SIU Director’s Report - Case # 23-SIRT


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To: Erin Nauss, Director, Serious Incident Response Team 
From: Joseph Martino, Director, Special Investigations Unit 
Date: April 5, 2024

Re: Review of SIRT File # 2020-017 (Onslow Fire Hall Shooting)


The Onslow Fire Hall shooting occurred on April 19, 2020, in the context of a mass casualty incident in which 22 people were killed by a gunman during a 13-hour shooting spree that spanned between Portapique and Enfield, Nova Scotia. Subject Officers (SO1 and SO2) of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) shot at Affected Party (AP2), an emergency management coordinator, outside the Onslow Fire Hall, which was being used as a comfort station and contained civilians.

Pursuant to their statutory mandate, Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) investigated the shooting.

The shooting was deemed legally authorized under section 25 of the Criminal Code by then SIRT Director Felix Cacchione, who made the following finding of facts:

As [the SOs] were approaching the Onslow Fire Hall, they saw a marked RCMP vehicle parked in front of the fire hall facing the road and AP2, wearing a yellow and orange reflective vest, standing by the driver's side door of a marked RCMP vehicle. AP2 was dressed in a fashion similar to other accounts of how the killer was dressed. They could not tell if the driver's side door was open or if anyone was in the car because they were over 88 meters away and facing the passenger side of that vehicle.

SO2, who was driving the vehicle, stopped in the middle of the road and tried several times to advise other officers of what they were seeing by using the mobile radio in the vehicle. SO2 could not get through because the radio "bonged". Both SO1 and SO2 got out of their vehicle with their rifles. SO2 tried again to advise other officers of what they were seeing, this time by using a portable radio, but still could not get through because again the radio "bonged".

SO1 yelled to AP2 “police” and “show your hands”. AP2 did not show his hands but rather ducked behind the marked police car then popped up and ran toward the fire hall entrance. The SOs fired their weapons. SO1 fired four shots and SO2 fired one shot. Neither AP2 who had run into the fire hall nor AP1 who, unbeknownst to the SOs, was sitting in the police vehicle were struck by the shots.[1]

The mass casualty incident, including the Onslow Fire Hall shooting, was subject to a public inquiry – the Joint Federal/Provincial Commission into the April 2020 Nova Scotia Mass Casualty (the Mass Casualty Commission or the MCC) – which released its final report on March 30, 2023.

On April 12, 2023, then SIRT Director, Alonzo Wright, spoke with the director of the Special Investigations Unit in Ontario, Joseph Martino, requesting an opinion about whether the SIRT investigation should be re-opened. Based on this conversation, it was understood that SIRT’s request concerned new evidence emerging at the Mass Casualty Commission; specifically, that AP2 was not ducking or acting suspicious as described by the SOs before they shot at him.

The SIU agreed to provide an opinion based on its standard for re-opening investigations contained in SIU Operations Policy 002.

SIU Operations Policy 002 – The Investigative Process - provides that an investigation will not ordinarily be re-opened unless “material new information” comes to light. This standard is not further defined although has been previously interpreted to require a two-stage assessment. First, there must be “new” information which is meant in the ordinary sense of the word. Second, the new evidence must be “material” to a legal issue such that it could impact the director’s decision.

The following materials were considered:
The Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade Hall – Foundational Document (and Erratum) contained information from various perspectives about the shooting, and provided citations to evidentiary records which were available to the public. The SIU reviewed the records which were not available to SIRT at the time of their decision, including:

  • Supplementary Report of AP1[5]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of AP2[6]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of Civilian Witness (CW) 1 and CW2[7]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of CW3 and CW4[8]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of CW5[9]
  • Letter from CW5 to Felix Cacchione, SIRT Director[10]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of CW6[11]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of CW7[12]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of SO1[13]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of AP1[14]
  • Mass Casualty Commission interview of SO2[15]
    The SIU concluded that the Mass Casualty Commission had revealed new evidence about AP2’s behaviour which, if true, could have had a material impact on SIRT’s charging decision.

      Whether New Material Evidence

        The SIRT Investigation
          The SIRT investigation included a statement taken from SO1 and a description of events provided by counsel on SO2’s behalf. SO1 said he saw the suspect and yelled “police” and to show his hands but, “[AP2] ducked behind the [police vehicle], popped up again and then ran towards the firehall.”[16] Information from SO2’s counsel included that AP2 was ducking towards the rear of the police vehicle before he ran towards the building.[17]
            AP2 provided a statement to SIRT where he described hearing something akin “get down” before hearing a loud noise and running towards the fire hall.[18] He remembered there being no pause between the command and the gunfire.[19] In his notes, he wrote, “2 officers in grey car; yelled get down & I ducked & ran into main entry shots then ring out.”[20]
              AP1 provided a statement where he described AP2 talking to him at his driver’s door which was open.[21] He did not observe AP2’s behaviour during the shooting and noticed he was no longer there afterwards.[22] AP1’s ‘can say’ and notes were silent on whether he heard police issuing commands to AP2.
                CW1 and CW2, volunteer firefighters inside the fire hall at the time of the shooting, also provided statements. CW1 described hearing rapid gunshots and AP2 entering the building a “split second” later.[23] CW2 stated that AP2 told him he heard “down, down” and took off running.[24]
                  SIRT interviewed several other civilian witnesses. CW3 described seeing the shooting and a man being crouched between a truck and a car.[25]  The remaining civilian witnesses did not describe AP2’s behaviour or whether the SOs issued commands before the shooting.
                    The SIRT file also includes a surveillance video.[26] The video was without audio and not of great quality because AP2’s behaviour was captured at a distance and he was blocked in part by the video’s date-stamp.

