Judge rules Friday on whether RCMP protected slain, wounded officers' safety
National police force is accused of failing to train and equip officers to deal with heavily armed attackers
A ruling is expected Friday in the trial of the RCMP related to the shootings of 2014, when three Moncton Mounties lost their lives at the hands of gunman Justin Bourque and two others were wounded.
As the trial drew to a close in July, after weeks of testimony, Judge Leslie Jackson said he would carefully weigh arguments presented by both sides in what's considered a precedent-setting case.
- RCMP 'played the odds' with officer safety and it proved fatal, Crown argues
- Trial of the RCMP: What we've learned so far
Though the question of whether frontline RCMP officers were sufficiently armed has come up before — after the Mayerthorpe, Alta., tragedy in 2005, for instance — this was the first time the national police force was actually sent to trial accused of failing to keep its officers safe.
"You have to understand the RCMP were always perceived to be untouchable," said Gilles Levasseur, law professor at the University of Ottawa.
Whatever the decision Friday, Levasseur said, it will send an important message to police forces across the country.
"It's giving a clear indication to the rest of Canada, to the police authorities, that there's a minimum requirement," he said.
The trial, which began in April, heard from 30 witnesses, including responding officers, giving the public its first real look since the shooting at what it was like on the ground that night.
Many of them explained, often through tears, how they could have taken down Bourque with better weapons, before he got to all five Mounties.
High-powered carbines, and why the Moncton Mounties didn't have them in June 2014, were at the centre of testimony, with the Crown alleging the organization "grossly mismanaged" the issue and "played the odds" with officer safety.
At the end of it all, the RCMP's former top boss made a surprise appearance and disputed statements of all the officers who testified.
Bob Paulson said he wasn't convinced bigger guns for all officers should be part of policing in Canada.
He also alluded to budget constraints the force was under, a point the defence has tried to stress throughout the trial.
'Above and beyond reproach?'
For Brian Sauvé, co-chair of the National Police Federation, a non-guilty ruling would be "a sad state of affairs" for the membership and the families affected by the tragedy.
"They will see it as the government of Canada, and the RCMP, are not being held accountable for safety measures that they could have implemented," Sauvé said.
"So, are they above and beyond reproach? That's dangerous territory to get into."
Sauvé hopes the case will be a wakeup call for the organization.
"The RCMP has for years been run on a shoestring budget," he said. "And that shoestring is extremely frail. We don't have the resources … to continue on with the mandate we've been given.
The RCMP is charged with violating four provisions of the Canada Labour Code, each one carrying a maximum fine of $1 million.
Levasseur said he "would not be surprised" if there were convictions, though de doubted the maximum penalty would be applied.
The four charges are:
- Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate use of force equipment and related user training when responding to an active threat or active shooter event.
- Failing to provide RCMP members with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure their health and safety when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.
- Failing to provide RCMP supervisory personnel with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure the health and safety of RCMP members when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.
- Failing to ensure the health and safety at work of every person employed by it, namely: RCMP members, was protected.
No individual RCMP manager or supervisor is named in the charges.