On the night of April 18, 2020, Gabriel Wortman started a shooting rampage in Portapique, N.S., which took the lives of 22 people. Under pressure from the families of victims, the federal and provincial governments launched an inquiry into the events surrounding the shooting, named the Mass Casualty Commission. This Commission has brought to light serious deficiencies in the way that the RCMP responded to this event which demonstrates something that Marxists have always argued: the state, especially the RCMP, does not exist to protect us.
The proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission’s inquiry over the nearly two years since its foundation have been quite revealing. The RCMP were initially made aware that there was a shooting at 10:01 p.m. on April 18 when a victim called 911 and told the operator they were being shot at. The RCMP’s only notification to the public at this time came at 11:32 p.m. in the form of a tweet alerting the community that there was a “firearms disturbance”. From multiple eyewitness accounts and 911 calls during the initial response in Portapique, RCMP knew the shooter was impersonating a Mountie and driving a marked RCMP cruiser. However, they did not make this information public.
When the shooter could not be found in the community, it was simply assumed by the police that he had died in one of the building fires he had set that night. Meanwhile, the shooter had escaped Portapique to continue the rampage across several towns in the early hours of April 19. When 911 calls started again that morning, the RCMP gathered that their earlier assumption had been incorrect. This same morning the RCMP became aware of the identity of the shooter and did not communicate this to the public.
It wasn’t until 8:02 a.m. on April 19, 10 hours after the shooter killed his first victim, that the RCMP tweeted that there was an active shooter situation. Even then, a photo of the shooter, the fact that he was impersonating an RCMP officer, or that he could be anywhere in the province was omitted. In total 13 hours elapsed from when the shooter started his rampage, to when he happened to be recognized by two RCMP officers at a gas station just outside of Halifax and was shot fatally. By then, it was already too late and 22 people were dead, which is the largest mass shooting in Canadian history.
Throughout this entire time, no Alert Ready message (the system used to send a notification to all telecommunication devices in the province) was sent to alert the population about the active shooter. If an Alert Ready message wasn’t sent in this instance, it makes you wonder under what circumstances this would ever be used. What has become painfully clear for all to see is that the RCMP, who purportedly exist to “protect and serve” us, failed disastrously and in many ways worked directly against this aim.
Throughout the process of the Mass Casualty Commission, it has become clear that the extremely delayed release of information to the public and the omitting of key information that would have saved lives was not an issue of this or that officer being negligent. Rather, through the inquiry process, it has become evident that as an institution, the RCMP was implicitly reluctant to release concrete details on the shooting to the public.
Multiple members of the RCMP had access to a draft tweet—and the authorization to release it—that not only notified the public that the shooter was impersonating an officer, but also contained a picture of the vehicle (with ID number) the shooter was driving so that the public could identify it as an imposter. It has come to light that in the middle of this killing spree, it took the RCMP two hours to release the tweet containing this vital information.
All of this information was distributed internally within the RCMP to officers on the ground during this time, well before it was released to the public. Senior officials within the RCMP have stated that this reluctance may have stemmed from a fear of public panic and backlash, as well as so-called “blue on blue”, that is police officers firing at other police officers. Commenting on the RCMP’s response to the shooting, Wayne MacKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s school of law, summed up the rationale behind the delayed information succinctly: “It’s an illustration of the RCMP not trusting the common sense of the public. There’s no doubt there would be some panic … but I think they should have had a little more confidence in the good sense of the public.” Adding to this lack of communication, after the shooter was killed, details of the events were downplayed, with Chief Supt. Chris Leather, the senior RCMP officer in charge of relating information about the shooting, initially telling news conferences that “in excess of 10 have been killed.” This is despite later documents showing that he was aware 17 people were known to have been killed at that time, with victims still being found.
The actions of the RCMP during and after the mass shooting in Nova Scotia form a clear image: the institution as a whole does not trust the public or have our safety as a priority. As a body, the RCMP have their own set of interests which they have decidedly placed above the interests of the population that they are supposed to protect.
The Mass Casualty Commission protects the RCMP
This event has served not only to expose the RCMP but the state as a whole. While the Mass Casualty Commission has the stated aim of providing “meaningful recommendations to help keep communities safer in the future”, it has become clear that the commissioners are mostly interested in protecting the RCMP.
In fact, the commission blocked the families and lawyers of victims from cross-examining two officers directly involved in the response to the shooting, and instead allowed them to submit pre-recorded statements to questions prepared ahead of time from the commission itself. This action speaks volumes about the true nature of the commission, and in late May of 2022 this understandably led the families of victims to protest and boycott the proceedings of the commission. While the families have since ended their boycott, their legal representatives have stated “our return… is by no means an endorsement of the decision made by the commissioners.”
The lack of accountability and meaningful democratic control in this process is plain to see. Even the commission’s final report, to be released in November 2022, will simply be a set of recommendations which, even if they contain decent reforms, the state is under no obligation to actually implement.
It is becoming clear that the Mass Casualty Commission was only instituted reluctantly, bending to the mass outrage over the blatant mishandling of the response to the Portapique shooter. Being appointed jointly by the federal and provincial governments, the commission’s job was to protect the RCMP while offering some mild recommendations which may or may not be implemented. Therefore it has become obvious that the commission has been attempting to divert the anger and outrage into channels that don’t disrupt the capitalist state.
The true nature of the capitalist state
Instances like the shooting in Portapique are only going to increase as the capitalist system sinks further into crisis and those on the fringes of society are pushed into instability and misdirected anger. In capitalist society, it is assumed that the state—most importantly the armed wing of the state—is there to “serve and protect” us. However, events such as the Portapique shooting have demonstrated that this is far from the truth.
The RCMP has proven to be systemically racist, misogynistic, and homophobic. In addition to this, the horrible treatment of Indigenous people at the hands of the RCMP continues to this day. Now with the negligent, self-serving, mismanaged response to the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, many people are seeing the RCMP in a new light.
At the end of the day working class people should have no faith in the capitalist state, with all of its politicians, police officers, judges, and prisons. Workers have nothing to gain by oppressing others. Working class people, overseeing the protection and well-being of our own communities, would have never acted so negligently.
Only through the socialist transformation of society—where workers control our communities, the economy, and society as a whole—can working class people directly manage our safety and security. Only through abolishing capitalism can we remove the material root of capitalism’s crisis and institute a democratic plan of production to meet the needs of all in order to ensure that those on the edges of society are supported instead of being pushed towards senseless violence.