News

Nova Scotia Gunman Was Not a Legal Firearms Owner, RCMP Says

The shooter, who killed 22 people over the weekend, should not have had access to weapons, police say.
April 22, 2020, 9:11pm
The man who committed the worst ever mass killing in modern Canadian history did not have a firearms license.
A woman pays her repects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

The man who committed the worst ever mass killing in modern Canadian history did not have a firearms license.

Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Superintendent Chris Leather said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon just how the killer obtained firearms is “a key part of the investigation.”

“We have a fairly good idea that, at least in Canada, he did not have a Firearms Acquisition Certificate,” said Leather.

Leather didn’t clarify what firearms were used by the killer or how many people were killed by gunshots and later added that how the killer obtained an “authentic police uniform” is also a “key part of the investigation.”

The Victims of Canada's Deadliest Mass Shooting

From Saturday night to Sunday morning, over a 13-and-a-half hour stretch, 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman killed at least 22 people while dressed as a police officer and driving a replica police cruiser. The bloodshed ended when he was shot dead in a parking lot at 11:26 a.m. on Sunday. Police said they first responded to a firearms call in Portapique, a small community 120 kilometers [62 miles] north of Halifax, at 10:26 p.m. Saturday where they found several victims and structure fires. They set up a perimeter and searched the property, but only realized the killer wasn’t there early Sunday morning.

No Emergency Alert

Amid the worst-ever mass killing in modern Canadian history, Americans living in Nova Scotia received a warning to their personal emails while Canadians had to rely on Twitter or the media.

The U.S. consulate in Halifax confirmed to VICE they sent an email out to U.S. citizens on Sunday. Marcia Seitz-Ehler, a spokesperson for the consulate, said that they got their information from the RCMP Twitter account.

“It is our protocol—when emergencies occur—to alert U.S. citizens in the area to the situation,” Seitz-Ehler told VICE.

While the RCMP had access to a far more powerful tool than an email blast—an emergency alert which could have notified all Nova Scotians via their phone. Leather said Wednesday that the province reached out to send out a release and the RCMP were in the midst of planning to release an emergency alert when the suspect was killed. The province initially reached out at 10:15, over an hour before Wortman was killed, and Leather said the delay was bureaucratic in nature.

“A lot of the delay was due to communication between the (Emergency Management Office) and the various officers,” said Leather. “And then there was a discussion about how the message would be constructed and what it would say. So in that hour and a bit is when the subject was killed at 11:26.”

Some loved ones of the victims have said the RMCP could have saved lives if they asked the province to send an emergency alert out.

"If we were all given that security alert for Northern Nova Scotians to lock your doors, she would have been home," a friend of one woman killed while she was out for a walk told the CBC. "She would have been safe in her house. She wouldn't have gone out for a walk."

Few details about the shooter

Meanwhile, an incomplete picture of the killer is beginning to form. The 51-year-old was a successful businessman who ran two successful denture clinics and owned several properties in the province. He grew up in New Brunswick and was a bit of an oddity—one university friend said fellow students picked on him. He was obsessed with the RCMP and owned multiple replica police cruisers. He’s been violent in the past, with a 2001 assault charge stemming from an attack on a teenager. Global News has reported

he ripped people off financially, even tricking people to signing over their property.

Horrifying details of how the killings transpired are slowly coming to light via interviews with victims. One man told the CBC that he found his brother shot dead after he left to go investigate a nearby house fire. He said he saw his brother dead on the side of the road in a pool of blood and turned and ran. When he stopped and looked back he saw the shooter with a flashlight looking for him.

“I ran so far into the woods and I laid there for about four hours hoping and praying the police would come,” said Clinton Ellison. “Finally they came and got me out with an armored vehicle. It was a nightmare through hell.”

Among the victims are nurses, teachers, RCMP officers, retired firefighters, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons.

“No one man’s action can build a wall between us and a better day, no matter how evil, how thoughtless or how destructive,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a Monday press conference. “As families grieve the loss of a loved one, all Canadians are standing with them.”

Trudeau also said his government was looking to bring forward a ban on "assault-style weapons."

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.