|2020 Nova Scotia attacks|
|Location||Nova Scotia, Canada|
|Date||22:00, April 18, 2020 - |
11:26, April 19, 2020 ADT (UTC-03:00)
|Spree shooting, mass killing, arson|
|Deaths||23 (including the perpetrator)|
|Motive||Unknown (under investigation)|
On April 18-19, 2020, Gabriel Wortman committed multiple shootings and set fires at 16 locations in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, killing 22 people and injuring three others before he was shot and killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Enfield.
For part of the thirteen-hour crime spree, Wortman impersonated a police officer by driving a replica police car and wearing a police uniform. An investigation into Wortman's motives is underway. Wortman obtained several firearms illegally without a possession and acquisition licence.
Police were criticised for not using Alert Ready to warn the public about the attacks, as well as not responding to reports of Wortman's behaviour and previous acts of domestic violence. An investigation into law enforcement's response to the rampage, including the decision not to use Alert Ready, is underway. A public inquiry into the law enforcement response was declared on July 28 following escalating criticism of the investigation's lack of transparency.
The attacks are the deadliest rampage in Canadian history, exceeding the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where fifteen people were killed. On May 1, in the wake of the attacks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, following through on a 2019 campaign promise, announced an immediate ban on some 1,500 makes and models of "military-grade assault-style" weapons, including the types used in the attacks.
The attacks originated as a case of domestic violence between Wortman and his common-law spouse in the rural beachside community of Portapique, 130 kilometres (81 mi) north of Halifax. The couple returned home after arguing at a nearby party shortly before 22:00, whereupon Wortman attacked his spouse, handcuffing her. Wortman then set his house on fire while she was still present. After loading guns and ammunition into an unregistered replica police vehicle that he owned, he returned to the party and opened fire, killing seven people. Meanwhile, the spouse was able to escape from her bonds, after which she fled into the woods to hide.
Beginning at 22:01, a number of Portapique residents called 9-1-1 to report gunshots and several fires. Investigative reporting by CBC News' The Fifth Estate, examining the timeline of the events, found that the first call came from the wife of a victim, who herself was then shot and killed while barricading a bedroom door and protecting her two sons. Wortman then attempted to set on fire, but the two sons escaped from the home. At about 22:05, Wortman reportedly returned to his ablaze house; there, he killed a woman living across the street from him, who had mistaken him for an RCMP officer responding to the fire.
At 22:10, two of Wortman's neighbours drove over to his house to investigate the fire while calling 9-1-1. Along the way, they passed by the house of a couple Wortman had shot and killed, where they noticed what appeared to be a police car parked in front with its roof lights off. After confirming Wortman's house was on fire, the two drove back and encountered the same police car, fleeing the scene of another house fire. They pulled up alongside the police car, only for the driver, Wortman, to fire at them with a handgun, injuring the driver in the shoulder. The two managed to flee in their vehicle.
When the first three RCMP officers arrived on the scene at 22:26, they discovered thirteen victims who had been shot and killed both inside and outside of eight homes on Orchard Beach Drive and Portapique Beach Road, three of which were burning. Police said many had died while trying to escape the flames or to help other victims. One officer reported by radio that they could not locate the shooter and that "it's very bad, what's going on down here".The Fifth Estate reported that the first responding officers were "overwhelmed" and called for assistance.
First responders also found the neighbours that Wortman shot at; they said he had gone toward the beach, which was a dead end. They also informed the officers that Wortman was impersonating an officer and had a fake police vehicle. Police officially identified Wortman as a suspect, but with his property on fire and the understanding that there was only one exit from the community, they believed he was either on foot or already dead by suicide and could not be far away. At 23:32, the RCMP posted a tweet saying it was dealing with a "firearms complaint"; it asked residents of the Portapique area to stay inside with their doors locked, as officers set up a search perimeter of 2 kilometres (1.2 mi). Overnight, there was still confusion over whether Wortman had been apprehended and if he was the driver of the apparent police car. At the time, the RCMP was unable to use a helicopter to assist in the manhunt because their only Atlantic-based helicopter was unavailable due to routine maintenance.
