'We must learn from this tragedy,' RCMP says of Moncton shootings

Officers faced communication problems and a shortage of equipment during the Moncton shootings, the RCMP says

MONCTON, N.B. – A senior RCMP officer shared her sorrow Friday that a Mountie chose to go without hard body armour so that a fellow officer with children could have the protection as they responded to the fatal shootings of three Mounties last year in Moncton.

“It was absolutely heartbreaking that someone would have a conversation such as that,” RCMP deputy commissioner Janice Armstrong said after the release of a review of the shootings that killed three Mounties and wounded two others.

“It is incumbent upon us in a situation like Moncton that we learn and we evolve. We owe that to the members who gave their lives that night. We owe that to the members who put their lives in jeopardy. We owe that to the two gals who were in that car talking about hard body armour.”

RCMP officers responding to the shootings faced a litany of problems that included communicating accurate information, accessing high-powered weaponry and securing protective equipment, the report said.

The review paints a chaotic picture as the Mounties pursued Justin Bourque, who was arrested 28 hours after the June 4 shooting rampage began.

“Accurate risk assessments were difficult as members were calling for ambulances to multiple locations,” the 180-page report says.

“Sightings were being reported based on caller location (as opposed to suspect location), then broadcast out of order. There were wounded members in need of medical attention. … Based on the radio traffic, it would have been nearly impossible to form an accurate tactical view of the situation.”

While there were five RCMP tactical armoured vehicles deployed for emergency response team use, one tactical armoured vehicle from the Quebec RCMP was not deployed as it was in Montreal and not requested, the report said.

“The RCMP TAV was designed for this type of operation and, given the scale of this incident, having as many as possible was essential,” it said. “To mitigate the shortage of TAVs, commercial armoured trucks were put into use.”

One RCMP tactical armoured vehicle from Nova Scotia was dispatched but it broke down and a mechanic was sent to fix it. The report recommended tactical armoured vehicles travelling long distances should go by rail or flatbed truck.

Many RCMP officers did not know that hard body armour was available in vehicles while others were not familiar with how to wear the equipment properly, the report said.

“This all speaks to a general lack of knowledge and understanding with respect to how and when HBA must be worn,” said the review, which was led by Alphonse MacNeil, a retired RCMP assistant commissioner.

The RCMP should have also considered asking for the military’s help, given its specialized and unique capabilities and equipment, the report added.

It makes 64 recommendations that call for better access to shotguns and rifles, standard equipment for emergency response teams, encrypted radio communications and training to better prepare supervisors for critical incidents.

The RCMP said it accepts all of the review’s recommendations and has started implementing them.

“We must learn from this tragedy,” Armstrong said. “It is our duty to make sure all RCMP employees on the front lines are as prepared as possible to meet the threats we face every day.”

The wife of one of the slain officers, herself an RCMP employee, said she believes MacNeil’s recommendations will bring about much needed change.

“I will confess, I was originally skeptical of his intentions given that he is a retired member of the RCMP and I’m certain others may have shared this concern,” said Angela Gevaudan, the widow of Const. Fabrice Gevaudan.

“However, I have come to know and appreciate Mr. MacNeil’s integrity and unbiased approach, something which I do not say lightly. And I believe wholeheartedly in these recommendations.”

She said she hopes the various levels of government recognize the urgency of the recommendations.

“Why wait for another crisis?”

Gevaudan became emotional and had to pause to compose herself while reading her statement. She was flanked by the two other women who lost their husbands. They did not take any questions.

A spokesman for the Mounted Police Professional Association said while the recommendations are well founded, the review doesn’t go far enough in examining issues such as understaffing and lack of funding for training.

“Given terrorist attacks all over the world … you would think the government would be very motivated to give police the equipment the members need,” Rob Creaser said. “I hope that’s the case going forward.”

The Mounted Police Professional Association criticized the RCMP last year after the Moncton shootings because it said many detachments still didn’t have the high-powered rifles or specialized armour that is better able to protect against rifle fire, particularly after the deaths of four RCMP officers near Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005.

The officers in Alberta were guarding a marijuana growing operation when the owner opened fire on them with a rifle, leaving them to defend themselves with 9-mm handguns. Their shooting deaths led to recommendations that police be equipped with proper protective vests and carbines.

Armstrong said two other reviews into the Moncton shootings are being conducted by a federal hazardous occurrence investigation team and Employment and Social Development Canada, as mandated by the Canada Labour Code.

In October, Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for 75 years after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Bourque, 25, admitted in a statement to police that he used a semi-automatic rifle to shoot the five officers in the city’s north end. Afterwards, he fled into the woods near a suburban neighbourhood, where he was later arrested.

In addition to Gevaudan, Bourque killed constables Dave Ross and Doug Larche. Constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were injured.

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