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Mounting Criticism for RCMP After Neighbour Says She Warned Police About NS Gunman

A former neighbour, a Canadian Forces veteran, says she told police about the gunman’s weapons and domestic violence and nothing was done.
May 14, 2020, 6:00pm
A former neighbour of the man who killed 22 people in a rampage last month in Nova Scotia said she warned the RCMP about him years ago.
A couple pays their respects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

A former neighbour of the man who killed 22 people in a rampage last month in Nova Scotia said she warned the RCMP about him years ago.

Speaking to the CBC earlier this week, Brenda Forbes, said in 2013 the gunman’s common-in-law partner came to her house in Portapique, NS to tell her that he was physically abusing her.

"The first time … she ran over to my house, actually, and she said that he'd been beating her and he had blocked her car in so she couldn't get away," said Forbes, a 62-year-old Canadian Forces veteran. "I said, 'You need to get help.' And she said, 'No, I can't because he will hurt me again.'"

Forbes who first spoke to the Halifax Examiner, the gunman’s partner flagrantly told her about illegal weapons he owned. She says when she went to the RCMP with information about the weapons and abuse, nothing happened. VICE was not able to reach Forbes for comment.

Forbes said she moved out of the area in 2014 out of increasing fear of the gunman’s behaviour and called him a “psychopath.”

Forbes said she began to learn more of the gunman’s abusive behaviour and said she heard he once choked his partner in front of three men. Other reports have outlined his past domestic violence, including one story about him removing the tires from his partner’s vehicle so she couldn't escape.

“(The RCMP said) ... we had to have, like, pictures or proof that he actually had these weapons. We didn't have that,” Forbes told As It Happens. “So there was nothing, basically nothing, at that time that they could do.”

The Victims of Canada's Deadliest Mass Shooting

Dressed as a police officer and driving a replica RCMP car, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people during a rampage that began on the evening of April 18 and lasted well into the next morning. During this spree he killed both people he knew and didn’t know. Among his victims were a RCMP officer, nurses, a retired firefighter, and a 17-year-old girl. He was shot dead by police while filling up a car he stole from one of his victims at a gas station. It’s the worst killing spree in modern Canadian history.

Forbes said police told her they couldn't do anything because the men who saw the strangling wouldn't speak to the RCMP. After the massacre, Forbes initially contacted Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson of the Persons Against Non-State Torture—a Nova Scotia-based human rights organization that focuses on domestic torture—to tell her story. MacDonald and Sarson told VICE that the “police still aren’t taking violence against women seriously” and praised Forbes for speaking up both then and now.

“It's not that you're not doing something, you're deliberately acting by ignoring or silencing it, you're perpetuating the process, right? Inaction is an act upon itself,” said MacDonald.

When reached for comment the RCMP told VICE they "are looking into the gunman’s previous relationships and interactions" and "as of right now, we have not found a record of this complaint being filed to the RCMP."

RCMP nearly accidentally killed an officer: report

The RCMP is facing mounting questions for how it handled the Nova Scotia shooting, including how the gunman was able to escape in a replica RCMP cruiser while they were at the scene, why they didn’t ask a nearby local police force for backup, and why there wasn’t an emergency alert sent out warning Nova Scotians there was a mass killing taking place.

In addition, a damning article in Macleans suggested RCMP officers panicked and nearly killed a fellow officer, mistaking them for the suspect.

The article, reported by Stephen Maher, said RCMP officers fired at another officer providing security at the Onslow Belmont Fire Hall, where residents had gathered for safety during the gunman’s attack.

“There was a horrible confusion for a nanosecond at the scene and the two officers who had stepped out at the car pointing firearms at this officer, discharged several rounds,” an unnamed source told Macleans. “They missed killing him.”

The Nova Scotia Serious Incident Response team confirmed to VICE they're investigating the incident.

Several of the victim’s loved ones have said that some of those killed in the attack could have been spared if the RCMP had sent out a province-wide warning to stay inside. This includes Nick Beaton, whose pregnant wife Kristen was killed alongside her coworker, Heather O’Brien, as the two were driving. Beaton told Macleans, “I can 100% guarantee with a warning my wife would be alive today.”

More revelations about killer

Forbes said she told the gunman’s partner about seeing him with several women while she was away and he went ballistic.

“He dragged her over to my house, pounded on the door. My husband answered the door and [he] ... started screaming. I came downstairs, and he was screaming at me,” said Forbes. "He grabbed her, hauled her out the door, and he said, 'You're going to pay for this;' to me. Well, after that, she was no longer allowed to talk to me, come anywhere near me, nothing.”

Forbes said the gunman attempted to scare her by parking outside of her home and standing there for lengthy periods of time. During his spree he killed the people who bought their property and burned the home to the ground. McDonald said all “the red flags were there in 2013 when Brenda told (the RMCP) about the guns and about the strangulation” and that domestic violence is much more prevalent than most people know.

“Nova Scotia is a beautiful province but there's also some very brutal acts that go on behind closed doors or in backyards,” said McDonald. “Like in this case where he strangled his partner right out in the open and three men watched. I mean, what did those three men do after that? Did they just walk away and forget about it?”

The shooting started with domestic violence. According to new information reported in Macleans, the gunman and his partner were at a party when an argument between two started. This continued on to when they got home. After she had gone to bed, the killer woke her up, handcuffed her, and put her into the back of a replica police vehicle. When he left for a brief moment she was able to slip out of the handcuffs, and escape the vehicle and flee into the woods. It was only when police found her in the morning that they realized he was still on the loose in a replica police car.

There have been multiple calls for a public inquiry into the RCMP's handling of the incident. MacDonald and Sarson are calling for one that also includes an independent inquiry that includes an analysis of violence against women.

"If we don't learn from this and just walk away with the same kind of belief systems in our province then that would be a double tragedy in my opinion," said Macdonald.

This story was updated to include comment from the RCMP.

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