Tough questions about the Moncton shootings

The RCMP commissioner promises a thorough review, but should the Mounties be investigating themselves?

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Mark Blinch/Reuters

A month after three RCMP officers were killed and two wounded during a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B, grief is giving way to hard questions.

How, precisely, did the shooter manage to ambush so many trained officers? Were the Mounties properly armed and equipped? How did local RCMP commanders handle the crisis? Could any of the shootings have been prevented?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: Can the RCMP answer those questions on its own?

There is considerable debate within the organization on that last point. On June 25, Commissioner Bob Paulson sent an internal email to officers promising a prompt and thorough internal review led by Phonse MacNeil, a retired assistant commissioner who used to be Nova Scotia’s top Mountie. This alone is an unusual step, as police typically wait for criminal investigations and trials to play out before embarking on their own internal reviews.

In explaining the urgency, Paulson told the force’s 22,000 members that he wants “to fully understand the facts, learn from them and if required, change our practices promptly,” adding: “The safety and security of our members demand it.”

Reports suggest he wants the results on his desk in about 90 days.

That the RCMP brass would want to know how and why five of its members were cut down in a single gun incident makes sense. You’d hardly want to stop the RCMP from engaging in constructive self-examination.

The haste in this case, however, appears to be born of bitter experience. Officers waited nearly six years after the 2005 shooting of four officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta., before getting meaningful answers to the aforementioned questions—in that instance, from a provincial fatality inquiry. The delay, and the sense that senior commanders were not accountable for their decisions, fueled outrage within the rank and file. It played no small part in a unionization drive that culminated this winter in a Supreme Court challenge of laws preventing Mounties from forming an independent labour organization (a decision is pending).

Surely RCMP management is loath to heap more tinder on its already volatile relations with its own officers. But will a single internal review be enough?

Not likely. Over the past few days, I’ve spoken with leaders of that unionization drive, who say that review should be led by an outside agency like the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). They’re also demanding a public inquiry into the RCMP’s operational model, which they believe leaves officers vulnerable: RCMP members, they note, are spread thinner on a per capita basis than their counterparts in other forces. That makes them a cheaper option, but also means they must patrol alone, in areas far away from SWAT units equipped with the weaponry necessary to handle crisis situations.

If a public inquiry sounds like overreach, consider that federal regulation bans officers from publicly criticizing “the administration, operation, objectives or policies” of the force. “Members want to be called into a court of inquiry, where they’re sworn,” says Rob Creasser, a retired Mountie from Kamloops, B.C. who now speaks for the Mounted Police Professional Association. “If they come out and are critical of the RCMP, they could be subject to discipline for simply telling it like it is. And that—pardon my French—is bulls–t.”

Certainly there are pressing issues to be aired, not least relating to firepower. Since Mayerthorpe, RCMP command has twice been warned—once by the Alberta fatality inquiry; once by Darryl Davies, an academic it hired to look into the issue—that its officers are under-armed given the (mostly illegal) proliferation of restricted and prohibited assault weapons among the criminals they face.

To make up the gap, the RCMP has approved the use of Colt C8 carbine assault rifles, which fire .223-calibre bullets at high velocity and accuracy, and include 30-round magazines. But the force is nowhere close to having one available to every officer on patrol.

Further slowing the rollout, say insiders with knowledge of the guns, is the Mounties’ decision to buy a “Cadillac” version of the C8 worth $4,950 per weapon, and to adopt a training standard similar to that of JTF-2, the elite military special forces unit.

All told, sources told Maclean’s, it costs the RCMP about $10,000 and five working days to equip and train three to five officers on the C8s. The OPP, by contrast, equips its officers with a stripped-down version of the same rifle worth about $2,800, and trains them within two days.

And since funding for the RCMP C8s must come from detachment budgets, local commanders in some cash-strapped units must find savings elsewhere to bring them in. “I’ve talked to a lot of RCMP officers members who have never seen one of these things,” says Kent Taylor, a retired OPP officer who trained colleagues on the C8, and who now has a son in the RCMP. “On one hand, Commissioner Paulson can make a good case. He can say: ‘we’ve got the best weapons and training course in Canada.’ That sounds good, but there’s really a great deal more to it.”

Paulson already appears to making some sort of case. In his email to officers, he said the Codiac detachment had four members trained on the C8 and six of the actual guns, “all of which were otherwise deployed in training and therefore unavailable;” he went on to warn members against “superficial, easy and incomplete” analysis of the shootings. And it’s true: We don’t yet know whether the C8s, rather than, say, the 9mm service weapons most officers carry, might have altered the balance of power between them and the shooter. From the outset, he seemed to have the drop on every Mountie who rushed the scene.

Then again, here we are, nine years after Mayerthorpe, and you have to wonder why senior command has not yet carried out one of the key recommendations flowing from that disaster—at least not fully. Maybe Phonse MacNeil’s will take an unflinching look at that question. Maybe he’ll do the same with many others to arise before the door can be closed on this terrible event.

Even if he does, you can hardly blame rank-and-file officers if they want something more, from somebody else.


Tough questions about the Moncton shootings

  1. In the spectrum of possibilities an RCMP internal investigation is 4th, a Phonse MacNeil investigation is 3rd, an outside investigation (OPP, SQ) is 2nd and a civilian investigation is 1st. However, a Phonse MacNeil investigation might be the best we will get in these circumstances. We should be pushing for more.


