Investigative reporter and author Paul Palango says RCMP memo points to destruction of evidence in Nova Scotia shootings

Editor’s note:

On April 18–19, 2020, Gabriel Wortman committed multiple shootings and set fires at 16 locations in the Nova Scotia, killing 22 people and injuring three others before he was shot and killed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Enfield. The attacks are the deadliest rampage in Canadian history, exceeding the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, where 14 women 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. For part of the 13-hour crime spree, Wortman impersonated a police officer by driving a replica RCMP car and wearing a RCMP uniform. 

Wortman obtained several firearms illegally without a possession and acquisition licence. On December 4, three people, including Wortman's spouse, were charged with supplying him with ammunition later used in the attacks.

During the incident, the RCMP failed use the 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.

Paul Palango is a former national editor of The Globe and Mail responsible for investigative reporting. He  has written three books on the RCMP. Ottawa Life Magazine will publish Palango’s articles on matters related to the shootings and the conduct of the RCMP before, during and after the incident.

Palango believes the Mountie’s are hiding “explosive” information relating to the gunman’s case.

He questions why the RCMP have issued an internal order to stop destroying evidence in the case, which is illegal and further brings into question the very competency of the RCMP itself. It should be noted that Palango’s reporting comes less than two weeks after a scathing report on sexual harassment in the RCMP by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache  found that at least 130 women in the RCMP had been raped by other officers. 

RCMP orders moratorium on Wortman evidence destruction in October

By Paul Palango

The RCMP issued an order seven weeks ago to its members involved in the investigation in the Nova Scotia massacres to stop destroying evidence in the case, according to internal RCMP documents obtained by Frank magazine.

The trigger for the moratorium on destruction of evidence appears to be a Canada Labour Code investigation undertaken by Employment and Social Development Canada into the matter.

The four-page document is dated October 15, 2020. It appears to come from an internal RCMP web page and is headlined: “MD-218 – Moratorium on the destruction of information involving Gabriel Wortman pertaining to the investigation of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia on 2020-04-18 and 2020-04-19”. The URL for the web page is: (Editors note: the URL is no longer working).

The last bit of information is missing from the photocopy.

The four-page document is dated October 15, 2020. It appears to come from an internal RCMP web page and is headlined: “MD-218 – Moratorium on the destruction of information involving Gabriel Wortman pertaining to the investigation of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia on 2020-04-18 and 2020-04-19”

The document first was sent anonymously to Little Grey Cells, a You Tube channel, which operates out of Alberta. The show’s host, Seamus Gorman, has been discussing it for the past few days in his broadcasts as part of a group called The Discord. It is comprised of 380 citizen investigators who have banded together since the massacre to dig up information.

The timing and wording of the memorandum strongly suggests that the RCMP has been destroying documents and data in the case. Since May, multiple anonymous sources close to the investigation have suggested the RCMP was destroying or altering paper and electronic evidence. This has previously been reported in the Halifax Examiner and on the Halifax talk show hosted by Rick Howe. The RCMP has not commented on the allegations to date.

The order commands the RCMP to collect, protect and retain every kind of evidence in the case, including paper documents, electronic data, 911 calls and radio communications.

To date the RCMP has resisted releasing any information or answering any questions about what it did and didn’t do before, during and after the shootings on April 18 and 19.

In the new documents the RCMP is ordered to collect and retain “all records, documents, and information pertaining to communications and dealings with Gabriel Wortman, and all occurrences linked or related to Gabriel Wortman, including intelligence reports, citizen reports, calls for service and occurrence reports.”

The RCMP has been told to collect and retain “all occurrence reports, briefing notes, SITreps, taskings and regular members’ notes of the incidents, including notes or regular members who responded from ‘H’ Division,” which is Nova Scotia.

The directive makes it clear that a focus of the investigation is the murder by Wortman of Constable Heidi Stevenson and the shooting of Constable Chad Morrison near Shubenacadie on April 19. Although Wortman had already killed 19 people before he got to Shubenacadie that Sunday morning, Stevenson and Morrison were travelling alone in their marked cruisers when they each came upon Wortman.

The protection order applies to “All medical, employment and training files of Const. Heidi Stevenson, Const. Chad Morrison and other individuals injured or involved.”

In the past there have been unproven allegations that Stevenson had some sort of conflict with a superior in her previous post at Cole Harbour and had been transferred to Enfield, north of Halifax Airport, shortly before her death.

After the shooting of three Mounties in Moncton on June 4, 2014, a Canada Labour Code investigation found the RCMP liable and a judge later fined the force $540,000. Among other things, the RCMP was blamed for its lax supervision, poor communications and inadequate training and equipment. The murdered officers were virtual sitting ducks for killer Justin Bourque who was armed with a high-powered rifle. Prior to the shootings the RCMP had promised to upgrade weaponry for police but did not. After the fine was issued, the force provided Colt C-8 rifles, an upgrade to the AR-15 semi-automatic, to its patrol officers.

In recent months, a current RCMP member has been quoted on numerous occasions in the Halifax Examiner and elsewhere as saying that the RCMP was attempting to “pasteurize” the evidence in the case. The member said there are ways the force can alter electronic files and data, "or even make it disappear.”

Another current member said in an interview that the biggest problem from a public interest point of view is that the RCMP data management system, known by its acronym PROS, can be manipulated by senior officers.

“There has never been an audit conducted on the integrity of data in the PROS system,” the ranking officer said. “The force has had six months to play with the evidence. Now, these investigators aren’t going to take ‘the dog ate my homework’ for an answer. They will demand answers to their questions.”

A third former RCMP officer who is familiar with the current inner workings of the force said this in an interview: “This is the nightmare for the force that I’ve been expecting. They have been doing everything they can to hide information. They have likely trying to scrub the database to get rid of anything incriminating.”

Among the issues that are potentially embarrassing for the force:

  • The chain of command that weekend. Did the RCMP follow its rules and procedures manual?
  • The lack of a public alert. Who made that decision? Why?
  • The fact that only a handful of Mounties were assigned to the original crime scene. There are almost 1,000 RCMP officers in the province in various capacities. Were they called out? If not, why not? If so, how many refused to attend?
  • Why were nearby municipal police forces in Truro, Amherst, and Halifax, among others, not called in for assistance or adequately warned about the dangers?
  • Why did the RCMP call for help from the New Brunswick RCMP when it had clearly not exhausted all its resources in Nova Scotia?
  • Why did the RCMP not employ a helicopter in its search and containment efforts?
  • The possible relationship between Wortman and the RCMP, or other police forces associated with the RCMP. Was he or anyone in his circle a confidential informant, police agent or auxiliary police?

All these questions and more are being asked as part of the Labour Code investigation. The RCMP has appointed Erika Lathem in the Criminal Operations office at the force’s Nova Scotia headquarters as co-ordinator for all information.

Detailed questions put to the RCMP this morning, which have thus far gone unanswered, include:

  • Why would the publication of a document such as this be necessary at all? Would it generally be regular practice for the RCMP to destroy evidence related to the largest mass-shooting in Canadian history?
  • If the publication of such a document was necessary, why would it be published at such a late date, six months after the mass-shooting incident?
  • Was any evidence relating to Gabriel Wortman and the mass-shooting ordered destroyed prior to October 15/20? If so, why, and who gave the orders?
  • To your knowledge, was any evidence inadvertently or mistakenly destroyed prior to October 15/20?
  • To your knowledge, how much evidence will not be able to be presented at the inquiry or in the various lawsuits, or in the Labour Code investigation because it has been destroyed, either inadvertently or on purpose?

Paul can be reached at his secure and encrypted email address: paulpalango@