HALIFAX — Family members of those killed during the mass shooting in central Nova Scotia in April are seeking to launch a class action against the RCMP and the province, arguing police failed to adequately protect and inform the public during the attacks.
In documents filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, the plaintiffs allege the RCMP failed to send timely and appropriate warnings to members of the communities where a gunman killed 22 people in five communities on April 18 and 19.
The allegations in the June 16 document have not been proven in court and neither the RCMP nor the province — which had contracted out policing services to the national force — have filed a statement of defence.
The representative plaintiffs are Andrew O’Brien, the widower of nurse Heather O’Brien, and Tyler Blair, the son of Greg Blair and stepson of Jamie Blair.
Lawyer Sandra McCulloch says the “majority” of family members of the victims are participating in the effort to certify the class action.
The plaintiffs also include people injured by the gunman — who was killed by police on April 19 outside a gas station in Enfield, N.S. — and others who suffered property damage when the killer burned houses in several communities.
The provincial justice minister, Mark Furey, declined comment on the potential lawsuit, while the RCMP said it hadn’t yet been served and “will review and consider any such claim once served.
“We do not anticipate having any further comment on this matter. 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,” wrote Cpl. Jennifer Clarke, the force’s spokeswoman, in an email.
The suit further alleges that the federal police force failed to investigate reports that Gabriel Wortman possessed illegal guns, and had physically abused his domestic partner.
The Mounties had said they are still searching for records of a 2013 complaint by Brenda Forbes, but have confirmed they found two officers who had contact with Forbes in 2013, and they were reviewing their notes and files of her report of firearms and domestic abuse.
The plaintiffs also claim police didn’t properly secure the perimeter of the crime scene in and around Portapique, N.S., where the attack began.
The RCMP have said during news conferences that Wortman was able to elude police shortly after the arrival of the first officers on the scene by driving his replica police vehicle across a field in the small community.
The plaintiffs also say the RCMP’s sending of an alert by Twitter was inadequate because many people don’t use the social media, there was inadequate internet coverage and the information in the Twitter notices wasn’t sufficient to allow people to protect themselves.
They argue the police should have used the “Alert Ready” system to send an emergency alert to the province that the killer was on the loose.
The national Alert Ready system can be used to send alerts through television, radio and wireless devices, including cellphones.
The Nova Scotia RCMP’s criminal operations officer has said during a recent news conference that the system had been used for the first time in the province only a few weeks earlier to provide information about the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also said he was not aware that Alert Ready has ever been used by police in Canada for an active shooter situation.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages against the RCMP for how it has handled the investigation into the tragedy.
The claim states the RCMP released the automobile of a deceased family member “after the investigation with gun casings and body parts still in the automobile. The family members were left to clean the automobiles themselves.”
While the documents have been filed, the lawsuit must still be certified by the courts.
This is the second proposed class-action lawsuit filed by the families in Nova Scotia, as the same law firm earlier commenced a suit seeking damages on behalf of victims’ families against Wortman’s estate, which has been assessed as having a value of over $1.2 million.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press