  2. Perhaps the author could search on line for the price of AR-15 rifles (the C8 made by Colt Canada is just becoming commercially available now and is one of many) and compare that with what the RCMP are paying. A decent AR can be had for $1200 retail. What should thousands direct from the manufacturer cost? $800 ? The tax payers are once again being hosed by government procurement. Makes you wonder if someone in the RCMP dreamed of a job with Colt Canada on retirement. The current RCMP pistol is a very poor 9mm made by Smith & Wesson was likewise way over priced and stained with hints of future career planning. CF attempts at getting a new pistol have also foundered on demands that whichever manufacturer wins the competition allow Colt Canada to make the gun. So far all makers have refused.

    Would having carbines have changed anything? Only if the police shot at Bourque with pistols and shotguns and missed due to the range or cover or 9mm bullets hit but failed to incapacitate him. So far there’s no evidence to suggest either happened.

    If you go back to the well documented 1986 Miami FBI shooting (two FBI agents were killed and at least four wounded by two bank robbers they had been chasing) the FBI response was to blame their gear rather than tactics. Focusing on C8s in this case would be even less helpful.

  3. The desire to give the police assault rifles (the C8) is part of a growing militarization of policing. It’s more advanced in the US than here but Canadian police take their cue from America in most things.

    The worst tactic adopted has been the use of lethal force against people who are armed with an edged weapon and come within 21 feet of the police. This was the “doctrinal” basis for the Sammy Yatim shooting. The number of people killed by Canadian police has been going up annually largely due to the shooting of people armed with knives. In 2012 the police killed 22 people.

    The cost of arming and training 20,000 RCMP members with C8s will be ~ $150 million upfront and with the need for each to annually qualify at a cost of > $2.4 million in ammunition (assuming each member fires only 120 rounds annually- the same as 9mm pistol). The start up costs don’t include pay, accommodation, per diem or travel expenses. The annual qualification would presumably be done at the same time as the pistol. There may be savings from scrapping 12 gauge shotguns but these should be kept for use as less lethal systems for disabling people wielding knives etc.

    Back to my first point. To use a taser on a deranged person with a knife the police must get within the 21 foot range. If the taser fails then they often end up shooting the suspect with their pistols. When efforts to diffuse the situation have failed the better solution is to shoot a shotgun firing a bean bag at the suspects legs. This will immobilize him without getting too close or causing a cardiac arrest as has happened too frequently with tasers.

    So what should a police car carry? Two weapons. A carbine for serious violent offenders. A $5000 C8 with expensive optics is not required. Ruger Mini-14s or 30s (the difference is calibre, the Mini- 30 fires a larger round more suitable for animal control) out of the box are much cheaper (1/6- 1/8 the cost) simpler and for police purposes (which are different than military) are at least as good as a C8. They are light and handy and have the added value of not looking like a military weapon.

    A 12 gauge shotgun with only (“only” because the chances of a screw up if less lethal and buckshot or slugs are carried together is nearly 100%)) less lethal ammunition for dealing with crazy people armed with knives and bats etc. Less lethal shotguns rounds also have some uses in animal control- scaring bears way etc.

  4. these exact firearms are available to the licenced public, legally and with proper checks for less than half what is being claimed…from Colt Canada. The armor plates rated to stop rifle calibre rounds are commonly available to civilians for under $1000 a set. For approx $3000 per officer they are equipped . Training is training….When will the RCMP management in Ottawa get their heads…out of their collective Asses!,…..and get this gear for front line officers?!!!

    • or…purchase Smith and Wesson Ar 15s, ..etc. my point is simple…their are high quality AR 15’s for much less than this price.

      • Why even ARs? A patrol carbine that sits in a car around the clock and is a “hey you” item can’t carry optics as the user will never know if it’s still zeroed or not. It must be simple- most RCMP members don’t shoot except for annual qualifications. It might not be cleaned for months on end. It’s accuracy beyond 75 yards is irrelevant. It accuracy and reliability after the type of abuse a military rifle might undergo- salt water, mud, left in snow banks over night, hundreds of rounds fired over a short period- aren’t required.

        Enter the Mini-30 blued with a walnut stock. It’s half the across the counter cost of the best ARs. It’s simple, short, light, and handy. It’s much easier to check the action. Gas doesn’t blow into the receiver and gum up the works. It has a more positive magazine insertion. Ambidextrous safety and mag release. 7.62 x 39 HP is a better round for animal control. Practice ammo is usually cheaper than .223. It’s not a “machine gun” so it get’s better PR.

  5. If patrol carbines are necessary for officer safety why would the RCMP chose a model so expensive that the initial response from anyone knowledgeable about the subject is one of disbelief and suspicion that the taxpayer is once again being taken?

    We’ve seen this pattern before in DND. Purchases of good and services done with an eye on future employment with the vendor. It’s usually done by writing the Statement of Requirements (SOR) so specifically that only the intended provider can win. F-35 is the best known example but far from the only one.

    Who in the RCMP recommended the C8 and what’s his relationship with Colt Canada? What does he want it to be? Colt recently announced they were going to sell commercial versions of the C7 and C8. Will they need a national sales rep? VP (Commercial)? Director Law Enforcement Training Div?