Nova Scotia

RCMP officer visited N.S. gunman at least 16 times, but says he saw no weapons

A new report released Tuesday by the public inquiry examining the Nova Scotia mass shooting that took 22 lives lays out the actions police took in response to complaints about Gabriel Wortman in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

New document lays out actions police took around complaints about gunman before 2020

A fire-destroyed property registered to Gabriel Wortman at 200 Portapique Beach Rd. is seen in Portapique, N.S. on May 8, 2020. An RCMP officer visited the gunman at his Portapique cottage around 16 times years before the mass shooting, but found no weapons. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

An RCMP officer visited the Nova Scotia gunman about 16 times at his Portapique, N.S., cottage in the years before the April 2020 mass shooting, but police never felt there was enough evidence to investigate the man despite three reports from people concerned he had guns.

A new report released Tuesday by the public inquiry examining the mass shooting that took 22 lives lays out the actions police took in response to complaints about Gabriel Wortman in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

It also details numerous visits made to the cottage by Bible Hill RCMP Const. Greg Wiley, who said he developed a rapport with the man beginning around 2008 and last saw him in 2017. Wiley was asked to follow up on at least one of the complaints against him.

"We get a gazillion threats complaints … everybody and their dog's phoning in," Wiley told RCMP investigators six days after the shooting, according to a transcript released by the inquiry. 

"Doing the, the checkups it's — it's not realistic. I don't — I don't think the force dropped the ball on this."

The first complaint was from an uncle who reported Wortman had made death threats against his parents, who lived in New Brunswick. The second instance was a tip circulated by town police in Truro, N.S., that Wortman wanted to "kill a cop." The third time involved a neighbour who reported to police concerns about his behaviour. 

In the months after the shootings, RCMP said they were looking into what contact police previously had with the gunman.

The commission leading the public inquiry spoke to more than 20 people — including friends and people who worked on his property — who recalled seeing the gunman's firearms or hearing him talk about them. Some saw him use his gun and were familiar with the places he stored them in his cottage in Portapique. 

2010 threats to parents

Cordell Poirier, a retired Halifax Regional Police officer of 35 years, first heard the gunman's name early on June 2, 2010, when a RCMP officer from Moncton, N.B., called to tell him about a threats complaint.

The Mountie said Paul Wortman, the gunman's father, had gotten a call from his brother Glynn Wortman in Edmonton. Glynn Wortman said Gabriel Wortman had called him while upset about a family land deal, and he was threatening to "go to Moncton and kill his parents," Poirier recalled in an interview with the commission.

The RCMP officer also told Poirier he'd learned from Paul Wortman that his son was "a bad alcoholic, and has possession of several long-barrel weapons."

Poirier and another officer went around 3:30 a.m. to the Portland Street address in Dartmouth, N.S., where Gabriel Wortman lived and had his denturist office. They spoke to his partner, Lisa Banfield, at the door, who said he had passed out drunk a few hours earlier.

Banfield told them there were no weapons in the house, Poirier said in his initial report, and would not confirm or deny the threat Wortman made about his parents.

Although Poirier said he needed to speak with him in person and left his card, he did not hear anything. He followed up on his next regular day shift on June 7, and went to the Portland Street home again but no one answered the door.

Halifax Regional Police investigators confer outside the Atlantic Denture Clinic on April 20, 2020, in Dartmouth, N.S. The clinic was owned by the gunman, and was visited by a Halifax Regional Police officer in 2010 about alleged threats he made about his parents. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)

As he was heading back to his cruiser, Poirier said he got a call from Wortman who said he was calling from Banfield's phone in Portapique. 

He wouldn't "admit or deny" making the threat about his parents and said he would be away for the next month at the Portapique cottage and a trip to New England, Poirier told the commission. 

When Poirer said he still wanted to eventually meet in person, Wortman became confrontational and said the only weapons that he had in the house were "a pellet gun and two antique muskets, both non-functional."

"That conversation ended with him saying, 'Look, if you're going to charge, charge me,' and he hung up," Poirier said.

Poirier said he tried multiple times to speak directly with the uncle, Glynn Wortman, but he always got an answering machine and his calls were never returned. 

Poirier did then speak with Paul Wortman. The father "was convinced" the gunman, who had no firearms licence, had several serious weapons including pistols and long-barrelled guns, but Paul Wortman hadn't seen them himself in more than five years. 

Given that time gap, Poirer noted in his report that "without recent knowledge a Public Safety Warrant could not be obtained." He also told Paul Wortman the threat file couldn't go anywhere unless he got "some co-operation" from the uncle.

Soon after his call with Gabriel Wortman, Poirier said he spoke with Wiley over the phone about the firearms complaint. Wiley "told me that he was a good friend" of the man's, according to Poirier, and would go try to find out if he indeed had weapons at his cottage.

He didn't speak with Wiley again until July 17, Poirier said, and Wiley still hadn't spoken with Wortman. Poirier said he found it "strange" the RCMP officer still hadn't met with the man well over a month after getting the report. Wiley told Poirier he would try to follow up in the next two days. 

An arrangement of firearms including rifles and pistols are laid out on a beige background
After police shot and killed the gunman at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., they found five firearms in his possession: three handguns and two rifles. He obtained three of them in Houlton, Maine. (Mass Casualty Commission)

But Poirier said he never heard back from Wiley, so he closed the file because there were "no grounds" to follow up or lay a threat charge.

