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RCMP officer who visited gunman years before N.S. mass shooting testifying today

The RCMP officer who visited the Nova Scotia mass shooter about 16 times years before the mass shooting, and was tasked with investigating at least one report of his illegal guns, is testifying before the inquiry into the 2020 massacre.

Const. Greg Wiley is set to give evidence on Tuesday at the Mass Casualty Commission leading the inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020, mass shooting where 22 people were killed across the province. Proceedings this week are virtual, and Wiley is testifying via a closed video link with media, lawyers and the commission, which will not be webcast.

Wiley spoke to RCMP shortly after the 2020 murders and with commission investigators last June. He is no longer based in Nova Scotia, and has said he was shocked to find out the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, was the same man he’d visited in Portapique, N.S. for tips on local crime.

“Aside from the hurt, you do ask yourself questions. Like, I had a certain number of contacts with this guy. Did I miss anything? Was I asleep at the wheel here? Could I have somehow been on top of this better or whatever?” Wiley told the commission.

“All I can answer to that is … I do have a conscience, but I do sleep at night.”

First met after tool theft

Wiley said he had developed a professional relationship with the gunman after responding to a break-in at his garage where tools were stolen around 2007 or 2008 when Wiley was working out of the Bible Hill detachment.

Once most of the tools were recovered and the case was closed, Wiley said he kept checking in with the man frequently because he “knew the value” of having community contacts, a lesson he’d picked up as a cadet at the RCMP Depot in Saskatchewan. 

“And isn’t it ironic how things have turned out?” said Wiley.

The Mountie estimated he dropped in to visit the gunman about 16 times over the years, often sitting and chatting together having a soda in the cottage living room, or just standing in the driveway. He said some of his Portapique visits would last an hour or more if he wasn’t responding to other calls.

It’s unclear exactly when Wiley’s visits took place, but most appear to be between 2008 and 2011 before he was transferred to the Parrsboro area in neighbouring Cumberland County. Wiley said he last saw the gunman on a Colchester County wooded trail in 2017 when Wortman drove by him on an ATV, and before that had not seen him in “years, probably.”

The gunman never seemed overly interested in his RCMP uniform or car, Wiley said, adding he would never have guessed the same man who hosted him in his large Portapique cottage would eventually create a mock RCMP cruiser he drove through communities killing strangers, neighbours and acquaintances.

Wiley told the commission he had a “fairly good handle on” Wortman, who was always polite, and said he didn’t “come across as a violent guy to me.”

Halifax police call after threat to parents 

A couple years after Wiley struck up a connection with the gunman, a Halifax Regional Police officer reached out to Wiley in June 2010 about a tip that Wortman had threatened to kill his parents in New Brunswick.

Cordell Poirier, a retired Halifax Regional Police officer of 35 years, said in a commission interview that an RCMP officer from Moncton, N.B., called to tell him about the alleged threat. The gunman’s father also had reported that his son was an alcoholic with “several long-barrel weapons.” The gunman never had a firearms licence.

Poirier investigated but decided there wasn’t grounds for a search warrant at the gunman’s Dartmouth home.

The Halifax officer then spoke with Wiley over the phone about the complaint. Wiley “told me that he was a good friend” of the gunman’s, according to Poirier, and would go try to find out if he indeed had weapons at his Portapique cottage.

Poirier said he never heard back from Wiley, and closed the file on his end.

rcmp officer who visited gunman years before n s mass shooting testifying today
Regional police investigators confer outside the Atlantic Denture Clinic on April 20, 2020, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The gunman Gabriel Wortman owned the clinic and lived in the apartment above it for years. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)

But Wiley told the commission he didn’t recall hearing from another officer about a threats complaint, didn’t recognize Poirier’s name, and didn’t remember ever asking Wortman about guns — but insisted he must have.

“If I told the guy I was going to speak to Gabriel about that, I would have spoke to Gabriel about it,” Wiley said. “Like, I wouldn’t have been derelict in that.”

