RCMP officers were caught out-gunned and “ill-prepared” to confront a gunman who targeted them on a warm summer night in 2014, a judge ruled Friday as he convicted the national police force of failing to provide its members with adequate use-of-force equipment and training.
Judge Leslie Jackson was harshly critical of how long it took the RCMP to equip its officers with carbine rifles ahead of the Moncton attack, which left three Mounties dead and two others injured.
Gunman Justin Bourque had targeted police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government rebellion.
“It is clear to me that the use-of-force equipment available to those members on June 4, 2014, left them ill-prepared to engage an assailant armed with an automatic rifle,” said Jackson, a provincial court judge who presided over the Labour Code trial.
Rank and file members insisted they were outgunned by Bourque, who roamed a Moncton neighbourhood and methodically gunned down officers.
Constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Dave Ross and Doug Larche were killed, while constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were injured in the shootings.
The judge noted that Alphonse MacNeil, a retired assistant RCMP commissioner who conducted an independent review of the shootings for the force, stated during the trial that at the time of his review, he said the rollout of the patrol carbine program should be expedited.
“I agree with MacNeil’s conclusion. The rollout took too long, even allowing for all the variables and challenges,” the 64-page decision said.
The judge also accused RCMP leadership — who were unanimous in saying officers were adequately equipped — of sticking to “talking points” during testimony at the trial.
“Their opinion is based on their observations made from the comfort and security of their offices; however the view of the responding officers who were facing imminent danger that day is different.”
ackson found the Crown did not prove its case on two other Labour Code violations, and issued a judicial stay on a fourth charge.
The wives of the three fallen Mounties sat quietly in the Moncton courtroom as the verdicts were read out during the brief hearing.
Doug Larche’s wife, Nadine, said outside court that she was satisfied with the verdict.
“I felt all along that if the RCMP members would have had the proper equipment that my husband would not have died and the father of my children would not have died,” she said.
“My hope really is that the silver lining of all of this is that RCMP members that are serving now and in the future will be better equipped and that they’ll be safer.”
Angela Gevaudan, wife of Fabrice, said the RCMP’s decision to fight the Labour Code charges had hurt the policing community.
“It’s been very disheartening to have these charges challenged in the first place,” she said. “I think it breaks the trust and I think the members are still very hurt and feel unsupported and I think that needs to be addressed.”
Cpl. Patrick Bouchard echoed that sentiment, saying senior leadership needs to listen to its members when it comes to responding to their needs. Bouchard worked alongside the Mounties who died and in June wrote an open letter on Facebook condemning the testimony of then-commissioner Bob Paulson in the trial.
Paulson had testified that management had concerns over the possible militarization of the force.
“When the organization fails — and it’s been proven today — that it fails to support the rank and file these tragedies happen,” Bouchard said Friday outside the courthouse. “This is why the RCMP needs to step it up and listen to the rank and file to what we need.”
C8 carbine rifles were not available to general duty officers at the time of the Moncton shootings, and numerous witnesses who testified at the RCMP trial said they could have made a difference.
Carbine rifles were approved for use in 2011, but their rollout was delayed on several occasions.
Lawyer Mark Ertel, who represented the RCMP at the trial, said Friday “it’s too early to tell” whether the force will appeal. He said they hope to detail at the Nov. 23 sentencing all that the RCMP has since done to equip its officers.
“We expect to call evidence about all the efforts that the RCMP has made to equip and train all of its members on the patrol carbine,” Ertel said.
Crown attorney Paul Adams said the RCMP had been convicted of “what I would categorize as a very serious offence and I expect we’ll be approaching it that way when it comes to an appropriate sentence.”
In a statement issued from RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, it says the force will review the decision and consider the next steps.
“The health and safety of our employees continues to be the top priority of the RCMP,” it said. “Today’s verdict will not change the tragic reality that on June 4, 2014, we lost three friends and colleagues — and nearly lost more — to the actions of one man.”
Jackson found the force guilty under the Labour Code of failing to provide its members with the appropriate use-of-force equipment and user training when responding to an active threat or active shooter in an open environment.
He found the RCMP not guilty of failing to provide its members with the necessary information, instruction and/or training when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.
He also found the force not guilty of failing to provide its supervisory personnel with appropriate information, instruction and/or training to ensure the health and safety of RCMP members when responding to an active threat or active shooter event in an open environment.
He stayed a charge of failing to ensure, in general, the health and safety of its members.
The defence argued at the trial that the RCMP exercised due diligence in its rollout of patrol carbines, while the Crown argued management knew front-line officers were at risk and the rollout of carbines took too long.
Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press