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Mass shooting inquiry hears from senior Mountie amid protests

Staff Sgt. Al Carroll will take the stand Thursday via a live zoom call as families and their lawyers boycott proceedings
062220 -  Portapique -  mass shooting - wortman - IMG_6339
A memorial in Portapique to 22 victims of a mass shooting

The federal-provincial inquiry investigating the 2020 mass murder in Nova Scotia is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m.

It may contain disturbing details.

Click here to watch.

TRURO, N.S. — The inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia is hearing Thursday from a retired senior Mountie who has been granted special accommodations to ensure he is not re-traumatized by having to relive the tragic, 13-hour event.

After almost 40 years of service, Staff Sgt. Al Carroll was one month shy of retiring on April 18, 2020, when he was called in to the detachment in Bible Hill, N.S., where he was among the first to learn that an active shooter was on the loose in nearby Portapique, N.S.

Carroll is answering questions via a Zoom call instead of attending in person, and the commission of inquiry has agreed to allow him to take as many breaks as he needs.

As the former district commander for Colchester County, Carroll is the first senior Mountie to testify with special accommodations, but he won't be the last.

The inquiry's three commissioners agreed Tuesday to grant accommodations for two other senior Mounties, who were told they will not have to face cross-examination from lawyers who represent relatives of the 22 victims.

That move prompted several lawyers to boycott the hearings Wednesday, and the protest continued Thursday.

Outside the hearing room at a hotel in Truro, about a dozen people staged a protest on the sidewalk, most of them carrying homemade placards.

Among them was Charlene Bagley, whose father Tom was fatally shot by the gunman early on April 19, 2020, as he was out for a walk on Hunter Road in West Wentworth, N.S.

"The families have been patient long enough," she said, holding a neon green sign that read, "23 reasons why to tell the truth," referring to the fact that one of the 22 victims was pregnant.

"We've been wanting answers and we've been wanting the truth .... With the announcement of this week's accommodations, it just shows that we're probably not going to ever get that."

Bagley said the inquiry's trauma-informed approach is misguided. 

"Trauma for who?" she asked. "They're not thinking of the other people involved and their trauma — just the officers. Their trauma seems to trump everyone else's."

The inquiry has heard the killer's rampage in Portapique started around 10 p.m. after he beat and bound his common-law wife and started shooting neighbours and setting their homes on fire. Disguised as a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP cruiser, he killed 13 people in Portapique before escaping.

Last week, the inquiry released a summary of evidence that pointed to considerable confusion over who was in charge of the RCMP operation that night. The inquiry also heard testimony last week about the "chaos in communications" that ensued when the RCMP's two-way radios were overwhelmed by too much traffic.

The question of who was in charge in those crucial early hours was addressed in an earlier occupational health and safety report, which found the RCMP had breached the federal Labour Code by failing to ensure employees had necessary supervision.

During an inquiry hearing on May 19, the chairman of the commission, Michael MacDonald, asked another staff sergeant, Steve Halliday, if it would have been better if a single person was in charge on the first night.

"I agree with you that one person (should be in charge), when at all possible," Halliday said, acknowledging that at least three other Mounties were issuing orders on the first night. "But with police operations, sometimes there is a tendency for there to be multiple people, and it can create trouble with who's in charge … and tying up the radios."

As for Carroll, he could face questions about what he knew about the type of car the killer was driving. During an earlier interview with commission investigators, he said the information he received indicated police were looking for an old, decommissioned police car that had no markings.

But that's not what witnesses in Portapique were telling 911 call-takers. The inquiry has heard callers and witnesses at the scene repeatedly described the vehicle as a fully marked cruiser, complete with emergency lights.

As well, Carroll could be asked why he and other Mounties failed to use an advanced mapping program, known as Pictometry, to search for potential escape routes as police searched for the killer. Carroll told investigators he was never trained to use Pictometry.

Using a road atlas and other maps, Carroll and another Mountie concluded there was only one way for a vehicle to get out of the neighbourhood. But they were wrong. At about 10:45 p.m., the gunman escaped by driving along a little-used dirt road beside a blueberry field. 

"That didn’t show up on the map we were looking at," Carroll told investigators.

The next day, the gunman killed another nine people as he travelled more than 100 kilometres across northern and central Nova Scotia.

The inquiry has heard the gunman, 51-year-old denture technician Gabriel Wortman, was shot dead by two Mounties just before 11:30 a.m. when he stopped at a gas station north of Halifax to refuel a stolen car.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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