Nova Scotia mass shooting mired in legal wrangling

The recent arrest of the common-law spouse of gunman Gabriel Wortman on ammunition charges has added another layer to the release of RCMP documents

Nine months after the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, legal efforts to unseal RCMP documents related to the case have hit a brick wall.

After the initial release of seven search warrant documents executed by the RCMP during the course of their investigation, the disclosure of information has been mired in legal wrangling for months.  

The recent arrest of the common-law spouse of gunman Gabriel Wortman on charges of providing ammunition to the gunman allegedly used in the rampage has added another layer to the legal fallout.

This week, a Nova Scotia court heard that lawyers for the woman and two co-accused (her brother and brother-in-law) will be granted access to any future RCMP search warrant documents before they’re made public “as information included in the judicial authorizations could impact their fair trial rights.”

That means lawyers for the three accused will be able to make submissions on what information should and shouldn’t be released, further tying up efforts to expedite the disclosure of court documents.

David Coles is the Nova Scotia lawyer representing a number of media outlets (including the CBC) seeking the complete release of some 27 RCMP search warrant documents related to the case. He has repeatedly expressed frustration at the pace of the release of information. At least one of the media outlets seeking access to the RCMP documents, the independently-owned Halifax Examiner, has offered that it looks like authorities are trying to draw out legal proceedings until media outlets run out of money.

To be sure, only seven search warrant documents have been released since legal proceedings started in May. But large parts of those were redacted, which has given rise to a painstakingly slow legal process as lawyers argue over which sections can be made public.

A decision on whether the names of “innocent third parties” in the first seven search warrant documents should be released to the public is expected on January 26. Coles says in an interview with NOW on Wednesday that the decision will be important as it will determine how much of the 20 remaining search warrant documents will be redacted.

But to some observers, it’s looking increasingly like questions hanging over the events leading to Wortman’s killing spree – not to mention RCMP actions during the rampage – may not be fully answered until a public inquiry ordered by the federal government completes its work two years from now.

The recent charges against Wortman’s common-law spouse, for example, were a long time coming for the families of Wortman’s victims. Some of them have held privately that she may know more about what happened that night than she’s told the RCMP.

RCMP search warrant documents released so far reveal the woman, who NOW has decided not to name, was cautioned during one interview with the RCMP. Police only caution people they are interviewing when they have reason to believe they are not being completely truthful.

One advocacy group is calling for the charges against the woman to be dropped, saying that victims of spousal abuse are often forced to do things for their abuser for fear of reprisal. But others note that accomplices were also allegedly involved.

According to the version of events offered by the RCMP, the woman escaped from Wortman and hid in the woods on the night he set off a 13-hour rampage that would leave 22 people dead (23 if you count the unborn child of a pregnant victim), several burned-out buildings and cars and a trail of destruction covering hundreds of kilometres. But some doubt has also been cast on that by at least one RCMP witness who has said publicly that she was not looking any worse for wear when she showed up at his door in the early hours on April 19.

In June, she renounced her right as Wortman’s common-law spouse of some 10 years to be the executor of his will. In August, however, she filed a claim against Wortman’s estate alleging “physical, emotional and psychological injury from abuse.” The move angered the families of Wortman’s victims, who have filed a class action of their own against Wortman’s estate, whose value is estimated at $1.2 million.

Meanwhile, a growing number of family members of the victims (and those close to them) are taking to Facebook and YouTube to share other details as the RCMP are no longer publicly commenting on the case.

Among the revelations shared on those channels is that Wortman took the boots of one of his victims. A recent report published in the Halifax Examiner raises questions about five separate fires at two properties on either side of a property bought by Wortman in 1999. Wortman ended up buying the two properties, which eventually formed part of the plot of his denture clinic.


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