Nova Scotia RCMP was initially reluctant to release a photo of the replica police cruiser driven by a gunman that killed 22 people in April 2020, fearing it could spark a “frantic panic”.

The details come from an interview with an RCMP operations officer who responded to the April 18-19 shootings, conducted by the Public Inquiry into the Mass Shooting.

Staff Sgt. Steve Halliday told investigators in the inquiry that during a phone call with Communications Director Lia Scanlan at 8 a.m. April 19, he expressed concerns about the release of the photo she just took of the replica RCMP car of the murderers would have received.

Halliday told survey interviewers in November 2021 that he was concerned about how such a message would be worded “so as not to expose us, you know, to even more risk to our people.”

According to the transcript of the interview, Halliday told Scanlan he wanted to avoid “striking the public into a frantic panic and overburdening our OCC (Operational Communications Center) operators.” Based in Truro, NS, these operators handled 911 calls.

He went on to say that with so many police cars on the street responding to the rampage, he imagined that “anyone who sees a police car[starts]calling 911.” He said that was paramount as he was “trying to shape” how that information would be communicated.

In the end, the photo of the suspect’s vehicle was not shared with the public until 10:17 a.m., about three hours after Halifax Regional Police received the photos from a relative of the killer’s wife.

Halliday told interviewers, “We knew we had to get it out,” in reference to the image of the killer’s RCMP car. “But you know, none of us have ever had any experience of sending a message like this to the public,” he added.

“It was very difficult.”

Before RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson was killed by the gunman as she ran to support another officer who was shot. She asked to share a picture of the replica cruiser with the public.

At 8:44 am Stevenson is recorded asking supervisors if they had considered distributing a media release about the killer’s fully marked Ford Taurus. She was killed by gunman Gabriel Wortman in a firefight at 10:49 a.m. after their vehicles collided.

Colchester County RCMP District Commander Al Carroll emailed Staff Sgt. Bruce Briers, the risk manager at the Operational Communications Center, about Stevenson’s proposed media release at 9:08 a.m., saying that a public statement about the police car would not take place. “Consideration was made to release the vehicle, but the decision was made not to do so,” Carroll wrote.

Briers replied seven minutes later, “Very well, I figured maybe they don’t want to publish.”

It’s unclear who Brier means by “she” in his email. Interviewed by the Inquiry, Halliday said he was unaware of this conversation between Carroll and Briers.

“This is the first time I’ve heard anything like this and I’m shocked to hear it. I honestly don’t think that’s right,” Halliday said.

Police call records do not indicate whether the Operational Communications Center in Truro was inundated with calls after the photo was posted to social media at 10:17 a.m. However, the investigative records list two sightings of the shooter, which were reported to police minutes after the picture of the fake police car was shared.

At approximately 10:39 a.m., a police officer hears from his wife that her friend saw what appeared to be an RCMP car passing her home and heading south on Highway 2 in Brookfield. According to the document, she later told police she thought it might be the perpetrator based on “the pictures that (she) had seen on the internet.”

Minutes later, the officer received confirmation that no RCMP member was driving a marked car in the area.

Then, at 10:42 a.m., another woman reached the RCMP to report a marked police vehicle traveling from the Brookfield junction towards Stewiacke, marked “B11” on it, the last part of the code used by the killer tagged his car. “She had seen the RCMP’s Facebook post about the vehicle,” the document said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 28, 2022.

This story was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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