The RCMP later determined that Wortman had left Portapique at around 22:45, 19 minutes after police first responded, by driving through a dirt road along a blueberry field, and that he had spent the night parked behind a welding shop in the Debert area, about 26 kilometres (16 mi) east of Portapique. There, he left behind police equipment and gun-related items in a ditch on the property of a resident he knew. At some point after, the RCMP's Emergency Response Team responded to Portapique. Before then, residents reported seeing little to no law enforcement presence in the area, despite seeing fires and making 9-1-1 calls to report gunshots.
By 01:00, the RCMP had circulated internal bulletins to police agencies across Nova Scotia, identifying Wortman as a suspect who was "armed and dangerous" and associated with "an old white police car". At 05:43, Wortman left Debert and drove north on Highway 4 to a house whose residents he knew, located on Hunter Road in Wentworth, approximately 37 kilometres (23 mi) north of Portapique. He arrived at around 06:30 and shortly thereafter killed the two occupants and their two dogs. Wortman then remained at the house for about three hours; what he did during that time was unclear.
At around that time, police located Wortman's spouse in Portapique; she had fled to a neighbour's home to call 9-1-1 since Wortman had smashed her cellphone. She confirmed that he was impersonating a police officer and provided a photo of his replica police vehicle. A BOLO alert containing this updated information was issued to officers across the province at around 08:00, warning Wortman "could be anywhere" in Nova Scotia. However, the RCMP publicly announced that they were dealing with an active shooter situation in Portapique at 08:02. Wortman was publicly identified as the suspect at 08:54.
Wortman eventually set the house he was staying in on fire. As he left, he killed a neighbour who had been out for a walk when he saw the fire and tried to help. Wortman then began driving back south on Highway 4 toward Portapique at 09:23, and at 09:35, he shot and killed another victim while she was walking on the side of the road in Wentworth Valley. At around 09:45, he went to another house whose residents he knew, while armed and dressed in a police uniform, but the occupants recognized him, refused to let him in, and called the police. By 09:48, Wortman was seen near a campground in Glenholme.
Before 10:00, in Debert, Wortman performed two traffic stops on random cars, a few hundred meters apart, and killed their occupants. He was seen at 10:08 travelling through Debert and Onslow. In a tweet posted at 10:17, the RCMP first warned the public that Wortman was impersonating a police officer and shared the photo of his vehicle. Wortman was captured on surveillance video passing through Truro at around 10:20, and then Millbrook First Nation at 10:25, where he briefly stopped in a parking lot to exchange his jacket for a reflective vest.
Sometime before 10:49, Wortman pulled alongside RCMP Constable Chad Morrison's cruiser at the intersection of Route 2 and Route 224 in Shubenacadie, about 50 kilometres (31 mi) from Debert. Morrison had planned to meet fellow officer Heidi Stevenson at that location. Wortman shot into the car with a handgun, injuring Morrison, who fled down Route 2 and took shelter at an empty paramedic station; he was eventually found by an ambulance, which took him to a nearby hospital. Wortman proceeded less than 500 metres (0.31 mi) south into the junction with Route 224 and collided head-on with Stevenson, who was driving north. Stevenson then engaged Wortman, resulting in Wortman returning fire and killing Stevenson. Immediately after the engagement, Wortman stole Stevenson's sidearm and remaining ammunition before setting both cars on fire.
Wortman then shot and killed a nearby motorist who had stopped to help Stevenson and drove off in the victim's silver Chevrolet Tracker SUV. Police announced the vehicle change at 11:06. Shortly thereafter, Wortman killed a woman he knew at her Shubenacadie home, changed his clothes again, and stole her Mazda 3. By 11:24, he was spotted continuing south along Highway 102 through Milford.
