The RCMP has pleaded not guilty on charges the force violated four health and safety provisions of the Canada Labour Code in connection with the 2014 Mountie shootings in Moncton, N.B., that left three officers dead and two others wounded.
The pleas were entered in Moncton provincial court on Thursday.
Each of the four charges comes with a maximum fine of $1 million.
No individual RCMP manager or supervisor is named in the charges.
The trial has been scheduled for April 17, 2017. Three months have been set aside for it.
"I would have liked it to be over," Nadine Larche, who lost her husband, Codiac Regional RCMP Const. Douglas James Larche, told reporters outside court.
"I'm trying to formulate thoughts that I can't put into words right now. It's just been a frustrating process," she said.
'If they had any empathy whatsoever for their public, they would have resolved this and had it done and over with today.' - Terry McKee, retired RCMP supervisor
Angela Gevaudan, whose husband, Const. Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, was among the slain officers, agreed. "We were just hoping for a resolution," she said.
Terry McKee, media liaison with the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, and retired RCMP supervisor of two of the killed officers, called the not guilty pleas "a slap in the face to the public."
"The stress that this is putting on witnesses, the stress that it's putting on families of the members that have fallen, the wounded, the dispatchers, the firefighters — this is all going to be relived again," said McKee.
"And if they had any empathy whatsoever for their public, they would have resolved this and had it done and over with today," he said.
McKee noted the charges were laid a year ago and questioned whether adjourning the matter for another year until the trial is held is "another ploy, which … buys time."
"Whether it's for a benefit for whoever is directly responsible, not just the RCMP, but individuals who made fatal decisions, that it buys time, possibly for their retirement, so that they can gracefully bow out of the RCMP, I don't know, but in any event, playing these tactics is a disgrace — a slap in the face to the public."
McKee has repeatedly called for a public inquiry into the shootings.
Officials had previously suggested there was a chance a "possible resolution" could be reached between the national police force and the Crown.
The RCMP had been scheduled to enter pleas on the charges on April 7, but Crown prosecutor Paul Adams told the court then that ongoing discussions were taking place between the parties to work on a possible resolution and more time was needed.
Adams didn't elaborate on what he meant by "possible resolution."
Outside the court on Thursday, Adams declined to discuss the matter. "I hope you understand I can't speak to the specifics," he said. "The matter is before the courts."
Defence lawyer Ian Carter, who represented the RCMP in court on April 7, had said they were working at "narrowing the issues."
Mark Ertel, who appeared on behalf of the RCMP during Thursday's proceedings, had little to say to reporters.
"The matter is going to trial and the RCMP is going to contest the allegations," he said.
Asked to respond to McKee's allegations of it being a stalling tactic, Ertel said, "Even if it was, I wouldn't be able to comment.
"The matter is before the courts now, a not guilty plea has been entered, and that means the matter is proceeding to trial and we've set a date for trial."
Trial by judge
In January, the RCMP elected to be tried on the charges by a provincial court judge.
The charges relate to equipment, training and supervision and were recommended by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada after its investigation into the Moncton shootings by gunman Justin Bourque in June 2014.
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The charges include:
- 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.
Gevaudan, 45, Larche, 40, and Const. David Joseph Ross, 32, were shot and killed by Bourque, 24, as he made his way through a Moncton neighbourhood on the evening of June 4, 2014.
Constables Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois were wounded.
Bourque was armed with a M305 .308 semiautomatic rifle and a Mossberg 500 12-gauge shotgun. The Mounties had to counter with pistols and shotguns as no members of Codiac detachment were trained to use a carbine weapon, which is a high-powered, short-barrelled rifle with a longer accurate range than a pistol or shotgun.