                    Figure 1 - Screenshot from surveillance video at 10:31:11

                    Figure 2 - Screenshot from surveillance video at 10:31:31

                    The video captured AP2 moving towards the rear of the vehicle and starting to jog as he passed the driver’s side passenger door.

                    The Mass Casualty Commission Evidence

                    The SOs were both interviewed by the MCC and their evidence about AP2’s behaviour was relatively consistent with their SIRT evidence. SO1 described AP2 looking at the officers while standing next to the driver’s door of the RCMP vehicle.[27] He said he yelled, “Show me your hands,” repeatedly and AP2 ducked behind the car and popped up again, perhaps closer to the rear of the vehicle, then ran towards the building.[28] SO2 also described seeing AP2 staring towards the road and “acting weird” by ducking down and moving in behind the car.[29] He described him moving to the back of the vehicle, to the back window, and being “down kind of on the trunk” almost like a tactical position.[30]

                    AP2’s interview with the MCC was also quite consistent with his SIRT statement. He described looking up after he heard the SOs’ vehicle stop (which made a “screech”) and hearing “get down”.[31] He was adamant he heard that command and not one to show his hands, and he denied ducking behind the police cruiser noting this was not captured in the video.[32]

                    AP1’s statement provided additional details. He said that he was handing AP2 a piece of paper when the SOs arrived.[33] He did not hear the SOs issue any commands before they shot at AP2, although he was unsure if his windows were down. He thought his driver’s side window was open.[34]

                    CW1 and CW2 were interviewed and their statements were consistent with their ones to SIRT with respect to AP2’s behaviour.

                    The Mass Casualty Commission interviewed other civilian witnesses who had spoken with SIRT:
                    • CW3’s statement was consistent with her SIRT statement regarding AP2’s behaviour.
                    • CW5 described seeing a man standing beside the RCMP car in a green vest and speaking to someone. She saw him go behind the car and run into the fire hall, noting “there was no threat to them; they were standing there, not doing a thing”.[35] [Note: In her original SIRT statement, CW5 said she did not see the man who ran into the fire hall.[36]]
                    • CW6 provided additional details that the police did not issue any commands before shooting. He described the police blocking the road with their vehicle and them waving him through. As he passed the officers, he stated he did not hear them scream or stay “stop” or anything. He claimed he had his window down and would have heard it.[37]
                    The Mass Casualty Commission also interviewed CW7, who had not been previously interviewed by SIRT. He described seeing an RCMP car sitting in the parking lot with someone next to the car with his elbow on the roof and talking, although he expressed he was unsure.[38]

                    What’s New?

                    Based on a comparison of the SIRT Investigation File with the materials before the Mass Casualty Commission, the following evidence about AP2’s behaviour appeared to be new:
                    • AP2 explicitly denied ducking (contrary to his notes).
                    • AP1 said he was passing AP2 a piece of paper around the time he noticed the SOs arrive.
                    • CW5 and CW7 described AP2 as standing next to the vehicle.
                    • AP1 did not hear any commands and he thought his window was down.
                    • CW6 drove by the officers with his window down and did not hear them issue police commands before shooting.

                    Is the New Evidence Material?

                    For evidence to be material, it must be capable of impacting the director’s decision about charges. In this context, that means the evidence must impact the assessment of whether the officers’ use of force was justified under subsections 25(1) and (3) of the Criminal Code.

                    Subsections 25(1) and (3) of the Criminal Code dictate when police officers are permitted to use force, including lethal force in the course of their duties. Section 25(1) states that a police officer is justified, if he or she acts on reasonable grounds, in using as much force as necessary in the execution of a lawful duty.

                    Section 25(3) further provides that a police officer is only permitted to use force likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm if the officer believes on reasonable grounds that lethal force is necessary to preserve themselves or others from death or grievous bodily harm.

                    In this case, the new evidence is mostly material because, if true, it supports the inference that AP2 did not duck or ignore police commands (because none were made) as the SOs describe. This could change the charging decision because AP2 ignoring commands and ducking was part of the basis for the SOs’ belief that AP2 was the gunman and that he represented a threat to life. If they did not issue verbal commands, there is also an argument that resorting to lethal force was unnecessary because they did not try lesser tactics to gain compliance.


                    On August 30, 2023, the SIU advised SIRT that it was of the view that the MCC had revealed new evidence about AP2’s behaviour which, if true, could have a material impact on the charging decision.

