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How confusion lingers around Nova Scotia’s emergency alert system one year later

In all the chaos, the fires and the killings that took the lives of 22 Nova Scotians last year, there are still many questions that remain unanswered.

Like why during the worst mass shooting in Canadian history was the provincial emergency alert system not activated to warn Nova Scotians about an active shooter?

Nick Beaton is adamant that his pregnant wife Kristen would still be alive today if she had been warned of the active shooter. He has been critical of the RCMP and the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office for failing to send out a provincewide alert.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, if that alert had of went off at 9:56, Kristen could have made a right, two minutes before where she was sitting and she would have come home,” Beaton said during an interview in February with Global News.

On April 18, 2020, a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer and driving a replica police cruiser began a 13-hour arson and shooting rampage that began in the small rural village of Portapique and continued through the night and into April 19 until RCMP tactical officers finally shot killed him at a truck stop gas station in Enfield, about 100 kilometres from where the tragedy began.

Read more:
One year later — How the Nova Scotia mass shooting shook and changed a province forever

One year later and the province’s emergency management office and the RCMP have yet to say if any policy changes have been or will be made to improve Nova Scotia’s emergency alert system.

Following the shooting rampage, the RCMP and the provincial government have faced criticism for their failure to issue an emergency alert.

Earlier this year, former Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil said the province can’t send emergency alerts on its own and stressed that the request had to come from the police.

RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather confirmed that RCMP used Twitter to communicate information instantaneously about the active shooter situation on April 19, 2020 and that the RCMP was in the process of crafting an alert when officers killed the gunman.

Former RCMP officer and retired Nova Scotia EMO incident commander Stephen Mills says at the time of the shooting incident, the process of issuing a provincewide alert was cumbersome and police likely didn’t know how to get an alert issued at the time.

“The RCMP and any of the municipal police forces would never have used it,” said Mills. “They were likely aware of the (emergency alert) system but wouldn’t have had any training on how to access it.”

Click to play video: #NovaScotiaStrong: Truro woman gathers photos of car decals for Instagram project

Several interview requests for the minister responsible for EMO, MLA Brendan Maguire, and Justice Minister MLA Randy Delorey were issued, but neither would answer questions for this story.

New Brunswick’s RCMP and EMO changed their protocol in August, following the mass shooting tragedy, and the RCMP now has full access to the provincial alert system.

“It was a discussion that we were having with EMO for quite some time,” said Insp. Andrea Gallant, operational support and communication centre program manager with New Brunswick RCMP. “It was a collaborative effort between the two organizations, to make it more efficient and easier for the messages to get out to the public when their safety was compromised.”

Mills says New Brunswick RCMP has it correct and advocates that Nova Scotia RCMP be given the same power and capabilities to manage their emergency alert messaging system.

“When it comes to alerting and that is, amber alerts, terrorism and active shooter, those three things are all that police forces should have the ability to access directly and immediately,” said Mills.

Read more:
N.S. premier says RCMP must improve emergency alert protocols after gunman arrested in Amherst

Nova Scotia Opposition leader Tim Houston is calling on the provincial government to take action and make policy changes now to correct the alert systems and give police the power to control the public alert system during a crisis situation.

“There are clearly lessons to be learned and the real concern is that the people who need to learn those lessons and can make the positive changes that come out of that tragedy don’t appear ready to learn the lessons and that’s a missed opportunity,” said Houston.

One year later and the families of the victims are still looking for answers.

A group of nearly 280 people marched to the RCMP station in Bible Hill, N.S., on Sunday to rally for and demand more answers and accountability from the police, who have released little information regarding the tragedy and the ongoing investigation, since last April.

An inquiry is set to begin soon and will examine the response of the RCMP and look at issues like the emergency alert system. It’s expected an interim report will be published in May 2022 with a final report and a list of recommendations to be released in November 2022.

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