An RCMP officer visited the Nova Scotia gunman about 16 times at his Portapique, N.S., cottage in the years before the April 2020 mass shooting, but police never felt there was enough evidence to investigate the man despite three reports from people concerned he had guns.
A new report released Tuesday by the public inquiry examining the mass shooting that took 22 lives lays out the actions police took in response to complaints about Gabriel Wortman in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
It also details numerous visits made to the cottage by Bible Hill RCMP Const. Greg Wiley, who said he developed a rapport with the man beginning around 2008 and last saw him in 2017. Wiley was asked to follow up on at least one of the complaints against him.
“We get a gazillion threats complaints … everybody and their dog’s phoning in,” Wiley told RCMP investigators six days after the shooting, according to a transcript released by the inquiry.
“Doing the, the checkups it’s — it’s not realistic. I don’t — I don’t think the force dropped the ball on this.”
The first complaint was from an uncle who reported Wortman had made death threats against his parents, who lived in New Brunswick. The second instance was a tip circulated by town police in Truro, N.S., that Wortman wanted to “kill a cop.” The third time involved a neighbour who reported to police concerns about his behaviour.
In the months after the shootings, RCMP said they were looking into what contact police previously had with the gunman.
The commission leading the public inquiry spoke to more than 20 people — including friends and people who worked on his property — who recalled seeing the gunman’s firearms or hearing him talk about them. Some saw him use his gun and were familiar with the places he stored them in his cottage in Portapique.
2010 threats to parents
Cordell Poirier, a retired Halifax Regional Police officer of 35 years, first heard the gunman’s name early on June 2, 2010, when a RCMP officer from Moncton, N.B., called to tell him about a threats complaint.
The Mountie said Paul Wortman, the gunman’s father, had gotten a call from his brother Glynn Wortman in Edmonton. Glynn Wortman said Gabriel Wortman had called him while upset about a family land deal, and he was threatening to “go to Moncton and kill his parents,” Poirier recalled in an interview with the commission.
The RCMP officer also told Poirier he’d learned from Paul Wortman that his son was “a bad alcoholic, and has possession of several long-barrel weapons.”
Poirier and another officer went around 3:30 a.m. to the Portland Street address in Dartmouth, N.S., where Gabriel Wortman lived and had his denturist office. They spoke to his partner, Lisa Banfield, at the door, who said he had passed out drunk a few hours earlier.
Banfield told them there were no weapons in the house, Poirier said in his initial report, and would not confirm or deny the threat Wortman made about his parents.
Although Poirier said he needed to speak with him in person and left his card, he did not hear anything. He followed up on his next regular day shift on June 7, and went to the Portland Street home again but no one answered the door.
As he was heading back to his cruiser, Poirier said he got a call from Wortman who said he was calling from Banfield’s phone in Portapique.
He wouldn’t “admit or deny” making the threat about his parents and said he would be away for the next month at the Portapique cottage and a trip to New England, Poirier told the commission.
When Poirer said he still wanted to eventually meet in person, Wortman became confrontational and said the only weapons that he had in the house were “a pellet gun and two antique muskets, both non-functional.”
“That conversation ended with him saying, ‘Look, if you’re going to charge, charge me,’ and he hung up,” Poirier said.
Poirier said he tried multiple times to speak directly with the uncle, Glynn Wortman, but he always got an answering machine and his calls were never returned.
Poirier did then speak with Paul Wortman. The father “was convinced” the gunman, who had no firearms licence, had several serious weapons including pistols and long-barrelled guns, but Paul Wortman hadn’t seen them himself in more than five years.
Given that time gap, Poirer noted in his report that “without recent knowledge a Public Safety Warrant could not be obtained.” He also told Paul Wortman the threat file couldn’t go anywhere unless he got “some co-operation” from the uncle.
Soon after his call with Gabriel Wortman, Poirier said he spoke with Wiley over the phone about the firearms complaint. Wiley “told me that he was a good friend” of the man’s, according to Poirier, and would go try to find out if he indeed had weapons at his cottage.
He never heard back from Wiley, Poirer said, so he closed the file on his end since there were “no grounds” to follow up or lay a threat charge.
“I was hoping that with the information I’d given the RCMP, they would be able to find something out on their end,” Poirer told the commission.
Wiley had been aware of Wortman’s family dispute from previous visits to his Portapique cottage while on patrol in the area.
