Seconds after Provincial Court Justice Leslie Jackson announced his finding that the RCMP are guilty of failing to properly equip officers against a shooter that killed three of them in June, 2014, widow Angela Gévaudan let out an audible gasp of relief.
Ms. Gévaudan's shoulders shook as she bowed her head and began to cry; the two other widows who lost their husbands during a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., Nadine Larche and Rachael Ross, also had emotional reactions as they heard Justice Jackson explain that he deemed the RCMP to have violated the Canadian Labour Code.
The federal police force was charged with four counts of violating the law designed to protect the health and safety of workers on the job. The charges stemmed from the rampage of now-convicted murderer Justin Bourque. One count was stayed and the force was found not guilty of the two violations that related to the training of members and supervisors. But the most central charge – the one that holds the RCMP accountable for failing to supply front-line officers with the right guns even though they knew safety was at risk – was where Justice Jackson found guilt.
This was the charge that mattered most to the three widows who sat struggling with their emotions as friends draped arms around them, while the buzzing courtroom emptied out.
Asked whether she was happy with the verdict, Ms. Larche, whose husband was Constable Doug Larche, was careful to say she is "satisfied."
"My hope really is that the silver lining of all of this is that RCMP members that are serving now and in the future will be better equipped and that they'll be safer when they're doing their job," she said. "I felt all along that if RCMP members would have had the proper equipment … the father of my children would not have died."
Ms. Ross, whose husband was Constable Dave Ross, said the verdict means her husband "didn't die in vain. Hopefully something like this won't happen again."
On the steps of the courthouse, in view of a riverside memorial to the fallen officers, Ms. Gévaudan, a former civilian member of the force who worked as a dispatcher, said the trial was "damaging" to the civilian and police community in Moncton. Many remain stung that the RCMP chose to challenge the charges in court – forcing a trial many found painful – rather than admit fault.
"It's very damaging to everyone who wears a uniform. It's damaging to the civilian members, it's damaging to the memory of those who sacrificed themselves in the protection of others," Ms. Gévaudan said. "It breaks the trust. I think the members are still very hurt and feel unsupported. And I think that needs to be addressed."
Aside from the force's lawyers, no representative for the Mounties was in court on Friday.
While Justice Jackson did not discuss reasons for his decision, he released a 64-page judgment. In it, he criticized senior Mounties for paying "lip service" to officer safety and for allowing financial concerns to slow the roll-out of long-range carbine rifles when they knew that without them, members faced increased risks. "Front-line officers were left exposed to potential grievous bodily harm and/or death while responding to active shooter events for years while the carbine rollout limped along," Justice Jackson wrote. "The rollout took too long."
Carbine rifles were first approved by RCMP executives in 2011. When Mr. Bourque struck in 2014, though, no one in Moncton had been trained to use them.
"A real concern for the health and safety of front-line members responding to active shooter events would have seen a rollout of the patrol carbine prioritized and not left to the [vagaries] of available funding," Justice Jackson wrote.
In a statement, the RCMP said they are reviewing the decision and considering next steps. "The health and safety of our employees continues to be the top priority of the RCMP," the statement read. It went on to say that the force is continuing to implement the recommendations made in the MacNeil report, produced after the Moncton shootings. A key recommendation made was that the carbine-rifle project be expedited.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for November. The RCMP faces a maximum fine of $1-million.
Crown prosecutor Paul Adams would not say whether his office will seek full damages at the hearing. He did say that Justice Jackson's decision "broke some new ground."
"Organizations like the RCMP will have to take it into account when they approach officer-safety issues in the future," he said, adding: "It has a chance to have a positive impact."