Finally, over thirteen hours after police began pursuing him, at 11:26, Wortman stopped to refuel at the Irving Big Stop service area in Enfield, 92 kilometres (57 mi) south of Portapique and 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of Halifax. At least one RCMP officer who was already there to fill up on gas recognized Wortman and fatally shot him. Wortman's death was confirmed by police at 11:40 a.m.
Wortman killed 22 people, including Constable Heidi Stevenson. The other officer he shot, Constable Chad Morrison, survived, as did the man he shot in Portapique who first reported his possible use of a police car. He tied up and injured his spouse before she escaped at the start of the rampage. Thirteen of the dead were found in Portapique, four in Wentworth, two in Debert, and three in Shubenacadie. They are believed to have died from gunshot wounds, but other causes are also being investigated. Eight of the victims were found in the remains of structure fires. Wortman also shot and injured two dogs.
According to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, some of Wortman's first victims were closely connected to him, but over time, those he attacked were selected more at random.The Globe and Mail reported that one of the victims in Wentworth had previously gone hunting with Wortman, while CBC News reported that another victim owned the property in Portapique that was subject to a dispute between Wortman and his uncle.
|Born||July 5, 1968|
New Brunswick, Canada
|Died||April 19, 2020 (aged 51)|
Enfield, Nova Scotia, Canada
|Cause of death||Gunshot wounds|
The RCMP identified the perpetrator as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, a denturist who operated two clinics in Halifax and Dartmouth, and who owned real estate in Halifax, Dartmouth, and Portapique. Wortman had been living in Portapique since 2004. He had previously pleaded guilty to assault in 2002 and was sentenced to nine months of probation, in which he was prohibited from possessing weapons and ordered to undergo anger management counseling.
Wortman was also involved in two civil lawsuits regarding property disputes, according to interviews and public records. In 2004, he offered to help a friend who had financial difficulties and was about to lose his house, then discreetly took ownership of the house, evicted the man, and sold the property. In 2015, Wortman's uncle lent him a house that he purchased in Portapique while selling his Edmonton condominium. Wortman refused to release the property back to him, claiming he was owed money, until the uncle eventually sold it; one of the buyers later became a victim in the killings. After the attacks, a cousin described Wortman as "almost a career criminal" who did "a lot of stuff but never got caught."
According to his yearbook, Wortman aspired to become a police officer. However, his partner informed police after the attacks that Wortman disliked law enforcement and "thought he was better than them". He had a hobby of buying law enforcement memorabilia and refurbishing old police cruisers. At the time of the attacks, he was in possession of four such cruisers. Police found two of them on fire at his Portapique property and a third at his Halifax property, while Wortman initially drove the fourth during the attacks. One person called Wortman's home a "shrine" for the RCMP. He stored two of the vehicles behind his denture clinic. According to a businessman in Dieppe, Wortman inquired about buying a decommissioned RCMP cruiser from him in 2017 or 2018, claiming to be a retired officer who wanted to park the vehicle outside his house to deter thieves. For price reasons, he did not buy it. According to a witness, Wortman tended to dress up in a police uniform and role-play.
Witnesses described Wortman as paranoid, manipulative, and controlling. A neighbour said Wortman was obsessed with his spouse and tended to be "jealous about things with her". Neighbours also said that Wortman struggled with alcohol use and his business was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced all non-essential denturist services in Nova Scotia to close. According to his spouse, Wortman, who took her across Nova Scotia in the hours before the attacks, had been "consumed" by the pandemic for weeks and believed he was going to die. He was also fearful that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would begin controlling money, which prompted him to make hefty bank withdrawals. Additionally, Wortman talked to an acquaintance via email about how other people weren't prepared for it and how he was "well-armed" in advance. Residents were suspicious that Wortman was stockpiling gasoline and propane tanks, and they reported hearing him brag about having lime and muriatic acid to dispose of bodies.
