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RCMP officers involved in N.S. mass shooting inquiry linked to gaps in earlier murder case

Multiple RCMP officers involved in the Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry have been linked to gaps in a 2017 murder case now undergoing a federal civilian review, including the Mountie who visited the gunman for tips on local crime in Portapique.

The Mass Casualty Commission leading the inquiry into the April 2020 mass shooting where 22 people were killed released new information Monday about the officers involved in the case around Susie Butlin.

Butlin of Tatamagouche, N.S., was shot and killed by her neigbour Ernie (Junior) Duggan months after reporting him to the RCMP for sexual assault and harassment. Her case has been brought up at the inquiry during panels around police oversight and gender-based violence, and happened in the same Colchester RCMP district where the mass shooting began in Portapique.

Jennifer Cox, commission counsel, said Monday the inquiry had finally been given a copy of an internal police review of how RCMP handled Butlin’s case with officers’ names visible.

Cox said the RCMP originally blocked the names because it was “unilaterally decided as irrelevant to the work of the commission,” but they pushed back and a full report with the officers’ names was presented.

This delay in disclosing the officers’ names impacted the commission’s ability to do their work as they interviewed certain officers or brought them to testify, Cox said.

“We did potentially lose some opportunities to question them at that time,” Cox told the commission Monday.

Commission counsel Jennifer Cox addresses the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders in Halifax on Monday. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)

Cox also noted other situations, reports and inquiries across Canada where she said the RCMP has destroyed information they deemed irrelevant, like the Colton Boushie review, or disclosed it too late to be acted upon.

“This is something that has been a process that has a consistent pattern and has an impact on things like this commission,” Cox said.

The Butlin case became a focal point during a roundtable discussion at the inquiry last month. Various experts implied that RCMP members involved in Butlin’s case seem to have had a fundamental misunderstanding of consent that affected the rest of their interactions with her.

One of the officers involved in Butlin’s case was Const. Stuart Beselt, who led the team that walked through Portapique in search of the mass shooter on April 18, 2020.

RCMP Const. Stuart Beselt, one of the first officers on the scene in Portapique, N.S., fields a question at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders during his testimony in Halifax in March. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Butlin review, completed in 2018, said that Beselt responded to an incident at Duggan’s home on Aug. 21, 2017. 

That night, his wife April Duggan called police to say she was worried Duggan was going to kill Butlin after flying into “a rage” about the peace bond application she’d filed against him at the suggestion of the RCMP. She reported Duggan had kicked down a door in their home, and he might be going to get a gun.

Beselt went to the Duggan home with Const. Rodney MacDonald, who also was later involved in the mass shooting response and helped set up containment in Portapique on April 18.

Both officers found Duggan, who had been drinking, and he told the officers he would “never hurt anyone.”

MacDonald left to speak with April Duggan. Beselt then went next door to talk with Butlin, but the review said that conversation was not documented.  Soon after this, police found out that Duggan was driving his truck and he was arrested and charged for impaired driving.

The review said this investigation was incomplete, and there appears to be “very concerning” information from the Aug. 21 incident that was “overlooked or not acted upon,” including how police did not take a statement from April Duggan about what she heard or saw, and no follow-up was done to see if Duggan did have a firearm.

Wiley handled report of harassment

The commission interviewed Beselt last July, before he testified at the inquiry in March, but he was never asked about his role in Butlin’s case. MacDonald was not asked about his involvement either when he was interviewed by the commission last September. 

Another officer in Butlin’s case, Const. Greg Wiley, visited the mass shooter more than a dozen times years before the mass shooting, and was asked to investigate the gunman’s threats to kill his parents in 2010. 

The review said when Butlin called the RCMP on Aug. 26, 2017 to report harassing messages from Duggan trying to intimidate her to drop the peace bond, Wiley was assigned as the lead investigator. 

Wiley discussed the messages with Butlin, and determined there was no basis to lay a criminal charge. He also told Butlin to block Duggan on Facebook.

“Given the ongoing events since the initial sexual assault complaint, these allegations should have been taken seriously and a thorough investigation conducted,” the review said, including getting copies of the messages and speaking with Duggan.

“Without taking these steps it is impossible to review and determine if any charges were warranted in relation to harassment or intimidation,” the review said.

The commission already interviewed Wiley last June, and he is expected to testify at the inquiry next week.

Suzanne Davis of Truro Heights, N.S. says she’d like to see the inquiry interview officers involved in the events leading up to her friend Susie Butlin’s death. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

One of Butlin’s best friends, Suzanne Davis, said she knows exactly what she’d ask the officers who handled Butlin’s case if given the opportunity.

“I would ask them why they weren’t listening,” Davis said Monday. “They didn’t take her seriously.”

Davis said she’d like to see Beselt brought back before the commission to answer questions about the Butlin case.

The commission will be taking further steps to rectify this situation, Cox said Monday, to see if they can find a way to “overcome the fact that we might have missed opportunities to question witnesses.”

CBC has asked whether the commission has requested new interviews with Beselt, MacDonald or other RCMP officers involved in Butlin’s case, and will update this story with any response.

The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, the RCMP’s national watchdog, announced last month it is also investigating how the Mounties handled Butlin’s case leading up to her murder.

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