MONCTON, N.B. - The RCMP took time arming officers with high-powered carbine rifles because it was doing "due diligence" on the deadly weapon, a lawyer told the Labour Code trial stemming from a 2014 shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B.
"Arming general duty members with semi-automatic rifles can have negative repercussions, including increased tensions with the public, which in turn can lead to officer safety concerns," defence lawyer Ian Carter told Moncton provincial court Friday.
"Carbines are designed to kill. Given what is at stake, it was incumbent on the RCMP to analyze the issue thoroughly, not for the sake of appearances, but for the sake of public safety."
Carbine rifles were not available to general duty officers the night of June 4, 2014, when gunman Justin Bourque targeted RCMP officers. Crown witnesses have testified the weapons could have made a difference in the shootings that killed three Mounties and wounded two others.
The RCMP is accused of allegedly failing to provide members and supervisors with the appropriate information, instruction, equipment and training in an active-shooter event.
The force approved the C8 carbines in September 2011, and Carter said in his opening remarks the force was studying the issue carefully.
He noted Crown witnesses have said carbines "could" have made a difference, not "would" have made a difference.
"The real issue in this case is due diligence," he told Judge Leslie Jackson.
The force also had to follow a lengthy federal procurement process, he said.
"It didn't matter how quickly the RCMP wanted those carbines, they could not break the law to do it," said Carter.
He said evidence will show the force had high quality training in place at the time of the shooting.
Carter also noted that the RCMP is not responsible for the deaths of constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Dave Ross and Doug Larche.
"Justin Bourque caused their deaths," he said, prompting Jackson to note that the Crown also acknowledged that fact in its opening statement.
Later Friday, retired deputy commissioner Darrell Madill testified that an independent researcher was hired in 2009 to conduct a needs analysis of the patrol carbine.
The 2010 independent report from Carleton University criminologist Darryl Davies recommended immediate phase-in of carbine rifles for all RCMP patrol officers and training for all members.
Madill said the report didn't tell the force anything it didn't already know and lacked a proper needs analysis — the mandate of the research. He called it an "inventory list" of carbine programs at other forces in North America.
"There were no risk assessments. There was no public policy considerations... He didn't have the 'why'," Madill said, adding he didn't feel he could take the report to his superiors as proof carbines were necessary for general duty members.
Madill added the RCMP learned from the 2007 Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski that independent, fact-based research was necessary to support weaponry and bolster public confidence.
Under cross-examination by Crown prosecutor Paul Adams, Madill conceded the RCMP was at the time more focused on Tasers and public fallout from the Dziekanski death than it was on moving the carbine program along.
"You had the opportunity in your position to put that on the front burner, but you did not," said Adams. "How many more officers would have to be killed before it would become a top priority?"
But Madill cited the importance of studying the carbine issue thoroughly.
"We had to have an unbiased, evidence-based review that no one could accuse us of using our beliefs to adopt the carbine," said Madill, reiterating that the process of adopting a new weapon for the force is "complex" and "extraordinary."
The trial continues on Tuesday.
Gevaudan, Ross and Larche were killed, while constables Eric Dubois and Darlene Goguen were wounded when Bourque targeted police officers in hopes of sparking an anti-government rebellion.
Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 75 years after pleading guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
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