After the attacks, the decorative signs on Wortman's denture clinic on Portland Street in Dartmouth, portraying a large smile and a set of dentures, were the subject of complaints from the public. In response, Halifax Regional Police removed the signs on April 22.
In June 2010, Wortman was investigated by Halifax Regional Police for threatening his parents, but no official action was taken due to a lack of evidence. In May 2011, Truro Police received a tip from an unnamed source via email about Wortman's stash of guns and his desire to "kill a cop". The tipster warned about Wortman's recent stress and mental health issues, and said he always kept a handgun close by. The tip was transferred to the Nova Scotia RCMP for jurisdictional reasons, but it is unclear what action was taken by them, and the tip was ultimately purged from their records, as is standard protocol according to an RCMP spokesperson.
A former neighbour in Portapique said he reported Wortman to the RCMP in the summer of 2013 for assaulting his spouse and having a cache of illegal firearms, but they declined to take firmer action due to not receiving a complaint from the partner. The former neighbour ended up leaving Portapique after Wortman became more aggressive and threatening to his spouse in response to the complaint. The RCMP confirmed they had received the neighbour's complaint, but that the file had since been purged from their records.
According to court documents, the name "Operation H-Strong" was declared the official title for the RCMP's criminal investigation into the attacks.
No motive has been established for the attacks, though they are not considered an act of terrorism. Over 25 different units of the RCMP were involved in the criminal investigation, along with the Halifax Regional Police and the Canada Border Services Agency. The Canadian Armed Forces were also dispatched on April 21 to assist the RCMP in their investigation by providing them with additional personnel and supplies. There were a total of 16 crime scenes, including five structure fires, spread over a distance of at least 50 kilometres (31 mi), along with 500 identified witnesses.
The man from whom Wortman had previously considered buying a police car said that he was warned by police during the incident that he was considered a possible target. However, Wortman ultimately never attacked him during the rampage.
The Nova Scotia RCMP Major Crime Unit launched a tip hotline to gather further information about the attacks.
On May 11, the RCMP's Behavioral Analysis Unit launched a "psychological autopsy" on Wortman, which involved extensive interrogations with his friends, family members, and colleagues. It found that he was an "injustice collector", a criminology term for those who keep track of perceived slights and petty grievances that occur over many years.
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather noted that Wortman's use of a police cruiser and a police uniform allowed him to evade detection for a long time. Owning police vehicles or uniforms is not a crime in Canada, but impersonating a police officer is. CBC News reported that at least one RCMP officer had previously taken note of one of Wortman's replica vehicles and advised him not to drive it on the road. Officials later said Wortman had acquired the specific vehicle he used in the attacks, a 2017 Ford Taurus, at an auction in fall 2019. It was recolored white and stripped of its police accessories at the time of its purchase, a routine process for any recently decommissioned RCMP vehicle. Police confirmed Wortman had estranged relatives who were retired RCMP officers, but that he did not get any police uniforms from them. The RCMP looked into the navigation logs of Wortman's vehicles to determine if the route he took during the attacks was predetermined.
Wortman is believed to have worked on refurbishing the decommissioned police vehicle used in the attacks over the course of nine months. The RCMP determined the decals used for the vehicle came from a supplier, but that they were made without the business owner's permission. The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, a Canadian money-laundering watchdog agency, found that Wortman purchased police-themed vehicle accessories via PayPal, and that PayPal flagged a number of these transactions as suspicious between March 22 and December 5, 2019. Wortman's spouse said that he purchased police gear in both Canada and the U.S. According to records from the Canada Border Services Agency, Wortman crossed the Canada-United States border through Woodstock, New Brunswick, fifteen times within the past two years, with his most recent return to Canada being on March 6.
