HALIFAX — A public inquiry heard Monday that many people knew about a replica patrol car owned by the gunman in Nova Scotia's mass shooting, but they didn't tell police about his suspicious activities.
The killer meticulously recreated a fully marked RCMP Ford Taurus — complete with a black push bar and Mountie decals — before driving it during the April 18-19, 2020, rampage that resulted in 22 murders over 13 hours.
Commission lawyer Amanda Byrd presented a summary Monday of how the killer acquired four decommissioned Ford Taurus police vehicles in 2019 from the federal government's online auction site, known as GCSurplus.
She also told the inquiry that there's no indication anyone who saw the fully marked car or photographs of it before the rampage reported it to the police.
"Many civilian witnesses told the RCMP in their statements after the events that they either had seen or had knowledge of this replica .... The commission doesn't currently have evidence to suggest that any of these witness reported the vehicle to police," Byrd said.
The inquiry's summary about the killer's police gear says that people aware of the marked car included the killer's wife and some of her relatives, friends, neighbours, a lawyer, clients at the killer's denturist clinic and contractors who worked on his Portapique, N.S., properties.
It also says a number of the witnesses were told by the gunman it was legal to have such a vehicle, and he assured them he had checked with authorities and was planning to use it in parades, rent it to movie productions or transform it into a memorial for fallen RCMP members.
The Criminal Code says it's against the law to falsely represent oneself to be a police officer or to use police gear to impersonate a police officer, but is silent on the issue of whether someone can simply own a marked vehicle for a personal display.
Max Liberatore, a manager at the GCSurplus warehouse in Dartmouth, N.S., testified Monday that the killer frequently visited the warehouse to purchase the police cars.
He also told the inquiry that he recalled the gunman showing him photos of the decommissioned replica RCMP cruiser. "We were just talking outside (the warehouse). We asked him one time ... why do you like buying these cars?" he said during his testimony.
Liberatore said during cross-examination by Tara Miller — a lawyer representing victims' family members — that the killer told him he intended to use the replica cruiser for parades, and as a result he didn’t report the matter to the RCMP. Miller asked whether Liberatore was ever given any training on how to recognize and report suspicious behaviour, and he replied he had not.
Documents released Monday by the commission also said the killer arrived at a Mercedes dealership with his spouse before the mass shooting in a fully marked police vehicle. The service manager at the dealership told an inquiry investigator he'd asked the killer "how he could drive around like that, and the perpetrator responded that it was 'just a hobby' and it was 'known' that he was doing so." The witness did not report the incident to police.
Several family members of Lisa Banfield said they'd questioned Gabriel Wortman about the replica vehicle.
Charles Banfield, Lisa Banfield’s brother, told the RCMP on April 19, 2020, he'd asked the killer what he was doing with a replica car. James Banfield, another of Banfield’s brothers, said the killer told him he planned to put a heart on the vehicle and make it a memorial for fallen officers.
In his statement to the RCMP on April 28, 2020, Robert MacAskill, a friend of one of the killer's victims, Aaron Tuck, said he and Tuck discussed the decommissioned replica RCMP cruiser and he talked to Tuck about calling Crime Stoppers to report it. The commission's summary says, "Mr. Tuck said he could not report it as the perpetrator had threatened him."
There were also sightings of the vehicle being driven around Portapique, the inquiry's summary says.
It notes that a friend of Lisa McCully's told the RCMP "she saw the perpetrator drive onto his Portapique property in the fully marked decommissioned replica RCMP cruiser." McCully was one of the victims in Portapique.
At the time of the mass shooting, it wasn't explicitly illegal under provincial law to have a replica police vehicle for display.
New legislation in Nova Scotia, coming into effect in May, will make it illegal for unauthorized people to possess police vehicles and gear.
However, Robert Pineo, a lawyer who represents 14 of the 22 victims' families, said in an interview Monday that he believes changes to the Criminal Code and to provincial legislation across Canada are needed to prohibit possession of marked police cars by the general public.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2022.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press