Wiley did recall talking with the gunman about some type of “disagreement” he had about a will or property with his family in New Brunswick, “but he wasn’t over the top about it.” The situation seemed like a typical thing Wiley himself experienced growing up on a farm in Ontario, he said.

Wiley said he didn’t see any gun rack or weapons at the cottage, but never searched the home.

What exactly Wiley did in 2010 to investigate the weapons and threat tip is unknown, as the RCMP files from that time have been purged as part of their regular practice. Wiley also searched for any of his notes about the gunman, but found none.

rcmp officer who visited gunman years before n s mass shooting testifying today 1
The remains of Gabriel Wortman’s Portapique cottage and burnt car in Portapique, N.S. in May 2020. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

During that 2010 visit, Lisa Banfield has said Wiley asked Wortman if he had any guns. The gunman showed the Mountie an old musket and one decorative gun above a fireplace that was filled with wax. Wiley was only in the Portapique cottage for about 10 minutes and didn’t seem to take an official statement from the gunman, nor did he search the home, said Banfield.

Lawyers for the victims’ families, including Michael Scott of Patterson Law, have asked for Wiley to come before the inquiry.

Scott has questioned whether Wiley was the right officer to be assigned to investigate the gunman given their connection, and said he’s unclear on the “appropriateness of those interactions.”

A year later in May 2011, an officer safety bulletin about the gunman was sent to all police agencies in the province based on an anonymous tip given to Cpl. Greg Densmore of the Truro Police Service. 

Densmore said an unknown man had approached him while on duty and said the gunman “stated he wants to kill a cop.”

Wiley doesn’t recall following up on 2011 tip

According to Densmore’s report, the source said Wortman had “at least one handgun” he’d take between Dartmouth and Portapique, plus “several long rifles located at his cottage” that may be stored in a “compartment located behind the flue.”

“Use extreme caution when dealing with WORTMAN,” the bulletin said.

Poirier recognized the name, and called the RCMP’s Bible Hill detachment, where he spoke with on-duty supervisor Const. John MacMinn. MacMinn said he’d review Wiley’s file on the 2010 threat to “determine what action, if any, was taken last year” and get back to Poirier.

But Poirer said that never happened, so from his perspective “that was it” and he left the case with the RCMP.

Chief Dan Kinsella of the Halifax Regional Police recently testified before the inquiry that it was up to the RCMP to take ownership of investigating that tip because the guns were reportedly in the Portapique cottage in Mountie territory.

rcmp officer who visited gunman years before n s mass shooting testifying today 2
Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

He said if a similar bulletin came into Halifax police, his expectation is that action would be taken “right then and there.”

“It’s not to go into a database to be looked at later, and hopefully somebody finds it. Whether that happens in every instance, I don’t know,” Kinsella said.

In his interview with police, Wiley said he didn’t remember seeing the Densmore bulletin with details about Wortman wanting to kill a cop, or any conversations with MacMinn. When the commission asked about whether hearing that the gunman wanted to kill a cop was alarming, Wiley said he doesn’t remember getting something “that formal.”

“How I thought of him as a person was benign, so … I knew Dr. Jekyll, but I didn’t know Mr. Hyde at all,” Wiley said.

Any records of Wiley’s or other RCMP officers’ investigations into the 2011 tip, if they happened, have also been purged from the system. 

Scott has told CBC that details like the 2011 tipster referencing firearms being stored in a compartment in the flue in the gunman’s cottage suggest first-hand knowledge — and that’s “pretty reliable information” for a warrant. 

The commission also plans to question Wiley about his involvement in the case of Susie Butlin, a Tatamagouche woman who was killed by her neighbour in September 2017 after reporting him to RCMP for sexual assault and harassment.

When Butlin called the RCMP on Aug. 26, 2017 to report harassing messages from her nieghbour trying to intimidate her to drop a peace bond application against him, Wiley was assigned as the lead investigator. He discussed the messages with Butlin, and determined there was no basis to lay a criminal charge. 

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