MONCTON, N.B. — Nearly four years after the warm June night that saw three outgunned Mounties killed in a shooting spree, the RCMP was ordered Friday to pay $550,000 for failing to properly arm and train its members.
Judge Leslie Jackson issued a clear rebuke to the force's leadership as he handed down the sentence on Labour Code charges in a packed courtroom that included Acting RCMP Commissioner Daniel Dubeau.
The judge said high-powered carbine rifles could have made a difference for RCMP officers targeted by gunman Justin Bourque as he roamed a Moncton neighbourhood in 2014. The carbines were approved in 2011, but their rollout was repeatedly delayed.
"It is clear to me, and accepted by both parties, that the provision of carbines to responding members on June 4, 2014, could have reduced the number of deaths and/or injuries," Jackson said, even as he acknowledged the force has since made improvements.
"While the failure of most of the senior RCMP management team to acknowledge that there was any delay in the patrol carbine rollout is troublesome in regard to their apparent lack of insight into the importance of workplace safety, the response post-incident has been robust."
Force to pay $550,000
Jackson fined the national police force $100,000, along with $450,000 in charitable donations for scholarships at the Universite de Moncton, an education fund for the children of the fallen officers and two agencies that assist families of people injured in workplace accidents.
But, he said no sentence would deal with the families' grief.
Constables Doug Larche, Fabrice Gevaudan and Dave Ross were killed, and constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were injured, when gunman Justin Bourque went hunting police officers in a Moncton neighbourhood.
Bourque had targeted police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government rebellion. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years.
Nadine Larche, Larche's wife, said she and their three daughters are reminded daily of their loss as they travel through the neighbourhood where their father was gunned down or pass by a monument erected in the officers' honour.
"Lives were forever changed because of people's decisions," an emotional Larche said Friday outside the Moncton courthouse.
"My family's life has forever been changed. My three children are growing up without a daddy. No judgment will bring these men back. No judgment will ever make amends. No judgment will ever make reparations. No judgment will serve justice to what happened."
"I'm feeling nauseated. It's heart-wrenching, it's hard, it's extremely difficult," she said.
The force was convicted of failing to provide its members with adequate use-of-force equipment and user training.
Carbine rifles were not available to general duty officers at the time of the Moncton shootings, and numerous witnesses said at trial they could have made a difference.
Then-commissioner Bob Paulson testified during the RCMP's trial that management had concerns over the possible militarization of the force. He told the court he worried the carbines could "distance the public from the police." His testimony was met with anger and frustration from some members of the force.
Larche said proper training and equipment would have resulted in a different outcome for her husband and his colleagues.
"I feel very strongly that my husband would have been alive had the RCMP done their due diligence," she said.
"My only hope with this whole trial and judgment is that the decision makers will do more in the future. My hope is that they will put officer safety first when making decisions, so that those RCMP members that protect us are better protected themselves."
I feel very strongly that my husband would have been alive had the RCMP done their due diligence.Nadine Larche
Jackson noted the force has acted on 56 of 64 recommendations contained in a report on the incident.
Dubeau said outside the courthouse that work remains to be done in improving the RCMP's workplace safety.
"We really have to continue working together on their behalf and all our injured employees' behalf to make it a safe and healthier workplace," he said.
He said his thoughts were with the fallen officers and "the immense loss to their families and that's something we can never replace."
"We also have to remember all the harm and the damage that was done to other people that attended that day and the community at large," he said.
Rob Creaser, a spokesman for the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, said taxpayers are on the hook to pay the judgment, and he's disappointed the judge didn't assign blame.
"No persons were found accountable and that's an issue," he said.
RCMP lawyer hasn't ruled out further action
At a sentencing hearing in November, Crown prosecutor Paul Adams asked for a $1-million penalty, but on Friday he said no amount of money could reflect the amount of suffering and loss.
"The importance of this will hopefully be to contribute to the understanding of the importance of employee safety and the vigilance that must be applied with respect to it," Adams said.
Mark Ertel, a lawyer for the RCMP, couldn't rule out further court action.
"We've just received the decision and we have to consult with our client, the RCMP, and we'll make a decision very soon. There's a 30-day appeal period and we'll make a decision within those 30 days whether to appeal or not," he said.
Larche said she hoped Friday would be the end of the case, and that she could "turn the page" on this chapter in her life.