Nova Scotia

N.S. premier not ready to question if a public alert should have been issued about gunman

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says there will be a time to discuss how the public was alerted and updated about a violent shooting rampage that killed at least 19 people on the weekend, but now is not the time.

RCMP say they will be looking into decision to use Twitter to communicate as opposed to alert

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says his government is letting the RCMP do their investigation and will only get involved if the force needs something from the province. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says there will be a time to discuss how the public was alerted and updated about a shooting rampage that killed at least 19 people on the weekend, but now is not that time.

RCMP used Twitter to provide updates to the public as they responded to a weapons complaint late Saturday night in Portapique, N.S., that became an active-shooter incident and manhunt across the central part of the province lasting almost 12 hours.

But in communities plagued by spotty internet service and heavily populated with seniors who might not use Twitter, some people are asking why the province did not use its emergency alert system to issue text messages to cellphones advising people of what was happening and to stay inside.

The United States Consulate General in Halifax on Sunday morning issued a warning about the situation by email.

'She wouldn't have gone out for a walk'

Heather Matthews, a resident of Wentworth, N.S., about 140 kilometres north of Halifax, believes such an alert would have saved her friend and neighbour, Lillian Campbell Hyslop, and possibly others. Hyslop was shot and killed while out for a walk Sunday morning.

"If we were all given that security alert for Northern Nova Scotians to lock your doors, she would have been home," Matthews said in a telephone interview. "She would have been safe in her house. She wouldn't have gone out for a walk."

Matthews, who was also out walking with her husband, David, at about the same time, believes they heard a gun shot while they were out. Normally, they walk along the main road but decided to take a different path yesterday. It was only after the couple returned home that they learned what was happening because friends were calling to tell them to stay in and lock their doors.

Hyslop was "an all-around nice girl" who was quiet but friendly, Matthews said. The couple got to know her when Hyslop and her husband moved back to the area about five years ago.

RCMP to examine decision

RCMP communications officials told a news conference on Monday that Twitter was used because it was an unfolding situation that was updated many times, although they were in contact with the province the whole time.

Chief Supt. Chris Leather said the force would be looking at the decision-making process, and he hoped to have an update by Tuesday. He could not say why an alert was not issued.

"We had relied on Twitter, as my colleague said, because of the instantaneous manner we can communicate. We're aware we have thousands of followers in Nova Scotia and felt it was a way — a superior way — to communicate this ongoing threat."

During a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said there can always be better ways of doing things and that could extend to how the public is advised of things that are happening. She noted, however, that the situation was very dynamic and included more than a dozen crime scenes.

Province used alert system Easter weekend

Brian Samson, a resident of Truro, N.S., said he was pleased to see information posted on social media by first responders to keep the public updated on what was happening.

Samson said he didn't have a problem with not receiving a public alert.

"With such a tragedy, there's probably only so much you can really get out there at a given moment," he said. "I guess time will tell down the road if that medium should be used moving forward."

The province most recently used its text alert system in the lead-up to the Easter long weekend, advising people to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During his daily briefing on COVID-19, McNeil said Monday that the province's Emergency Management Office only activates the alert system when ordered to do so.

"Public health ordered us to put the COVID [alert] out," he said. "We were happy to support them. We had people in and ready, but we were not asked to put out that alert on the weekend."

The premier told CBC News Network on Monday that rather than question whether an alert should have been issued, right now the police investigation needs to be allowed to happen.

"People were making decisions as they were trying to protect their community, and I am certainly not going to judge the decisions that were made yesterday," he said.

"I want law enforcement to focus, quite frankly, on ensuring that they piece this together so that families can have some closure and eventually communities and, in the broader sense, people will be able to ask them those questions."

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Premier learned of manhunt Sunday morning

Like most Nova Scotians, McNeil learned of the manhunt when he woke up Sunday morning and saw news reports.

The premier, whose family has extensive connections to law enforcement, said he did not think he should have been contacted by RCMP to be advised of what was happening.

"I got notified when it was required," he said.

"We need to bear in mind, we can't even fathom what this environment was like and the last thing that they needed to do was call the premier unless they needed something from our government."

McNeil said Mark Furey, the province's attorney general and a former RCMP officer, has been the government's contact with the RCMP. The premier said the message to the force from his government has been to do their job and the government would only get involved if they are asked.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

With files from Olivier Lefebvre