This morning, I read an astonishing article by Paul Palango, who's one of Canada's last remaining investigative reporters.
He's the author of four books on the RCMP, including this year's bestselling 22 Murders: Investigating the Massacres, Cover-ups and Obstacles to Justice in Nova Scotia (Penguin Random House Canada).
Palango's recent book, as well as the new piece in Frank Magazine Atlantic, concerned denturist Gabriel Wortman's mass murder of 22 Nova Scotians in April 18 and 19, 2020. At the time of the killings, Wortman was dressed like a Mountie and drove a replica RCMP squad car.
Police did not issue an alert warning the public that a murderer was on the loose.
The 2,600-word article focused a great deal of attention on Wortman's "unusual and even unprecedented withdrawal of $475,000 in $100 bills from the Brink's Security Depot at 19 Ilsey Avenue in the Burnside Industrial Park in Darmouth".
This occurred on March 30, 2020—less than three weeks before Wortman started shooting people.
"That Wortman was able to have money delivered by CIBC Intria to Brinks for pickup was highly irregular and contravened all banking regulations, says a banking insider aware of the CIBC’s set up and protocols," Palango reported.
The article is only available to Frank Atlantic Magazine subscribers. The blurb on the magazine's Facebook page includes the following passage from the article:
“The first rule of banking is that you count out the money in front of the customer,” the banking source said.
“It’s all done in person and is filmed. You can’t let $475,000 walk out the door just like that. That’s everyone’s year end bonus. The money is counted and signed for. If this was Wortman’s personal money, the bank would never send it through Intria and then have the customer pick it up in a pouch without counting it. There’s too much room for error. That just wouldn’t happen. What this all tells me is that they bent the rules for him because it likely wasn’t his personal money."
Later in the piece, Palango cited the RCMP's insistence that Wortman was never a confidential informant or civilian police agent, let alone even a volunteer for the national police force. But then, the author noted that the RCMP covert-operational manual requires that the identity of a source "must be protected at all times".
The only exception is in court, when a Mountie cannot do this. But, as Palango pointed out, the Mass Casualty Commission investigating what happened is not a court.
Meanwhile, the commission's investigator has concluded that the $475,000 was not a payment relating to a confidential informant.
That investigator, Dwayne King, used to be close to Bill Blair when he was chief of police in Toronto, according to Palango's unnamed sources. Blair was the minister of public safety when Wortman went on his murderous rampage.
The commission was established on October 21, 2020 after orders-in-council were issued by the cabinets of the federal and Nova Scotia governments.
Palango's recent article did not address legal liability that might fall upon either government were it ever proven that Wortman was being paid by the Mounties in the period leading up to the murders.
In another piece in this week's Frank Atlantic Magazine, former Halifax talk-show host Rick Howe ripped into the media's failure to delve more deeply into Wortman's past.
"Why isn’t Wortman’s criminal record and his association with a criminal motorcycle gang not part of the MCC inquiry?" Howe asked in the article.
Howe, like Palango, noted that the commission wouldn't even allow victims' lawyers to cross-examine Wortman's longtime companion, Lisa Banfield.
Given the deep penetration of the RCMP in B.C., it's worth paying attention to this story on this side of the country.
Not only does the RCMP have a contract with the B.C. government as the provincial police force, the national police force also has contracts with many local governments to provide municipal police services.
That includes Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam, Richmond, the City and District of North Vancouver, Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, Mission, Langley, and Surrey (which is in the process of transitioning to a municipal police force with a former RCMP assistant commissioner as chief).
If it's ever proven that the Mounties lied to a commission of inquiry about having a mass murderer on the payroll—and that the $475,000 sent to Wortman was part of a deal to put him in a witness-protection program—it would stain the national police force's reputation from coast to coast to coast.
This, in turn, would speak volumes about whether the RCMP should be entrusted to police anything in B.C.
And if the Liberal government were involved in any sort of cover-up, that too would be of national interest.
This is why Palango's relentless digging is so important not only to residents of Nova Scotia but to the entire country. (As an aside, I will declare that I have learned more about the RCMP from Palango's three previous nonfiction books than from any other source.)
The time has come for mainstream media, with so many more resources than Palango, to treat the Wortman murders—and the possibility of a police and government cover-up—with the seriousness that they deserve.
"The truth is out there," Howe concluded in his Frank Atlantic Magazine piece. "But is the Nova Scotia media up to the task of unravelling the full story behind this terrible tragedy? Stay tuned. There’s clearly a lot more to learn."