"I was hoping that with the information I'd given the RCMP, they would be able to find something out on their end," Poirer told the commission.

Wiley had been aware of Wortman's family dispute from previous visits to his Portapique cottage while on patrol in the area. 

However, his recollection differs from Poirier's account. In an interview with the Mass Casualty Commission on June 11, 2021, Wiley said he didn't recall hearing from another officer about a threats complaint, didn't recognize Poirier's name, and didn't remember ever asking Wortman about guns — but insisted he must have.

"If I told the guy I was going to speak to Gabriel about that, I would have spoke to Gabriel about it," Wiley said. "Like, I wouldn't have been derelict in that."

Wiley also said he saw no evidence of firearms any of the approximately 16 times he was there over the years.

He had developed a professional relationship with the gunman years earlier, describing him as polite and welcoming, after responding to a break-in at his garage where tools were stolen. Wiley said once most of the tools were recovered and the case was closed, he checked in with the man frequently.

"I knew the value of having a few people in the community that you go to, and ironically, this is the irony of it, I was going to a guy, him of all guys and asking um 'Is there anything that we sh-should know about or anyone — anyone that should be on our radar?' And isn't it ironic how things have turned out?" said Wiley.

Wiley said he didn't see any weapons at the cottage.

Tip to police he wanted to 'kill a cop'

The next time Poirier saw the gunman's name was in a report on May 3, 2011, from Cpl. Greg Densmore of the Truro Police Service. Densmore said an unknown man had approached him while on duty and said Wortman "stated he wants to kill a cop."

According to Densmore's report, the source said Wortman had "at least one handgun" he'd take between Dartmouth and Portapique, plus "several long rifles located at his cottage" that may be stored in a "compartment located behind the flue."

The report was also issued as an "officer safety bulletin" to all police agencies in the province on May 4. It said police had been told Wortman was under a lot of stress and has "mental issues."

"Use extreme caution when dealing with WORTMAN," the bulletin said.

"Of course, when I saw that one, the first thing I noticed was the name, and you know, ding-dong, I said, 'I remember him,'" Poirier told the commission.

Poirier called Densmore to fill him in on the 2010 threats file, and Densmore shared that the source told him Wortman stored his handgun in his bedside night stand.

A collage of 22 people shows the faces of the people who died in four rows
Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

At this time Poirier said he called the Bible Hill detachment again and spoke with on-duty supervisor Const. John MacMinn, filling him in about the Truro report and his contact with Wiley the year before.

MacMinn said he'd review Wiley's file on the 2010 threat to "determine what action, if any, was taken last year" and get back to Poirier within a day.

But Poirer said that never happened, so from his perspective "that was it" and he left the case with the RCMP.

"I wasn't going to continually call back saying, 'what's going on?' … they're handling it, so whatever they did, they did," Poirier said.

Poirier said that was the last time he heard of the gunman until "that horrible day when I heard the name" after the 2020 mass shooting.

In his interview with police, Wiley said he didn't remember seeing the Densmore bulletin with details about Wortman wanting to kill a cop, or any conversations with MacMinn. He said he never saw Wortman as a threat.

"The whole thing seems so strange to me because … the guy just came across as polite," he said. "How I thought of him as a person was benign, so … I knew Dr. Jekyll, but I didn't know Mr. Hyde at all."

According to commission documents, Densmore couldn't find any more details about the unknown source who tipped him off in his notes, and when he tried to check his original Truro police incident report the files had been "purged from the system."

Neighbour was fearful in 2013

A former neighbour of Wortman's, Brenda Forbes, said she told police in the summer of 2013 that she'd heard he had held down and beaten Banfield behind one of the properties he owned in Portapique. Forbes also told police he had illegal weapons, which she had seen herself in 2007 or 2008.

She said she spoke to Glynn Wortman, who said he witnessed the violent incident. Forbes said she spoke to two RCMP officers, but the uncle refused to talk with police because he worried his nephew "would kill him."

The officers told Forbes they had no proof the gunman had any weapons, she recalled, but they would "keep an eye" on him.

Const. Troy Maxwell, the RCMP officer who took her July 6, 2013, complaint, provided the commission with one page of his notes.

According to the RCMP's internal review of their records of Forbes's complaint, Maxwell remembered it was about concerns Wortman was acting "aggressively in the neighbourhood." The review found no indication in the records that it involved domestic violence.

Maxwell went to the Portapique cottage twice, with two different colleagues, with "negative results," and there were no more details on the complaint.

Union says police followed the law

Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP members below the rank of inspector, said Tuesday there was "insufficient evidence" to allow RCMP officers to secure a warrant to search for firearms at Wortman's residence when police were informed of his weapons in 2010 and 2011.

"However tempting it may be to wish that such protections from police were not available to the perpetrator before he became a threat to our community, it is important to the integrity of our justice system that police adhere to their training and to uphold the law in all circumstances," Sauvé said in an email.

Based on the information presented by the inquiry about the nature of the reports that police received regarding Wortman's firearms, Sauvé said, "it is clear that our members followed the law and their training," and were not able to take further steps to investigate without more reliable evidence.

With files from Angela MacIvor and Elizabeth McMillan