Based on their assessment, they’ll make recommendations.”
Members of the RCMP investigative team – a commissioned officer stationed in New Brunswick, an SRR official from Central Canada, and an occupational safety specialist – have already been in touch to get their work under way, Staff Sgt. Townsend said. An ESDC spokesman, meantime, would say only that an investigation has been launched and that the department’s labour program looks into fatalities in federally regulated industries.
The RCMP team and the federal department, at the time under a different name, investigated the 2005 deaths of four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alta. The gunman there, as in Moncton, had a high-powered rifle, prompting both investigative teams to recommend that Mounties have access to heavy body armour.
Later, a judge heading the 2011 provincial inquiry into the Mayerthorpe shootings said the rollout of carbines, a high-powered gun, should be a priority.
Since the Moncton shootings, questions have emerged about whether the Codiac officers had heavy body armour and high-powered guns when they confronted the gunman.
On Wednesday, the New Brunswick RCMP released a statement saying Mounties in the province have the law-enforcement tools they need, and that hard body armour has been available in Codiac since 2011.
“Any extra equipment that was brought in from outside Greater Moncton during the search for the shooter was due to the extra police officers brought in,” the statement said. “When more police officers are needed, so is more equipment.”
When it comes to the high-powered carbines, training and rollout are ongoing, the statement said.
Staff Sgt. Julie Gagnon, an RCMP spokeswoman in Ottawa, said she cannot comment on the equipment Codiac officers were carrying at the time of the shootings and manhunt, citing safety and the investigation. She said more than 5,000 hard-armour vests and 1,330 carbines have been distributed across Canada in recent years, including to New Brunswick, but declined to say where in the province and to what extent.
Staff Sgt. Townsend said the carbine rollout has “taken too long.”
“This is a resource we could’ve had in advance of Mayerthorpe,” he said, adding that he blames logistical issues, such as procurement and training, for the delay. Whether equipment – or a lack thereof – played a role in the Codiac officers’ deaths and injuries is for the investigators to examine, Staff Sgt. Townsend said.
The hazardous occurrence investigation team will liaise with the New Brunswick RCMP, which is leading the criminal investigation in Moncton, and the ESDC team. The probe could take at least two years, Staff Sgt. Townsend said, because the team might not have access to some evidence until the criminal proceedings are well under way.
The team’s final report, including any recommendations, must be sent to the relevant unit commander and division commanding officer. It can also be provided to the ESDC team, but evidence that could jeopardize a criminal investigation can be withheld.
“Questions around Codiac will be answered, but they’ll be answered based on the evidence gleaned through the investigative process,” Staff Sgt. Townsend said. “We’ll await the outcome.”
Justin Bourque, 24, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in relation to the June 4 shootings.