Nova Scotia shooter's illegal arsenal outlined at Mass Casualty Commission
The commission examining Canada’s worst mass murder released its findings regarding the killer’s arsenal Tuesday, and heard how much family, friends, and neighbours of Gabriel Wortman knew about his collection of firearms.
Some, said Commission counsel Amanda Byrd, were aware he didn’t have a firearms license, while others thought he had one.
The firearms he used as he killed 22 people, including a pregnant mother, were all in his possession illegally, along with several prohibited over-capacity magazines.
Those who knew about his firearms described them in various ways to police investigators after the shootings took place.
For example, different family members told RCMP officers that the perpetrator had a "massive handgun", a shotgun, an assault rifle, and 9mm handguns.
For the daughter of Tom Bagley, the retired firefighter killed on the second day of the massacre, hearing just how many people knew about the gunman’s weapons made for another emotional day at public proceedings.
"By the end of the day I’m exhausted," she says, "whatever the content may be."
Even so, she found herself wanting more details out of Tuesday’s proceedings.
"Maybe more information about how he acquired the firearms when so many people knew he wasn't supposed to have them to begin with?" she says.
What the commission did present was a brief overview of its foundational document detailing the firearms Wortman had collected over more than a decade.
Three of the guns he used during the rampage came from Houlton, Maine, the home of Sean Conlogue, a friend of the gunman.
According to Commission documents, Conlogue later told RCMP investigators he believed the killer took one of those guns, a Glock 23, without his knowledge. Conlogue said he didn’t discover the gun was missing from where he’d kept it, until he checked on it after the tragedy.
Conlogue said he gave the second firearm, a Ruger P-39, to Wortman as a thank you gift after he helped him with some work around the house.
According to other witness statements, the third gun was a semi-automatic Colt Carbine (also known as an AR-15). It’s believed that gun was bought illegally for Wortman, through a third party, at a gun show in Houlton.
"It is not legal to give a gun to a person who is not a citizen of the state in which the person resides," says Margaret Groban, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at the University of Maine in Portland.
But she doesn’t believe prosecutors would pursue any charges against anyone who helped the gunman obtain weapons illegally in the States at this point.
"We really have to prioritize…resources so that the people who are prosecuted are either committing violent crimes, aiding and abetting violent crimes, or who pose a significant danger to those in the community," she says.
"Someone who commits the crimes here, which are technical offences, or called 'paper offences,' is that case such a danger to the public safety and community that they should be prosecuted? There would be a number of factors that would be considered, but obviously neither one of these people were people who committed a violent crime themselves," she adds.
"The unfortunate thing was that the guns ended up in the hands of someone who did."
More than a year after the tragedy, Conlogue expressed his dismay to investigators with the Mass Casualty Commission in a phone interview.
"I’ve gone over this a million times in my head. Did I miss something?" he says. "I'd wake up in the middle of the night, think, was there some sign or was there something that I missed I didn't see?"
Commission documents also state the shooter was flagged three times to police for his firearms.
The first report to police was by members of the gunman’s family, after Wortman threatened to kill his parents in 2010.
A year later, a warning from Central Intelligence Nova Scotia was issued to police throughout the province, indicating that the perpetrator 'wanted to kill a cop.'
That warning was written by an officer with the Truro Police Service, who received the information from an unknown source.
In 2020, an ex-neighbor of the gunman in Portapique, Brenda Forbes, said she reported his illegal firearms to RCMP back in 2013. The Nova Scotia RCMP however, had no record of her specific complaint, but rather could only find information indicating an officer had attended to her residence for a disturbance complaint.
In all three instances, brief police investigations as outlined in Commission source documents came up empty.
At the Commission’s public proceedings Tuesday, no witnesses took the stand to further explain, something Bagley would have liked to hear more about.
Instead, the Commission heard several presentations on expert reports covering Canadian gun laws and the connection between masculinity and mass shootings in the U.S.
"I feel like especially given this morning's presentation on the history of guns in Canada, I don't need to know that," Bagley says. "We could spend that time having witnesses on the stand giving us information that we need."