                    On September 7, 2023, SIRT asked that the SIU continue with its review and provide an opinion as to whether the new material evidence it had identified was sufficient to justify criminal charges against either or both of the SOs.

                    Whether New Material Evidence Sufficient to Justify Criminal Charges?

                    Brief Answer

                    The new material evidence falls short of justifying criminal charges against either of the SOs.


                    In SIRT’s report of the Onslow Fire Hall incident, dated February 26, 2021, the office’s then director concluded that SO2, who discharged one round, and SO1, who fired four times, were entitled to the protection of section 25 of the Criminal Code. The director’s reasoning in arriving at that conclusion is set out below:

                    At the time of the incident which led to this investigation, the SOs were on the trail of a killer who had randomly murdered at least eight persons and set fire to multiple buildings in the preceding 12 hours. Three of those murders had occurred in the 30 minutes before they discharged their firearms. The SOs were aware that the person they were searching for was a ruthless and heavily armed killer who had recently resumed the killing rampage he had begun the previous night and appeared intent on continuing it. They knew, because of the statement made by the killer's intimate partner, that he was wearing an orange vest. They also knew, from the recent dispatch of another officer, that the killer in the first of the most recent three killings was seen driving away from the scene of that murder in a fully marked RCMP vehicle and wearing a reflective vest.
                    As they neared the Onslow Fire Hall, they saw AP2, a man wearing a yellow and orange reflective vest standing by the driver's side door of a fully marked RCMP vehicle parked in front of the fire hall. Attempts made by SO2, using both the mobile and portable radios, to notify other officers of what SO1 and SO2 were seeing were unsuccessful due to the heavy volume of radio traffic. When SO1 identified themself as police and ordered AP2 to show his hands, AP2 did not do as ordered but instead ducked behind the police vehicle and then popped up before running into the fire hall.
                    Based on everything SO1 and SO2 had seen and heard since coming on duty and what they had just observed, they had reasonable grounds to believe that AP2 was the killer and someone who would continue his killing rampage. They discharged their weapons in order to prevent further deaths or serious injuries.

                    The totality of the evidence establishes that the SOs had reasonable grounds to believe the person they saw, who was disobeying their orders, was the mass murderer who had, in the preceding hour, killed three more persons. Viewed objectively, in light of the protections afforded to peace officers by Section 25 of the Criminal Code, the totality of the circumstances, in what was a rapidly unfolding series of events, establishes that SO1 and SO2 had a lawful excuse when they discharged their firearms.

                    Accordingly, no criminal offence was committed, and no charges are warranted against either officer.


                    The new material evidence is insufficient to divest the officers of the protection of section 25 of the Criminal Code for the following reasons.

                    The new material evidence is unreliable in key respects

                    • AP2’s explicit denial that he ducked at any point from when he first noticed the officers through the range of gunfire, for example, is at odds with notes he made of the incident at an earlier point in which he wrote: “2 officers in grey car; yelled get down & I ducked & ran into main entry shots then ring out.” It also appears that AP2 was mistaken about his position in relation to AP1’s RCMP cruiser at the time of the shooting. He places himself at the rear of the cruiser on the passenger side. In fact, the video footage establishes that he was by the driver’s door of the cruiser when he began his flight towards the fire hall doorway.[39]
                    The new material evidence is equivocal

                    • The new material evidence by AP1 and CW6 that they did not hear commands by the SOs before the shooting does not establish that no commands were given. It could very well be they simply did not hear any such commands given the distances involved and the dynamic nature of the events as they unfolded. In fact, I am confident that commands were given as even AP2 says he heard the officers yelling directions. Though he disputes hearing the officers ordering him to show his hands, he consistently acknowledges being told to “get down” or words to that effect. He said as much to CW2 immediately after the shooting, diarized these commands in his notes and reported hearing “get down” to both SIRT and the MCC.
                    • With respect to the new material evidence from AP1, CW5 and CW7 that AP2 was standing beside the cruiser around the time that the shots were fired, the evidence does not go as far as to suggest AP2 never ducked at the material times.[40]
                    • AP2 believes the surveillance video recording from the Onslow Fire Hall establishes he did not duck. I acknowledge the video does not depict AP2 making any gross ducking movement before the shooting, but whether he slightly dipped his upper body is less clear, particularly given the presence of the date-stamp on the video.
                    The new material evidence does not displace the probative value of the countervailing evidence

                    • The new material evidence is not so cogent as to tip the balance in favour of the more incriminating scenario as far as the officers’ potential criminal liability is concerned, that is, that the officers did not order AP2 to do anything before they started firing and/or that AP2 never ducked (or took actions that could be perceived as ducking) as he ran for the fire hall. Put differently, in view of the countervailing evidence on these points proffered by the SOs, there is no reason to believe that the more incriminating scenario is more persuasive than the other. That being the case, the totality of the evidence, including the new material evidence, does not give rise to a reasonable belief that either officer acted without the justification of section 25 of the Criminal Code.



                    The signed English original report is authoritative, and any discrepancy between that report and the French and English online versions should be resolved in favour of the original English report.