Leather said that Wortman had no possession and acquisition licence and his weapons were illegally purchased, a matter that is being investigated further. Superintendent Darren Campbell said five firearms were recovered from the stolen vehicle Wortman was driving in Enfield. Four of them belonged to Wortman: two semiautomatic handguns and two semiautomatic rifles, one of which was described as a "military-style assault rifle". The fifth was Stevenson's stolen service pistol, a 9mm Smith & Wesson. Police also said that while one of Wortman's firearms had originated in Canada, via the estate of a former associate, all of the others likely came from the United States.
On November 20, the National Post acquired a briefing note sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau days after the shooting, which identified the four firearms owned by Wortman and used by him in the attacks. According to the note, the rifles were a Colt Law Enforcement Carbine and a Ruger Mini-14, both of which were among the firearm models and variants banned by the Canadian government in the wake of the attacks. The pistols were a Glock and a Ruger P89.
The Mini-14 was the firearm Wortman acquired from his former associate's estate, having been imported into Canada and legally purchased in the country beforehand. A Canadian gun policy expert said that, while a possession and acquisition licence was required for someone to legally possess a Mini-14, the executor of an estate is allowed to temporarily own the estate's firearms. Conversely, the Colt was sourced to a gun store in California and the pistols to Maine, where Wortman was said to have had acquaintances. All three firearm models were previously classified as restricted in Canada, meaning Wortman would have needed to complete a more detailed safety course and background check in order to legally own them. However, these firearms were illegally smuggled into the country. In addition, the briefing note said Wortman was in possession of high-capacity magazines, which are illegal in Canada.
In the weeks before the attacks, Wortman liquidated his bank accounts and withdrew a large sum of money in cash. News magazine Maclean's reported that a C$475,000 withdrawal from Brink's and other evidence pointed to Wortman having ties to organised crime and being a confidential informant for the RCMP. In response to the allegations, the RCMP denied having any prior association with Wortman, saying his recent behaviour and stockpiling activities were driven by paranoia about the COVID-19 pandemic possibly growing out of control and leading to a widespread institutional and infrastructural collapse. They also said they found a fireproof safe containing hundreds of thousands of dollars at his Portapique property. A financial audit has been conducted as part of the investigation.
On July 27, court documents were unsealed, detailing police interviews with witnesses who claimed Wortman was a drug smuggler who provided people in Portapique and nearby Economy with drugs from Maine. These witnesses alleged Wortman had stockpiles of guns and drugs, along with false walls and hidden compartments, in his properties. The RCMP confirmed three days later that Wortman had kept hidden compartments in buildings, but they were unable to corroborate the drug smuggling claims.
Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team announced it would conduct an investigation into the police shooting of Wortman, as well as another incident involving two RCMP officers who discharged their weapons inside a fire hall in Onslow; Wortman was not there at the time.
In an interview with As It Happens on April 25, Commissioner Lucki promised a thorough review of the police response to the attacks, including the delay in informing the public about Wortman potentially impersonating a police officer.
Following the attacks, many questions were raised about why Nova Scotia failed to use Alert Ready, Canada's mandatory emergency population warning system, to warn the public about the attacks but instead chose to use social media platforms Twitter and Facebook to provide updates, RCMP officials said they had been dealing with an unfolding situation and details were being updated frequently. However, the areas affected had poor cellular Internet service and were mostly populated by seniors who might not have used social media. Relatives of the victims pointed out that the use of Alert Ready could have saved lives. Chief Superintendent Leather said an investigation would be conducted into the decision-making process on alerting the public.
On April 22, Leather said officers in Dartmouth were asked by the province about a warning at 10:15 a.m., but they did not agree on details like wording before Wortman died 71 minutes later. The United States Consulate in Halifax said it emailed American citizens in Nova Scotia warning them of the situation using the RCMP's information.
On July 28, federal Public Safety Minister, Bill Blair, announced a public inquiry. The federal and provincial governments had previously considered a more narrow "joint review", but following public outcry, they agreed to hold a more expansive public inquiry. The inquiry is expected to deliver an interim report by May 1, 2022, followed by a final report six months later.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences. During his morning address from Rideau Cottage on April 20, he reaffirmed his commitment to strengthening gun control. He asked the media to not use the attacker's name or image: "Do not give this person the gift of infamy."
