Risks and benefits of keeping police paraphernalia weighed ahead of Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation

The Commission of Public Inquiry into the Nova Scotia Mass Shooting heard a conversation about the risks and benefits of public circulation of police items.

The Mass Casualty Commission is investigating the 2020 massacre where 22 people were killed by a gunman wearing parts of an RCMP uniform and driving a replica RCMP cruiser.

Wednesday’s discussion involved diverse perspectives from collectors, scholars, lawyers and former officers on identity theft and police paraphernalia.

Phil Bailey, who retired from a career with the Edmonton police, said he has hundreds of hats, badges and coins from police departments across the country.

“It’s the pride of the uniform – some of the badges that were provided to me by the families, it’s because they wanted the symbol of what their family went through to be recognized,” Bailey said.

He added that collections like his history preserve that might otherwise be lost and have helped him form friendships and bonds with officers and civilians across the country.

Useful in an emergency, says retired constable

Brian Carter, a retired RCMP officer and past president of the Nova Scotia RCMP Veterans Association, said wearing his badge and identification card that identifies him as a retired constable helped him when he encountered a car accident or saw a fight going on and intervened. .

But Julia Cecchetto, the former police chief of Kentville, Nova Scotia, who also served with the Halifax Regional Police for decades, said she doesn’t think retired officers from some service whatsoever should have these items.

“Whether it says retirement or not, the public doesn’t see it. They see a shiny badge,” Cecchetto said.

Julia Cecchetto, retired police chief in Kentville, Nova Scotia, speaks during a Mass Casualty Commission roundtable on police paraphernalia and impersonation on April 27, 2022 in Halifax. (Radio Canada)

Cecchetto also approves of Nova Scotia’s recent trend of having all retired badges encased in a “really big piece” of plastic so they can’t be used.

While all three officers said it was important to keep their uniforms so they could wear them for memorial services like Remembrance Day or police funerals, another option was offered.

The survey heard that there are veteran blazers that vary slightly in style from service to service, but are often very expensive. Cecchetto said she would be willing to wear the blazer instead of the retired uniform if the police department paid the bill.

As a former constable, Carter said he and most RCMP veterans take special pride in keeping their red serge after retirement because they see the uniform as a symbol of Canadian pride and recognized across the country. the world.

Brian MacDonald discovered items later confirmed to have been left by the shooter behind his welding shop in Debert, Nova Scotia, including RCMP boots from the shooter’s uncle and a holster . (Mass Casualty Commission)

But Montreal lawyer Meg Daniel said for many Indigenous people, the RCMP is a symbol of oppression and trauma. She said the force had a role to play in keeping residential schools going and had been trained to track and subjugate Indigenous communities.

The inquest heard that most identity theft cases in Canada over the past 25 years did not involve actual police paraphernalia; someone confidently claiming to be an officer was often enough.

Shooter got items online or from family

Earlier this week, the inquest learned more about how the shooter in the Nova Scotia mass shooting created the replica cruiser from a disused RCMP Ford Taurus and rounded up other police paraphernalia like uniforms and gear from relatives or online.

Carter said it would be “impossible” to prevent police impersonation in Canada, so the remaining option is to reduce the risk as much as possible.

A photo of the gunman’s disused 2017 Ford Taurus which he converted into a replica cruiser and used in the mass shooting on April 18-19, 2020. (Mass Casualty Commission)

“Similarly, for example, removing the ceremonial RCMP uniform from retired members – will that have an effect on the risk? You could say … no, because people can make the uniform,” said Carter.

But both Daniel and Cecchetto said that as mothers, if they lost children in an incident like the mass shooting, no benefits or arguments would outweigh the risks.

“The actual harm is so great, and we know that harm is more likely to be inflicted on people who don’t get any of the benefits of these symbols,” Daniel said.

Another strategy would be to ask members of the public to question police credentials when meeting an officer, Cecchetto said, and to call the officer’s detachment to ensure they are legitimate.

Officers should be trained from the start to expect this, she added, and any officer who takes offense would be dealt with internally.

The federal government awaits the conclusions of the commission

With a new provincial law coming into effect on May 12, Nova Scotia will be the only province with a law prohibiting the possession of police equipment or badges without authorization.

The commissioners said they will consider all of the discussion in developing their final report.

A federal Justice Department spokesperson said in an email Wednesday that the Criminal Code does not prohibit the sale or possession of police equipment, but it is a crime to use any item. to pretend to be an officer.

Geneviève Groulx said the federal government is not considering any changes to the law. She added that the government “looks forward to reviewing the commission’s findings”.