New Brunswick

RCMP 'played the odds' with officer safety and it proved fatal, Crown argues

The RCMP "grossly mismanaged" the rollout of carbine rifles to front-line officers, putting money and public image ahead of officers lives, the Crown argued Tuesday during closing statements at the national police force's Labour Code trial in connection with the Moncton Mountie shootings in June 2014.

Lawyers give closing arguments at force's Labour Code trial in connection with 2014 Moncton Mountie shootings

Crown prosecutor Paul Adams argued RCMP management knew for years that officers were under equipped, citing a 2011 internal memo that called the status quo 'unacceptable.' (Kate Letterick/CBC)

The RCMP "grossly mismanaged" the rollout of carbine rifles to front-line officers, putting money and public image ahead of officers lives, the Crown argued Tuesday during closing statements at the national police force's Labour Code trial related to the Moncton Mountie shootings in June 2014.

But the defence contended that the RCMP exercised due diligence and should not be judged in hindsight.

The RCMP is charged with violating four provisions of the Canada Labour Code by allegedly failing to provide its members with appropriate equipment and training to face a gunman like Justin Bourque, who killed three officers and wounded two others in a shooting rampage.

What the RCMP did here was they played the odds with respect to the safety of the officers on the front line.- Paul Adams, prosecutor

Moncton provincial court Judge Leslie Jackson will give his ruling on Sept. 29 at 10 a.m., after taking time to consider the evidence and final arguments from the trial, which begin in April.

Prosecutor Paul Adams argued the RCMP knew several years before the Moncton shootings that carbine rifles —  high-powered, short-barrelled rifles that have a longer and more accurate range than a pistol or shotgun — were the appropriate weapon to respond to such an incident.

Calling the force complacent about implementation, he said it failed to invest sufficient resources and left its officers outgunned, despite knowing shootings were becoming more common.

The evidence proves at least some of the deaths and injuries would have been avoided if the force had provided appropriate weapons and training, he said.

Bob Paulson, the former head of the force, has often voiced concerns about giving military-style weapons to police. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)
"What the RCMP did here was they played the odds with respect to the safety of the officers on the frontline," said Adams.

"They took a chance. And Moncton was the chance they took," he said.

"It's difficult to imagine any circumstance where taking seven years to address known risk to employees translates into due diligence."

Adams challenged the testimony of the RCMP's former boss, Bob Paulson, who said his Moncton officers were adequately equipped to respond to Bourque.

The recently retired commissioner, who made a surprise appearance as the defence's last witness, testified no one can say for sure that carbines would have made any difference that night, and that the extent to which they are needed is something that remains unclear to him to this day.

Adams described Paulson's testimony as "contrived."

"Where's the leadership? Where's the prioritization? Where's the due diligence?" he asked.

'Hindsight is 20-20'

Earlier in the day, defence lawyer Ian Carter argued carbines had to be studied and weighed against other priorities.

The RCMP is a public organization and bureaucracy dictates how governments work, he stressed.

"This is not a case where [the police force was] sitting back and doing nothing about carbines," Carter told the Moncton courtroom.

"They were working hard within the confines of what they had to deal with," he said.

"Could a few things have been done differently? Maybe. But hindsight is 20-20."

The RCMP eventually acquired a C8 carbine for its members, but the weapon had not yet made its way to front line officers at the time of the shooting. (CBC)
Carter said the RCMP was more or less in line with industry standards at the time. Only 18 out of 180 Canadian police forces had carbines in 2014.

And while the Moncton shooting incident was devastating, it was not that likely, said Carter. New Brunswick has one of lowest crime rates in the country, he said.

Commissioning several studies before the weapons were approved for use in 2011 was not an attempt to delay things, said Carter.

"The issue was complex and serious," and it was not a matter of analysis paralysis, he said.

The judge interrupted Carter, saying most witnesses would probably disagree with him.

Jackson pointed out one of the reports recommended carbines be rolled out nationally, which the RCMP ignored, opting instead for a provincial rollout.

Public image played a big role, the judge suggested.

Officers who responded to the call about gunman Justin Bourque had pistols to defend themselves. (Marc Grandmaison/Canadian Press)
Carter agreed public image was a factor but for good reason. The RCMP couldn't rush into another use-of-force weapon after a civilian was killed by a police Taser at the Vancouver airport in 2007, he said.

Several Crown witnesses have testified carbines could have made a difference during Bourque's deadly rampage on June 4, 2014.

Bourque was armed with an M305.308 semi-automatic rifle and a Mossberg 500 12-gauge shotgun when he fatally shot constables Douglas Larche, Dave Ross, and Fabrice Gevaudan, and wounded constables Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois.

The responding officers, who were all shot within 20 minutes, were equipped only with pistols, which have inferior range, power and accuracy. No carbines were available to them that night, the trial has heard.

30 witnesses

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 those officers said 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, have been at the centre of testimony.

The Crown's case

From left, Const. Douglas James Larche, 40, from Saint John, N.B., Const. Dave Joseph Ross, 32, from Victoriaville, Que., and Const. Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, 45, from Boulogne-Billancourt, France, were killed in Moncton, N.B., on June 4, 2014. (RCMP)
Throughout the trial, prosecutors tried to demonstrate management was aware officers were under-equipped but did not act fast enough.

The Crown presented several studies done in the years before the Moncton shootings, all concluding that frontline officers did not have the tools needed to do their jobs safely. 

One 2011 report even concluded the force faced a high risk of being held accountable for the injury or death of a member one day.

There was also an internal RCMP note that deemed the status quo ''unacceptable.''

The Crown also referred to statistics that say most officers who die in the line of duty were killed by long guns, and that Mounties are more likely to be shot than members of any other police force in the country.

And yet, the Crown argued, other police forces in Canada had received carbines and training long before the RCMP.

The defence's case

But the defence has been arguing throughout the trial that the RCMP is not responsible for killing the three Moncton officers, often reminding court that Justin Bourque is.

It also said that the RCMP couldn't have known what was waiting for them that night, that it's impossible to train for every situation imaginable, and that police shootings were a rare occurrence before that day.

Lawyers argued the question of acquiring carbines had to be weighed carefully — it was a big change for the force, there were concerns about providing military-style equipment to members and what that could do to public perception.

Managers had to make sure the weapon was justified, insisted the defence, and the force was merely exercising its due-diligence by commissioning so many studies.

The defence also pointed out the RCMP was working with a limited budget, and New Brunswick had been identified as the province with one of the lowest firearms crime rate in the country.

The RCMP is charged with:

  • 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. Each of the four charges carries a maximum fine of $1 million.

Bourque is serving five life sentences with no chance of parole for 75 years after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

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With files from Gabrielle Fahmy