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Why didn't Nova Scotia's RCMP use the emergency alert system? 

NSRCMP provides some answers, but many still wonder if its use could have prevented some deaths.

click to enlarge RCMP chief superintendent Chris Leather speaks to media on Monday, April 20. - VICTORIA WALTON
  • RCMP chief superintendent Chris Leather speaks to media on Monday, April 20.
  • Victoria Walton

During last weekend’s tragic shootings, RCMP kept the public updated online via social media. The police didn’t take advantage of the province’s Emergency Alert System, which has previously been used for everything from missing people to COVID-19.

“Public Health ordered us to put the COVID one out, we were happy to support them,” said Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil, when alerts came up at the province's regular C19 briefing Monday.

The premier deferred to the RCMP, saying Monday that it was too soon to look for accountability. "This is a province in mourning. There will be lots of questions. I can tell you I'm not going to second guess why someone or the organization did what they did or didn't do at this moment in time," said McNeil. “Let's give them an opportunity as an organization to explain that.”

At Tuesday's C19 briefing, the alert question came up again. McNeil explained Emergency Management Office (EMO) staff had gone into the office in preparation to send out an alert. But the order to send it never came from the police.

“The lead agency, in this case the RCMP, has to ask for that alert to go out,” McNeil said. “Because quite frankly we need the information from them. What is it that they want in that alert to notify to citizens?”

After the deaths of 22 innocent people, people are concerned about the lack of alert and the reason behind it. “That is something that all Nova Scotians are wondering,” said McNeil.

When asked on Monday, RCMP chief superintendent Chris Leather said he thought the province had in fact sent out a release. “As it relates to the use of the alert system versus Twitter perhaps my colleagues from communications could speak to that, I believe there was an amber alert that went out at some point,” he said.

RCMP public information officer Lisa Croteau corrected him, saying they used Twitter and Facebook because the incident was still “unfolding.”

When prompted again during the same press conference, Leather said RCMP chose to use social media because of its wide reach: “We are aware that we have thousands of followers in Nova Scotia and it is a way—a superior way—to communicate this ongoing threat.”

As of Wednesday, the RCMP says it was in the process of issuing an Emergency Alert when the gunman was located. EMO staff had first reached out about potentially sending out an alert at 10:15 am.

“In that hour and a bit in that amount of time of consultation, is when the subject was killed, as we know, at 11:26,” said Leather.

RCMP said the delay was due in part to deciding what the message should say, and partly because of the structure of the police force.

“The original call to the RCMP was to one of our members here at headquarters,” says Leather. “Then there were a series of phone calls that had to be made to find the officer in charge on the evening, and to speak to the CIC, that’s the incident commander.”

Leather told the public that overall, he was “very satisfied” with the messaging that went out to the public via the @RCMPNS Twitter account on Sunday morning.

“The members who responded used their training and made tough decisions while encountering the unimaginable,” he said.


This article was updated with new information from the RCMP press conference at 6:40pm on April 22, 2020.

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