A proposed class-action lawsuit against the RCMP alleges that the Mounties committed a myriad of mistakes before, during and after the country’s worst mass shooting in April, leaving residents of rural Nova Scotia largely unprotected and misleading victims’ family members.
Among the more than 25 still-unproven allegations: a failure to secure the perimeter at the site where denturist Gabriel Wortman killed his first 13 victims in the Portapique area; a failure to bring in adequate numbers of officers, or to call in the Truro Police Service for help; and a failure to warn the public for approximately 12 hours that the man being hunted by the Mounties was driving what appeared to be an RCMP cruiser, and wearing what appeared to be an RCMP uniform. In all, the gunman killed 22 people before dying in a gun battle with police at a gas station.
The class action, which still needs to be certified by a court to go ahead, is filed in the name of two representatives: Tyler Blair, whose father Greg Blair and stepmother Jamie Blair, were killed in their home in Portapique; and Andrew O’Brien, whose wife, Heather O’Brien, was shot dead in her car.
The lawsuit does not specify what damages it is seeking, but proposes on top of any other compensation punitive damages, which in Canadian law are awarded only where the conduct offends the public’s sense of decency, and needs to be denounced so it won’t happen again.
“The RCMP owed a duty to protect the safety and security of the public and failed in that duty,” Nova Scotia lawyer Sandra McCulloch, who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. The lawsuit also targets the government of Nova Scotia, which uses the RCMP as a provincial police force.
An RCMP spokeswoman said the force has not yet been served with a civil claim, and does not expect to comment further. “Our primary focus continues to be on the ongoing criminal investigation, and supporting the victims of this tragedy as well as our members and employees,” Corporal Caroline Duval said in an e-mail.
Nova Scotia’s justice department was not prepared to comment Wednesday afternoon.
The legal document filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday also claims that the RCMP returned a car to a victim’s family, leaving body parts and gun casings still inside. The family had to clean the car themselves, the lawsuit alleges. It also accuses the Mounties of deliberately misleading Mr. O’Brien, telling him that his wife was shot from “across the road,” rather than making clear that she was stopped and then shot by a man in what appeared to be an RCMP police cruiser.
The RCMP “handled the spree and its aftermath in a high-handed, self-serving and disrespectful manner and is deserving of punishment,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the estates of 21 of the gunman’s 22 victims, their families and others in the community who suffered physical, psychological or property damage in the attack, which began April 18 at about 10 p.m., and ended just before 11:30 the next morning. One of his victims was Heidi Stevenson, an RCMP officer. The lawsuit alleges that her police cruiser was inadequate, and the gunman therefore had an advantage over her when their cars collided. Ms. McCulloch declined to say whether Ms. Stevenson’s family is part of the lawsuit.
The 13-hour rampage put the RCMP in a spotlight over its decision to use Twitter to warn the public, rather than issuing an emergency cellphone alert. The lawsuit says the rural population affected was older and less likely to use Twitter, and the information was either inaccurate or insufficient to allow people to properly protect themselves.
The attack began with a domestic assault on a woman, the RCMP has said. She escaped and hid in the woods until morning. She is not part of the group suing the RCMP and Nova Scotia, the document says. (Ms. McCulloch declined to say why.)
The lawsuit also alleges the RCMP did not take appropriate preventive measures, including a failure to investigate reports he possessed illegal weapons, had physically abused women and wished to harm police officers.
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