Nova Scotia tragedy joins grim list of Canadian mass shootings

Canadians across the country were expressing grief and condolences Monday after killing of at least 18 people Sunday in Portapique, Enfield and other locations in central Nova Scotia.

The deaths, described by Premier Stephen McNeil as “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history,” join a line of tragic and horrifying mass killings in Canada.

Here is a look at some Canadian incidents of deadly shootings:

École Polytechnique

The only recent Canadian mass shooting that can compare to the Nova Scotia tragedy in terms of the number of victims was the hate killings of 14 women at École Polytechnique on Dec 6, 1989.

Marc Lépine, 25, walked into a classroom full of engineering students the University of Montreal-affiliated school and separated the men from the women. He shouted, “You’re all feminists and I hate feminists!” and started shooting the women, nine in all, with a semi-automatic rifle.

While a handful of men were injured after he left the classroom and continued on through the hallways, women were clearly his primary targets, including at least one case where he stood over a body and fired again to ensure death. Five more would be dead by the time he killed himself.

Fallen officers

Among the dead in Nova Scotia is Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year RCMP veteran. Another officer is in hospital with what have been described as non-life-threatening injuries.

The willingness to shoot police officers, sometimes targeting them outright, has been seen in Canada before. The Canadian Police and Peace Officer’s Memorial contains the names of some 874 officers killed in the line of duty.

WATCH | Where will the Nova Scotia shooting investigation go next?

Ian Hanomansing talks to a former RCMP major crimes investigator about what the next steps in the investigation into the shooting rampage might be. 2:50

James Roszko gunned down four RCMP officers at his farm near Mayerthorpe and Rochfort Bridge in Alberta in March 2005. Roszko was wounded in an exchange of fire, and then he killed himself.

The New Brunswick law enforcement community has paid tribute to fallen officers in two mass shooting events in recent years that garnered national attention.

In a day-long event the presiding judge would later call “one of the most horrific crimes in the history of Canada,” three New Brunswick Mounties were killed in Moncton and two others injured. The shooter was not a known troublemaker to police, but at trial it was revealed he had for at least a few years built up an inarticulate hatred of authority and the government, and in 2017 he was given a precedent-setting sentence.

Two Fredericton police officers were among four shot dead on a grim Friday morning in August 2018. The accused shooter has yet to stand trial, as competency hearings have taken place over his fitness to stand trial.

Remote settings

While gun-related fatalities are more frequent in Canada’s urban centres and feature more often in the drumbeat of daily news headlines, Canada has seen several mass fatalities in remote or rural settings.

Six members of related families were gunned down in August 1982 near Wells Gray Provincial Park in British Columbia by a stranger.

Those killings came a quarter-century after nine members of the Peterson family were shot dead in August 1957 in tiny Shell Lake, Sask., by a 21-year-old with a history of mental illness.

Familes, colleagues

To the extent that Canada has seen series or single-event mass killings, family members, former partners and co-workers have overwhelmingly been targeted.

Robert Cook, one of the last Canadians to be executed, used a gun in at least some of the killings of seven family members in Stettler, Alta., in 1959.

Killings in Creston, B.C., in 1970 by a perpetrator who died in prison three decades later of eight people, mostly shooting fatalities, were a combination of relatives and strangers.

WATCH | 23-year RCMP veteran among the dead:

Const. Heidi Stevenson is survived by her husband and two children. Another officer was injured during the incident that occurred over the span of 12 hours across several communities.    1:05

Bruce Blackman, 22, used a gun in the killings of six members of his family in January 1983 in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Deemed mentally ill at the time, he was released from custody after years of psychiatric evaluation in 1995.

The year after his release, a Vernon, B.C., man killed his estranged spouse and eight members of her family before killing himself.

Other shootings

In Ottawa, a disgruntled former employee of OC Transpo who had a history of a fractious relationship with former colleagues, killed four at the agency’s headquarters before killing himself in 1999.

Canada, for a variety reasons including more stringent gun laws, hasn’t often seen the type of mass shootings of strangers as in the U.S. But there have been shootings of defenceless victims at places of worship, as with the Islamic Cultural Centre murders in Quebec City in 2017, as well as school shootings as occurred the previous year in La Loche, Sask.

Somewhat miraculously in the bustling neighbourhood of Toronto’s Greektown, only two of 14 victims in a July 2018 mass shooting died of their injuries, though tragically they were both under 18. Another woman was left  paralyzed as a result.

Women as targets

As with Lépine, killing women was a primary motivation of Basil Borutski in Renfrew County, Ont., the killer in September 2015 of three women he had previously had personal relationships with.

Borutski’s abusive behaviour toward women had been known both in his immediate circles of work and friends, as well as before the courts.

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