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Commission counsel Amanda Byrd delivers information on possession and use of firearms by Gabriel Wortman at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia on April 18/19, 2020, in Dartmouth, N.S. on May 3.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The inquiry into the worst mass shooting in Canada has been given far-reaching powers to probe every aspect of the tragedy and compel even the most reluctant witnesses to testify. But there’s one obstacle it cannot overcome: an international border.

Two key witnesses who live in Houlton, Me., a town of about 6,000 people just on the other side of the New Brunswick border, are of particular interest to the inquiry because of their close relationship to the killer and for information one of them has about weapons the gunman smuggled into Canada.

Three of the guns used in the attack that killed 22 people in a rampage by a denturist impersonating an RCMP officer two years ago came from Maine. Two of those guns – a Ruger P89 9-mm-calibre semi-automatic handgun, and a Glock 23 .40 calibre semi-automatic pistol – were once owned by his close friend Sean Conlogue, according to court records obtained through a legal challenge by the Globe and Mail and other media outlets.

Mr. Conlogue also allowed the gunman to use his home in Houlton to collect parts delivered for the replica RCMP patrol car he would later use in his rampage. Mr. Conlogue told the inquiry’s investigators that he didn’t open the packages, and stored them at his house until the gunman, who had his own key, picked them up on his frequent visits.

Angel Patterson, who owns a hair salon in Houlton a few blocks from Mr. Conlogue, has valuable information about phone conversations she had with the gunman and his common-law wife just hours before the attack, according to lawyers for families of victims. In an interview with investigators, Ms. Patterson also offered a different account of when Mr. Conlogue says he realized the killer had taken some of his guns.

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But as Americans, the inquiry doesn’t have any subpoena power to force them to testify or be cross-examined. Mr. Conlogue, a car salesman who bonded with the killer over a love of guns, was interviewed by the FBI, the RCMP and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the days after the mass shooting in April, 2020. He also gave a phone interview with the inquiry’s investigators in November, but wasn’t pressed on details of how the guns crossed the border.

The Mass Casualty Commission declined to discuss what steps it has taken to try to reach witnesses who are beyond its jurisdiction. The federal Department of Justice says mutual legal assistance treaties with the U.S. are limited to criminal investigations and prosecutions, and can’t be used by an inquiry.

“The Commission’s ability to subpoena extends only to witnesses within Canada, which means we cannot compel witnesses to testify before us from outside the country. That said, our investigation into what happened continues and we are working to hear from those who may have information, including those in the United States,” Emily Hill, senior commission counsel, said in a statement.

Tara Miller, a Halifax lawyer who represents family members of victims Aaron Tuck and Kristen Beaton, argued at the outset of the inquiry the Americans need to testify to help fill in some critical gaps in the evidence. But it’s unclear what attempts have been made by inquiry investigators to get them to clarify previous statements, she said.

“At a minimum, the commission needs to make steps to try to re-engage these folks, to obtain more information and address what may be inconsistencies,” Ms. Miller said.

“The practical problem is where they live, which is not in Canada. We’ve been advised the effort to reach them is underway, but I guess we’re taking it on faith that there’s been a meaningful effort to try to secure additional information.”

Mr. Conlogue, who did not return interview requests for this story, has not been charged with any crime by U.S. authorities, even though it’s illegal for Americans to transfer weapons to non-citizens. He told investigators he gave the killer a Ruger handgun several years ago as a gift. He also said the gunman had stolen two of his Glock handguns and taken them back to Canada, one of which was found with him at the end of the shooting rampage.

“The problem is there was a wide net of people who knew he had these guns, and that they were illegal,” Ms. Miller said. “That’s the conundrum: how can we create a system where people feel safe that they can report this stuff and know it will be acted upon?”

While his relationship with the gunman was very close, Mr. Conlogue denied allegations put to him by an RCMP investigator that it was sexual in nature. Some time before his rampage, the gunman told his U.S. friend he was going to leave something for him in his will, according to an interview transcript provided by the inquiry.

The RCMP, meanwhile, charged three Canadians – the gunman’s common-law wife, Lisa Banfield, her brother, and brother-in-law – with transporting ammunition used in the attack. Charges against Ms. Banfield and brother-in-law Brian Brewster have been deferred to Nova Scotia’s restorative justice program.

Ms. Banfield will be called as a witness at a later stage in the inquiry. Ms. Patterson, who spoke to her frequently in the hours before the day the attack began, is needed to help the inquiry test the accuracy of that testimony, Ms. Miller said.

There remains a troubling lack of clarity around how Ms. Banfield and the gunman spent their day leading up to the killing – including cutting a suspected escape route near their rural property, and the route they travelled along where just hours later he would kill several of his victims, she said. Mr. Conlogue also spoke to the gunman by phone for more than 20 minutes before he began his rampage – a conversation that is of key interest to victims’ relatives, the lawyer said.

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