However, his recollection differs from Poirier’s account. In his interview with RCMP on April 25, 2020, Wiley said he didn’t recall hearing directly from another officer about the specific firearms complaint — only an email. He went to see the suspect regardless.
“And so even after the email come out, I had went in and he was fine with me, 100 per cent, so I don’t know whether there was an element of caution by police or anything like that in the email, I can’t remember but I thought, he isn’t a threat to me,” Wiley said in the interview.
Wiley also said he saw no evidence of firearms any of the approximately 16 times he was there over the years.
He had developed a professional relationship with the gunman years earlier, describing him as polite and welcoming, after responding to a break-in at his garage where tools were stolen. Wiley said once most of the tools were recovered and the case was closed, he checked in with the man frequently.
“I knew the value of having a few people in the community that you go to, and ironically, this is the irony of it, I was going to a guy, him of all guys and asking um ‘Is there anything that we sh-should know about or anyone — anyone that should be on our radar?’ And isn’t it ironic how things have turned out?” said Wiley.
Wiley said he didn’t see any weapons at the cottage.
Tip to police he wanted to ‘kill a cop’
The next time Poirier saw the gunman’s name was in a report on May 3, 2011, from Cpl. Greg Densmore of the Truro Police Service. Densmore said an unknown man had approached him while on duty and said Wortman “stated he wants to kill a cop.”
According to Densmore’s report, the source said Wortman had “at least one handgun” he’d take between Dartmouth and Portapique, plus “several long rifles located at his cottage” that may be stored in a “compartment located behind the flue.”
The report was also issued as an “officer safety bulletin” to all police agencies in the province on May 4. It said police had been told Wortman was under a lot of stress and has “mental issues.”
“Use extreme caution when dealing with WORTMAN,” the bulletin said.
“Of course, when I saw that one, the first thing I noticed was the name, and you know, ding-dong, I said, ‘I remember him,'” Poirier told the commission.
Poirier called Densmore to fill him in on the 2010 threats file, and Densmore shared that the source told him Wortman stored his handgun in his bedside night stand.
At this time Poirier said he called the Bible Hill detachment again and spoke with Wiley, filling him in about the Truro report and told him that an RCMP member should be sent to speak with Wortman.
He didn’t speak with Wiley again until July 17, Poirier said, and Wiley still hadn’t spoken with Wortman. Poirier said he found it “strange” the RCMP officer still hadn’t met with the man well over a month after getting the report.
Poirier also spoke with acting supervisor Const. John MacMinn at Bible Hill RCMP, and told him about the Densmore report. MacMinn said he’d review Wiley’s file on the 2010 threat to “determine what action, if any, was taken last year” and get back to Poirier within a day.
But Poirer said that never happened, so from his perspective “that was it” and he left the case with the RCMP.
“I wasn’t going to continually call back saying, ‘what’s going on?’ … they’re handling it, so whatever they did, they did,” Poirier said.
Poirier said that was the last time he heard of the gunman until “that horrible day when I heard the name” after the 2020 mass shooting.
In his interview with police, Wiley said he didn’t remember seeing the Densmore bulletin with details about Wortman wanting to kill a cop, or any conversations with MacMinn.
According to commission documents, Densmore couldn’t find any more details about the unknown source who tipped him off in his notes, and when he tried to check his original Truro police incident report the files had been “purged from the system.”
Neighbour was fearful in 2013
A former neighbour of Wortman’s, Brenda Forbes, said she told police in the summer of 2013 that she’d heard he had held down and beaten Banfield behind one of the properties he owned in Portapique. Forbes also told police he had illegal weapons, which she had seen herself in 2007 or 2008.
She said she spoke to Glynn Wortman, who said he witnessed the violent incident. Forbes said she spoke to two RCMP officers, but the uncle refused to talk with police because he worried his nephew “would kill him.”
The officers told Forbes they had no proof the gunman had any weapons, she recalled, but they would “keep an eye” on him.
Const. Troy Maxwell, the RCMP officer who took her July 6, 2013, complaint, provided the commission with one page of his notes.
According to the RCMP’s internal review of their records of Forbes’s complaint, Maxwell remembered it was about concerns Wortman was acting “aggressively in the neighbourhood.” The review found no indication in the records that it involved domestic violence.
Maxwell went to the Portapique cottage twice, with two different colleagues, with “negative results,” and there were no more details on the complaint.