Manitoba

Angry emails to PMO question RCMP competence in hunt for B.C. homicide suspects

Canadians from coast to coast wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office during the hunt for the country’s two most wanted men this summer, some expressing outrage with how the search for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod was handled.

Was RCMP mishandling case in search for B.C. fugitives and why so little information since, emails ask

The RCMP issued a public alert for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod on July 23. Their bodies were discovered on Aug. 7. During the hunt for the two, the offices of the prime minister and the public safety minister received communication from Canadians concerned about how the search was being handled. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Canadians from coast to coast wrote to the Prime Minister's Office during the hunt for the country's two most wanted men this summer, some expressing outrage with how the search for Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod was handled.

And more than a month after the bodies of the two men were found, a former RCMP deputy commissioner says there are still unanswered questions about the case.

CBC News filed an Access to Information request with the federal government for internal communications relating to how the manhunt was handled by RCMP.

Recently, CBC was given roughly a dozen emails sent to the PMO as the first portion of the request. In them, writers expressed dismay that the two B.C. homicide suspects were able to evade police during a weeks-long search this summer, and criticized the lack of information provided by Mounties and the government.  

"The treatment of Canadians by the RCMP during the manhunt for McLeod and Schmegelsky and the autopsy etc is completely unacceptable," one Burlington, Ont., writer said to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in an Aug. 12 email, after the search had ended.

"Heads at the RCMP should roll, Goodale should be fired," the voter said, adding they thought this would become an election issue.

Since the bodies of McLeod and Schmegelsky were discovered on Aug. 7, RCMP have said little about the investigation, and have not indicated any possible motive for the killings in which the two men were suspects.

The search for the two began in July, after the discovery of the bodies of Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend, Chynna Deese, who were found shot and killed in northern B.C. on July 15. McLeod and Schmegelsky were considered suspects in the double homicide.

Images of murder suspects Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, recorded in northern Saskatchewan a few days after three people were found dead in B.C., were publicly released by police. (RCMP)

McLeod and Schmegelsky were charged on July 24 with second-degree murder in the killing of Leonard Dyck, a botany lecturer at the University of British Columbia. He was found dead on July 19. Those charges were recently abated, as the suspects are dead.

On July 23, police said Schmegelsky and McLeod were suspects in the three deaths, sparking a search focused in northern Manitoba — where a burned-out vehicle used by the fugitives was found on July 22. 

During the more than two-week-long search, people from Vancouver to Antigonish, N.S., wrote to the Prime Minister and Goodale.

'I am embarrassed and disappointed'

"I am usually proud to be Canadian and feel relatively safe in our country. Not so much now. I am embarrassed and disappointed at how we are being viewed by the world," an Antigonish resident wrote in a July 29 email.

"And technically, we all have reason to be afraid. We are still potential targets. And that is totally unacceptable."

The writer took exception to initial comments from B.C. RCMP, who told CBC on July 20 there was nothing to indicate a pickup truck fire and the discovery of a man's body were linked to the double homicide of Fowler and Deese.

The bodies of tourists Chynna Deese and Lucas Fowler, left, were found near Liard Hot Springs, B.C., on July 15. University lecturer Leonard Dyck, right, was found dead four days later near Dease Lake, B.C. (New South Wales Police; University of British Columbia)

"At this point there is nothing to indicate those two investigations are linked. I am not sure why or how those two were ever linked. That information did not come from us," wrote B.C. RCMP Sgt. Janelle Shoihet at the time.

The body was later found to be Dyck's, and the truck to have been driven by McLeod and Schmegelsky.

'Slow to sound the alarm': Nova Scotia writer

"The RCMP were slow to sound the alarm as to the gravity and potential danger of this case," the Antigonish writer said.

Asked for comment on the emails, the Prime Minister's Office deferred to Goodale's office, who deferred the request to the RCMP.

Manitoba RCMP said it received tens of thousands of supportive comments on its social media accounts.

Shoihet said this week she can appreciate members of the public criticizing the Mounties' decisions, but said every decision police made was based on information they had at the time.

"As soon as we had verified information linking to the two investigations, we provided that information to the public. We cannot provide information we do not have," she wrote in an email.

She said over nine days, the RCMP issued nine news releases and held five press conferences to keep communities informed and up to date.

RCMP tactical officers search near Gillam, Man., for the two B.C. homicide suspects with the help of police dogs on July 25. (Gilbert Rowan/CBC)

One concern during the manhunt came from a Grande Prairie, Alta., resident who wrote to the Prime Minister's Office on July 30 to ask why military forces hadn't been deployed to help work through the tough northern Manitoba terrain.

It's one of at least two emails the PM got asking for military forces to be called in.

"These young men need to be found so people of [Gillam, Man.], and other Canadians can return to a normal lifestyle," the writer said.

"There is never hesitation to deploy military personnel help in other world countries."

A July 26 email from Goodale's office says the RCMP were going to ask for a military plane to help search for the two suspects, who were presumed to be near Gillam, Man.

A military Hercules aircraft from Winnipeg arrived in Gillam on July 27 ⁠— four days after the RCMP first said the suspects may be in Manitoba.

Use of civilian aircraft questioned

Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, said calling in the military is a last resort in situations like the manhunt.

"Quite frankly … you don't bring in the military until you've exhausted your own assets," he said in a phone interview from Vancouver.

But German, who had praise for the officers who worked on the search, wondered why RCMP air resources weren't used, instead of the military's.

The military's air support for the RMCP landed in Gillam, Man., on July 27 to help police with the massive hunt for the two B.C. homicide suspects. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

"The RCMP has the capability to do night searching with their helicopters. Their pilots are trained for it [and] with night-vision goggles, can do things that civilian pilots can't. I don't know [if] that question has been answered."

The RCMP said they did use one of their planes with infrared capabilities in the search, on the evening of July 23. Drones were also sent to the area to assist with the search.

RCMP said they used one of their helicopters, but it didn't arrive in Manitoba until Aug. 3. This was in addition to front-line and tactical officers, police dogs, forensic identification specialists and major crime investigators who were sent to Gillam.

German said it's interesting that Mounties have been so tight-lipped following the discovery of the suspects' bodies, and following reports that McLeod and Schmegelsky made videos while on the run.

"Generally speaking the concerns over evidence, release of information [and] so forth disappear, or certainly dissipate, after death," he said, adding RCMP are likely treading carefully in an effort to minimize harm to the victims' families.

"It could be inflammatory. It could be embarrassing. It could be nasty. We just don't know," he said, speaking of the reported videos.

Peter German, left, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, suspects Mounties are being tight-lipped in an effort to reduce harm to the victims' families. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

He also questioned how the RCMP communicated to the public during the search.

"I think the big issue that I kept hearing was information to the public. Was the public receiving enough information and was it real-time information? … Were people at the right level communicating information?"

Sgt. Shoihet said B.C. RCMP do not have any definitive plans for an update on the case.

On Aug. 12, police said a public update would be provided once a review, initially expected to take a few weeks, was complete.

German thinks the public would be satisfied if the RCMP revealed what they think was the motive behind the killings.

"Why did this happen to what appeared to be ordinary individuals — young, young men? What happened? What was the trigger? Was it video games? Was it violence? What was it?

"I think that's critical."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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