Two RCMP tactical officers who testified Monday at the inquest into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia said it was harder to respond by not having an adequately staffed team, d night air support or technology to pinpoint their locations.
Emergency Response Team Leader Cpl. Tim Mills, who decided to retire six months after the shooting, and Cpl. Trent Milton, who assumed team leader responsibilities, answered questions together in a witness panel.
In his testimony, as in his behind-the-scenes interview, Mills said he was proud of his team’s efforts but did not hold back on his criticism of his former employer, calling it “an organization broken”.
“The RCMP, as an organization, wants to give the impression that it cares about its members… Commissioner Brenda Lucki said to herself, ‘We will do everything we can. We can’t make it enough.’ The way we were treated after that is disgusting, absolutely disgusting – that’s why I left the RCMP,” he said Monday morning.
He said senior leadership failed to support tactical officers in the weeks following the mass shooting by refusing a request for time to debrief together.
Mills said he proposed that the team work on administrative tasks at headquarters for two weeks in the hope that it would help them process the trauma they have suffered together.
But despite initial support from psychologists who met the team, he said the eight part-time members of the group had been ordered to return to their usual frontline duties at their home detachments or take leave of illness.
“There are members absent today because of Portapique, who are not working, who have not seen what we [saw]”Mills said. [They] have not experienced what we have experienced. We were at multiple sites, multiple casualties and they forced our guys back to work, our part-timers back to work, a week and a half later.”
Milton, who is still working, was more measured, but testified that the recommendation to debrief together was consistent with what he had learned in a SWAT team leadership course.
He said the instructor shared best practices for mental health support developed after other mass shootings, such as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in the United States, where large numbers of first responders subsequently left their post.
They were told teams should “keep busy, you need to stick together and be with like-minded people. And that’s all we were asking at the time,” Milton said.
In his interview with the commission’s investigatorsMilton said the weeks following the mass shooting were difficult due to the refusal to allow part-time members two weeks off from their frontline duties.
“It was kind of a big deal…you’re telling me I now have to go home and sit alone in my basement and try to deal with this on my own,” Milton told the inquest. during his interview. He stayed at work but others took time off.
While some senior officers were supportive, Milton said there were “huge shortcomings” that “went beyond disrespect” and reflected “ignorance” of what they were going through.
He said, for example, that the division commander, now-retired Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, never met directly with the ERT after the mass shooting. He said the chief superintendent. Chris Leather, who eventually came to oversee the tactical team, failed to show up for a meeting to discuss mental health strategies.
“The RCMP is very good at talking and saying that we have all of these mental health strategies in place, but the implementation of the action is … sorely lacking,” Milton told commission investigators.
No ability to track locations on phones
Both Mills and Milton testified that the role of the 13-person emergency response team was five fewer members than previously recommended.
Milton, in his previous interview with the Inquiry, said not having access to a phone app the team previously used to see each other “certainly diminished” their ability to quickly determine where to go. were the officers, particularly when they began to search for a suspect in a vehicle that looked like a marked RCMP cruiser.
Overnight in Portapique, Nova Scotia, where the shooting began on the night of April 18, 2020, they had to rely on dispatchers to verbally explain instructions over the radio.
As of April 2020, the tactical team had five full-time members and eight part-time officers who assisted in high-risk situations in Nova Scotia. After learning of an active shooter in Portapique around 10:45 p.m., they gathered at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth and rushed into Colchester County.
Investigation revealed that they arrived at the scene between 12:35 a.m. and 1:15 a.m.
The commission’s report released Monday summarizes the team’s actions at Portapique, Glenholme, Debert, Shubenacadie and Enfield.
Overnight in Portapique, the ERT took the lead in the field from the general duty officers who were first on the scene. The tactical team spent the early morning hours following up any sightings of the shooter, including nearly two hours – between 1:20 a.m. and 2:20 a.m. and then 3:25 a.m. – 4 a.m. – spent clearing properties slightly to the west. of the housing estate where the shooter had killed 13 neighbors.
They also recovered Clinton Ellison, a man who had been hiding in the woods for hours after discovering his brother Corrie’s body, checking the victims’ vital signs and inspecting the shooter’s burning properties.
For more than three hours, starting at 12:45 a.m., the gendarmes communicated on an unencrypted radio channel, which meant that anyone with a scanner could have tuned in to hear transmissions between officers in the field, their commanders and the dispatch center. . The commission found that the use of this public channel was a mistake, but it did not explain why exactly this happened.
In the morning, they were beginning to evacuate homes when a 911 call came in after a shooting about 40 kilometers away in Wentworth, Nova Scotia. They spent the next two hours frantically trying to track down the shooter, who was then traveling between rural communities driving a replica RCMP cruiser killing strangers.
By the time a dog handler and tactical officer shot Gabriel Wortman at a gas station in Enfield, Nova Scotia, 22 people, including a pregnant woman, a teenager and an RCMP officer, had been murdered. Others were injured and several homes were destroyed by fire during the 13-hour rampage.