New Brunswick

Trial of the RCMP: What we've learned so far

A roundup of revelations from the RCMP's trial in Moncton, which asks whether proper equipment and training could have kept more Mounties alive the night of June 4, 2014.

Force charged with 4 violations of Canada Labour Code in relation to shooting of Moncton Mounties

Officers who responded to the Justin Bourque call only had pistols to defend themselves. (Marc Grandmaison/Canadian Press)

The national police force is on trial, accused of failing to protect its members during a shooting rampage in Moncton that shook the nation.

Constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Dave Ross and Doug Larche were killed by a lone gunman, Justin Bourque, on a night the RCMP in Moncton are trying to forget: June 4, 2014.

In what's considered a precedent-setting case with potential ramifications across the country, the Crown has the burden of proving that proper equipment and training could have prevented some of those deaths — allegations the force is facing under the Canada Labour Code.

As the trial begins a two-week break, here are five key revelations from the case so far.

1. Officers felt severely outgunned

Const. Mathieu Daigle testified that Bourque might not have killed three officers if the RCMP had been better armed. (CBC)

The faceoff between Bourque, carrying a semi-automatic rifle, and RCMP officers, armed with their duty pistols, has put carbines — and why the Mounties didn't have them — at the heart of the trial.

Const. Eric Dubois, one of the wounded, said he felt like the "hunted" that night. With a better weapon, Dubois said, he has no doubt he would have brought Bourque down. Against better weapons, said another constable, Mathieu Daigle, Bourque could have killed one officer but not three.

Cpl. Peter MacLean, the supervisor at the scene that night, said he knew Mounties were in trouble as soon as he heard the rapid gunfire. "Oh God, he's got an automatic," MacLean recalled thinking. He told someone on air who offered their own rifle to bring "whatever they could get."

2. No one took charge during a chaotic night

Police take cover behind their vehicles in Moncton during the shootings. (Ron Ward/Moncton Times & Transcript via The Canadian Press)

Retired assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil testified a supervisor should have come over the air and advised officers what to do. No one ever said, "We're in a shooting situation, put on your hard body armour.'" Initial responders were left to make decisions on their own, and within 20 minutes, five of them were gunned down.

Officers testified about a lack of direction. Once he figured out Bourque was targeting police, Const. Rob Nickerson asked over the air: "Do we still have to keep moving? Because again, he's got the high power, he's got the scope." He received no response.

3. Public opinion delayed move to better weapon

The RCMP eventually acquired a C8 carbine for its members, but the weapon had not made its way to Moncton by the time of Bourque's rampage. (CBC)

One of the big surprises of the trial is just how much public perception played a role in decisions about weapons, with one event very much at the centre of testimony: the Taser death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the hands of police in 2007. The incident at the Vancouver airport was eventually ruled an unnecessary use of force.

Dealing with the backlash from the public put the question of better arming the Mounties on hold for two years, witnesses said. The incident also set new standards for just how much research the national police force wanted to do before adopting another weapon.

One witness, Supt. Bruce Stuart, even admitted to the Crown that public perception took precedence over officer safety. It delayed carbine adoption by several years, he said, because of the RCMP's need for rigorous research to justify the weapon.

4. RCMP use-of-force experts frustrated

RCMP Supt. Bruce Stuart, who worked in the use-of-force division, said he tried to stress the importance of patrol carbines to his superiors. (CBC)

Stuart and the other RCMP use-of-force expert, Supt. Troy Lightfoot, both testified to frustrations over trying to move the issue of carbines along — even voicing concerns to superiors. Work started in 2006, in large part in reaction to the Mayerthorpe, Alta., tragedy in which four Mounties were killed, and mass shootings happening in the U.S. At the time, however, few resources were being dedicated to the issue. It was only in 2011 that the RCMP's senior executive committee approved the weapon for front-line members.

5. Money, money, money

Darrell Madill, who was the RCMP's deputy commissioner, testified about budgetary limitations facing the national force. (CBC)

After 2011, a lot of the delay in adopting a new weapon came down to money. Former deputy commissioner Darrell Madill said the RCMP couldn't just unilaterally decide to roll out carbines. It had to get its partners — the federal government, provinces and territories — on board and work out budget issues with them.

While Stuart felt strongly the roll-out should depend solely on the threat level in each region, his superiors told him financing should be part of the equation too. With different provinces having different means, some would be able get more weapons and get them faster.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gabrielle Fahmy is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been a journalist with the CBC since 2014.

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