CBC applying to unseal information used to obtain search warrants in N.S. shooting

A Nova Scotia judge is expected to hear arguments today about whether to unseal the information the RCMP used to obtain search warrants to access property belonging to the man they say is responsible for killing 22 people in a shooting rampage.

CBC made an application to the Nova Scotia provincial court in Truro in hopes that court records could offer insight into what RCMP knew about the gunman and when they became aware of that information.

The rampage unfolded over about 13 hours, beginning in the tiny community of Portapique, N.S., in Colchester County the night of April 18 and ending at a gas station in Enfield about 92 kilometres south of there when the gunman was fatally shot by police at around 11:26 a.m. AT on April 19.

While a warrant states what is being searched, the information used to obtain warrants (ITO) often spells out evidence that investigators have gathered to support a warrant, what offences they’re investigating and specific allegations against an accused person.

The parties applying for a warrant can ask that the files be sealed.

In the shooting case, there are at least seven sealed search warrants, so it’s unclear what properties were searched or what the RCMP used for justification when applying to a justice of the peace for the warrants.

Courts only hearing urgent matters

On account of COVID-19 restrictions in place across the province, Nova Scotia courts have only been hearing urgent matters since mid-March, and courts have shifted to teleconferences and video conferencing.

In its application, CBC argued that its request is urgent because the public should know what information police had in this case in the event changes to police protocol need to be made.

Postponing a hearing for months, the corporation said, could delay steps that could prevent a similar situation in the future.

The Crown argued there was no urgent reason to deal with the application but, in a hearing on April 30, Judge Alain Bégin rejected that position.

“This was the largest mass murder in [recent] Canadian history, and it left my jurisdiction shattered and the province of Nova Scotia shocked and the country stunned,” he said.

Bégin said it made more sense for him to hear the arguments now, while his schedule is open, as opposed to June or July amid “the possible madness of overburdened court dockets.”

Documents released to Crown

During a teleconference last week, Bégin agreed to release the sealed documents to the Crown so that the prosecutors could see that information in advance of Monday morning’s hearing.

Several other media outlets, including CTV, Global, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and the SaltWire Network have joined CBC’s application.

The gunman, Gabriel Wortman, owned three lots on Portland Street in Dartmouth, where he operated his business, Atlantic Denture clinic. He also ran a second clinic on Novalea Drive in Halifax.

During a briefing on April 28, RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said RCMP searched the shooter’s home and businesses in Dartmouth and found that his primary residence recently was in Portapique, where he owned three properties. The Portapique home was destroyed by fire.

More than 435 witnesses

During the same briefing, Campbell said police have identified more than 435 witnesses and obtained 20 legal authorizations and applications “to access details regarding [the shooter’s] acquisition of equipment and the movements of the gunman.”

CBC previously successfully argued for the release of a redacted version of search warrant documents in the case of six teenage boys in Bridgewater charged with distributing intimate images without consent and possessing and distributing child pornography. The judge in that case agreed the document could give a clearer picture of how the alleged crimes played out.

The corporation also applied to unseal search warrants in the case of off-duty Truro police officer Catherine Campbell’s murder. The documents laid out the police’s allegations against Christopher Garnier, who was later convicted of second-degree murder.

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

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