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters, "This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province's history." He expressed his condolences to the residents affected and the families of the victims.
Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, expressed her condolences, saying that she and Prince Philip were "saddened by the appalling events", and that her thoughts and prayers were with the people of Nova Scotia and all Canadians. She also paid tribute to the "bravery and sacrifice" of the RCMP and other emergency services.
The White House condemned the attacks and expressed US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump's condolences. Condolences for the victims were issued by other countries as well.
Since the attacks, the lack of transparency in the investigation has been strongly criticised, and calls have been made for a public inquiry into the police response, including by dozens of senators from Nova Scotia and across the country. On June 3, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey announced a public inquiry of some kind will be held in the near future, but a month later, he said the proceedings into the inquiry's formation were being hampered by legal technicalities. On July 28, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced that a public inquiry would take place.
On May 1, Trudeau announced that the sale, transportation, importation, or use of "assault-style" firearms in Canada was now banned effective immediately. Via Order in Council, the government re-classified them as "Prohibited" under the Firearms Act, with a two-year amnesty period to allow current owners to dispose, export, register, or sell them (under a buy-back scheme), and for special uses. The prohibition applies to at least 1,500 models and variants, largely semi-automatic firearms (fully automatic and certain specifically chosen firearms were already classified as "Prohibited"), including the AR-15 and guns that had been used in other notable mass shootings in Canada, such as the Ruger Mini-14 (École Polytechnique massacre), the Beretta Cx4 Storm (Dawson College shooting), and the CSA vz. 58 (Quebec City mosque shooting). However, the intended long-term effects of such a move were questioned by experts, who pointed out the ban would have had no effect on Wortman's illegal acquisition of his firearms. They also highlighted the ban's inability to address international firearms trafficking or other types of firearms used in criminal activity, like handguns and other semiautomatic rifles such as the SKS.
On April 20, the CN Tower was illuminated in blue and white, the colours of the Nova Scotia flag, and also in RCMP red, blue, and gold in honour of Stevenson, on the quarter- and half-hours. On April 21, at Niagara Falls, both the Canadian Horseshoe Falls and the American Falls were also illuminated in blue and white as a symbol of bi-national solidarity with Nova Scotia.
In the days after the incident, many fundraisers for the victims and their families were started on the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe. There was also at least one fake or fraudulent fundraiser started, which was subsequently removed. Jeff Thomson of the RCMP's Anti-Fraud Centre warned Canadians to be diligent when donating to charities related to the tragedy.
As large gatherings were restricted in the province due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a public virtual vigil was streamed online via Facebook, and broadcast by CBC Television in the Atlantic provinces.
A permanent memorial to the victims was set up at a former church in Portapique, after an earlier makeshift memorial was dismantled by residents.
Following RCMP confirmation that the attacks were preceded by an act of domestic violence, women's advocates said the rampage highlighted a broader problem of domestic violence in Canada, as well as its potential as a warning sign for future violent behaviour and public threats. Activists criticised law enforcement's inability to respond to earlier domestic violence reports against Wortman, and called upon attention to be placed on the role of misogyny in the attacks.
Citing eyewitness reports of Wortman's behaviour and ways of controlling his partner, domestic violence experts called for the passage of a coercive control law in Canada, similar to one that had been passed by the United Kingdom in 2015, which they say may "help prevent other abusers from escaping detection".
Relatives of the victims filed a lawsuit against Wortman's estate for damages caused by the rampage. Another lawsuit was filed by victims' families against the RCMP and Nova Scotia, citing the former's "disrespectful manner" to victims and their families and its handling of the attacks, both during and after the event. In June, Wortman's spouse renounced her status as the executor of his will and eventually filed her own lawsuit against his estate on August 13.