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Ten years after Moncton shootings, RCMP still struggling with supervisor training

HALIFAX — Almost 10 years after a disturbed man with a rifle killed three Mounties in Moncton, N.B., the RCMP have yet to fully implement a key recommendation from a 2014 review aimed at preventing such deadly encounters.

On the evening of June 4, 2014, Justin Bourque was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun when he left his mobile home on a self-described mission to kill police officers. Driven by paranoia and hatred for government, the 24-year-old labourer fatally shot constables Fabrice Gevaudan, 45, David Ross, 32, and Douglas Larche, 40.

Two other constables, Darlene Goguen and Eric Dubois, were wounded during Bourque’s 20-minute shooting rampage before he escaped into a wooded area at the edge of a residential subdivision.

For more than 29 hours, the city of 69,000 would remain under a virtual state of siege until the crew aboard a surveillance aircraft used an infrared camera to spot the gunman’s glowing heat signature on the night of June 5, 2014.

Bourque was sentenced to an unprecedented 75 years in prison, but the New Brunswick Court of Appeal reduced his parole ineligibility period to 25 years after the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that had made such long sentences possible.

Six months after the slayings, retired RCMP assistant commissioner Alphonse MacNeil released a report with 64 recommendations. Among them was a call for the police force to “examine how it trains front-line supervisors to exercise command and control during critical incidents.”

In his report, MacNeil found that on the night of June 4, 2014, RCMP supervisors “were confronted with a situation that in many ways exceeded what supervisors are trained to deal with,” adding that the moment shots were fired, “chaos ensued.”

“Nobody established a command presence during this period. Members were acting on their own accord without a unified tactical plan …. Nobody at a supervisory level had an overall view of where resources were positioned and this remained the case for the next hour or more.”

In response to the recommendation, the RCMP developed two courses on critical incident response management: a 90-minute online introductory course and an advanced, 16-hour course. And the courses were made mandatory for all front-line supervisors in 2018.

But in the years that followed, few Mounties signed up for the courses. That problem was revealed by the public inquiry that investigated the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia that saw another lone gunman kill 22 people — including an RCMP officer — during a 13-hour rampage on April 18-19, 2020.

The final report from the Mass Casualty Commission, released just over a year ago, confirmed that none of the RCMP’s commanders who initially responded to the Nova Scotia mass shooting had taken the advanced course, and only one had completed the introductory course.

“We find that many of the supervisors involved in the initial critical incident response in Portapique, N.S., had not received the training that … MacNeil recommended,” the inquiry’s report says. The supervisors who co-ordinated the RCMP’s response that night “were in no better position than their colleagues had been in Moncton in June 2014.”

The commission of inquiry also challenged the Mounties’ claim to inquiry investigators in 2022 that they had already implemented MacNeil’s recommendation.

“A recommendation is not properly characterized as ‘implemented’ if training … has not been completed by all or a large proportion of those to whom it is directed,” the commission’s final report said.

As a result, the commission recommended the RCMP arrange for an external review of its critical incident response training for front-line supervisors, and it specifically mentioned the two courses in question.

Two months ago, RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme provided an update on the RCMP’s progress in implementing the public inquiry’s recommendations, and he released the required external review. It said improvements were needed with the advanced course, but it also confirmed the compliance rate for training remained low.

By March 31, 2023, only 14 per cent of constables had taken the advanced course. The RCMP’s target for that date was 55 per cent.

In the more senior ranks, 44 per cent of corporals had completed the course by the same date. The police force was aiming for 70 per cent by March 2024, but more recent statistics were not available.

As for sergeants, 43 per cent had taken the course by March 31, 2023, well below the 85 per cent required by March 2025.

The RCMP acknowledged a request for comment from The Canadian Press, but did not respond.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor of political studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., said the RCMP is a slow-moving organization that has long been starved for resources.

“There’s never enough financial and human resources because the demands always exceed the resources,” said Leuprecht, who also teaches in the political science department at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston.

Leuprecht said the RCMP’s lack of resources is compounded by the federal Liberal government’s apparent lack of interest in reforming the police force. “If it’s taken 10 years, the inference to draw is that nobody at the political level really cares,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report had harsh words for the RCMP’s response to the MacNeil report, particularly when it came to critical incident management.

“While some good work was done in the immediate aftermath (of the Moncton shootings) … that work was not institutionally sustained and did not produce lasting improvements in preparedness and supervisor training,” the final report says.

As the anniversary of the Moncton shootings approaches, the RCMP says the date will be marked in the city by a private gathering among relatives of the three slain officers. The ceremony will be held Tuesday at the Honour Garden in Riverfront Park, where a monument features life-size statues of Gevaudan, Ross and Larche.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2024.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


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