More than 10 people were killed in a shooting rampage in rural Nova Scotia, police said Sunday. The dead included a 23-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Police said the suspect was also dead after the attacks in the Portapique area of the Atlantic province. They said they could not give a precise number of the dead Sunday afternoon.
“Our hearts are heavy with grief and sadness today as we have lost one of our own,” Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said in a statement. “A second dedicated Member was injured in the line of duty today.”
The RCMP identified the officer as Constable Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year veteran of the force and a mother of two. They identified the suspect as Gabriel Wortman, 51.
In tweets while Wortman was still at large Sunday morning, police warned of an active shooter who might be wearing what appeared to be an RCMP uniform and driving what appeared to be an RCMP vehicle. Police said the suspect was not a member of the RCMP.
The incident appeared to have begun Saturday night. In a tweet shortly after 10:30 p.m., police said they were responding to a “firearms complaint” in the Portapique area and asked people to stay in their homes and lock their doors. Police reiterated that request in subsequent tweets Sunday morning.
Gun ownership is relatively common in Canada; the country ranked fifth in a 2018 global survey of civilian firearms per capita. But shootings of police in Canada are relatively rare. Two RCMP officers were among four people shot dead in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 2018. Three RCMP officers were killed and two were injured in a shooting in Moncton, New Brunswick, in 2014.
More than 2.1 million people have been issued licenses to possess and acquire firearms in Canada, according to the most recent RCMP data. In Nova Scotia, which has a population of more than 923,000 people, there were 76,180 such licenses issued.
A spate of gun violence in recent years has fueled an increasingly divisive debate over gun control, largely pitting city dwellers, who tend to favor more restrictions, against those in rural Canada. Canada’s constitution does not guarantee citizens a right to bear arms.
During the election campaign last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to ban and buy back legally purchased “military-style assault rifles.” He also said he would work with Canada’s provinces and territories to give municipalities the ability to “further restrict or ban handguns.”
Trudeau said Sunday his heart went out to “everyone affected in what is a terrible situation.”
Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency last month to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Public gatherings have been limited to five people, and nonessential businesses, schools, casinos and provincial parks are closed. Residents who flout social distancing rules face fines.
“I never imagined when I went to bed last night that I would wake up to the horrific news that an active shooter was on the loose in Nova Scotia,” Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters. “This is one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”
The waterside community of Portapique lies some 80 miles from Halifax, the provincial capital. Tom Taggart, a Colchester municipal councilor who represents the area, described it as a small, rural community with many cottages. Roughly 100 people live in the area, but during the summer the population can grow to as many as 250.
“We’ve sat around here thanking our lucky stars that we live in such a beautiful, safe, rural community during the pandemic,” Taggart said. “Then we wake up this morning to this situation.”
He said residents are “shocked and devastated.”
“It’s the kind of place where people come to live because they feel safe and secure,” Taggart said. “People’s lives changed here today.”