Leaked 911 recordings from N.S. tragedy cause outrage; raise questions

Families of those killed during Nova Scotia's mass shooting say hearing partial recordings of three 911 calls made that fatal night go online is devastating.

"We feel very violated," says Florence Dobson, an aunt of Jamie Blair. Dobson says she first learned about the recordings through social media Wednesday night, and quickly contacted family members to tell them not to listen.

"It's one thing to read things, it's another thing to have it on audio and hearing it," she says, her voice trembling with emotion.

Jamie Blair was shot and killed protecting her children from the gunman in Portapique. Her husband, Greg, was also killed. Twenty-two people died in the gunman's killing rampage April 18 and 19 last year.

Dobson says the publication that made her niece's 911 call public, should take it down.

"It is continuously bringing everything back to the family," she says. "and any time that people read and comment and say anything, they are giving the shooter continuous control."

CTV News has not independently confirmed the veracity of the recordings, and CTV has chosen not to air the audio.

The audio is included as part of an article in Frank Magazine authored by writer Paul Palango.

The magazine's editor says he understands the emotion, but insists the calls -- provided by an unnamed source -- are in the public interest.

"I completely understand how this story and this audio would be absolutely shattering for certain people to hear," says Frank Magazine editor Andrew Douglas. "But we feel the fact that the newsworthiness of the story and the audio overrode all else in this."

"Although we did try to mitigate the publishing of the story to let the families know in advance what was coming."

Douglas says the publication did reach out to family members for comment, but didn't hear back.

An online petition has also been started against the posting of the 911 audio online. 

AUDIO MOVED BEHIND PAYWALL

Late Thursday, the audio of the 911 calls was moved behind Frank Magazine's paywall.

"We initially felt that we couldn't be seen to be profiteering off this material, and we would be doing a public service by giving unfettered access to material that is very much in the public interest," wrote  Douglas in an email to CTV News.

"But as it turns out, putting it behind the paywall ended up being a way to make at least some of the family members feel a little better about it," he continued.

Douglas says the material will remain online for paying subscribers. He says he received several notices of possible litigation if it wasn't entirely removed from lawyers representing family members of the victims of the April 2020 massacre, but says the material will remain. 

N.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL INVESTIGATING LEAK

At Thursday's post-cabinet news conference, Nova Scotia's Attorney General and Minister of Justice said his office is investigating the leak of the recordings.

"To see if it's appropriate to refer to the privacy office for an investigation under FOIPOP legislation, and then of course there's the Emergency 911 Act," said Randy Delorey. "That also has provisions relating to ... maintaining confidence and the confidentiality of 911 calls." 

"The release and the disclosure of the 911 calls is particularly concerning, especially in this instance, because of the impact that it can, and I believe … has had on victims," he said.

The Mass Casualty Commission into the tragedy also released a statement regarding the audio made public, writing in part: "The commission does not support the publication of these recordings and requests that the magazine remove the content immediately. We are extremely concerned for the privacy of those affected by the content…"

But that content, if accurate, does raise questions about just when emergency officials learned the killer was driving a replica RCMP cruiser.

One of the calls, made by a woman just after 10 p.m. that April 18th, references the gunman's vehicle.

Here is a transcript of the relevant portions of that call audio:

911: There's police cars in the driveway?
Caller: There is a police car, but he drives ... he is a denturist and he drives ... there is an RCM ... labeled RCMP.

Another caller from Portapique -- a survivor -- gave that same information to another 911 operator, 15 minutes later.

911: Did you see what kind of vehicle?
Caller: It was a police car, I couldn't find ... I couldn't find the license.

"All three of them, show us what the RCMP knew between the hours of 10 and 10:30 on April 18th," says Douglas.

That night, Nova Scotia RCMP only tweeted about that police car after 10 a.m. the next day.

Thursday, the Nova Scotia RCMP said it stands by its actions, stating it only confirmed the shooter was driving a marked police car that Sunday morning.

The commanding officer of the force, Asst. Commissioner Lee Bergerman, also released a statement, calling the release of the audio recording "a disgraceful disregard" of the victims and their families. Bergerman also indicated the force will be investigating the source of the recordings, "and any related offences that may have occurred with respect to unauthorized release, possession and subsequent publishing."

The province is urging anyone distressed by the audio's release- to reach out to the following resources:

  • The Mental Health Provincial Crisis Line - 1-888-429-8167 (toll-free 24hr. service)
  • Community Mental Health and Addictions  -  1-855-922-1122 (toll-free) weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

LOCAL COUNCILLORS CALL FOR INVESTIGATION

Editor's note: The following news release from three Colchester County councillors was received after the story above was completed.

"As councillors representing three municipal districts where residents were directly affected by the mass shooting, we are extremely concerned for the harm caused to families who were re-traumatized by the content of 911 recordings released by Frank Magazine on June 2nd.

The violation of the privacy of children in this manner crosses a line of decency and respect that should never be crossed. This is an attack on the most vulnerable members of our society, young children, in the most devastating and horrendous moments of their lives, and we believe this to be absolutely deplorable.

The people of Nova Scotia need to stand behind these families, especially these children and we believe they need to let Frank Magazine know that it has sold its last magazine here in the province of Nova Scotia.

We call for an immediate investigation into who leaked these tapes of the 911 calls on the evening of April 18, 2020.

Our hearts are with the families who were victimized yet once again, by the release of these recordings and we want you all to know there's not a single Nova Scotian who doesn't feel for you!

Sincerely,

Lisa Patton, Marie Benoit, and Tom Taggart

Councillors for District 8, District 9, and District 10