A display dedicated to Constable Heidi Stevenson at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Monday, April 20, 2020. Investigators say a killer’s use of a mock police cruiser and an RCMP uniform almost identical to the real thing helped him escape detection as he travelled between 16 crime scenes in a rampage that has left at least 19 dead in Nova Scotia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Riley Smith

A display dedicated to Constable Heidi Stevenson at RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Monday, April 20, 2020. Investigators say a killer’s use of a mock police cruiser and an RCMP uniform almost identical to the real thing helped him escape detection as he travelled between 16 crime scenes in a rampage that has left at least 19 dead in Nova Scotia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Riley Smith

Police have ‘good idea’ guns used in N.S. mass shooting were not licensed

The denturist, 51, whose business was in Halifax, began his killing spree in the small community of Portapique

Police say the man who went on a murderous rampage through five Nova Scotia communities was likely using unlicensed firearms, and investigators are trying find out how he obtained illegal weapons.

That probe into firearms is occurring alongside a hunt for anyone who helped the killer obtain an RCMP uniform and a replica vehicle he used to deceive his pursuers and the public as he went about killing 22 people and setting fire to homes on the weekend.

Chief Supt. Chris Leather said Wednesday that “we have a fairly good idea that, in Canada at least, he didn’t have a firearms acquisition certificate.”

It is illegal to own a gun without the proper licence, which federal legislation formally refers to as a possession and acquisition licence.

Leather later said that it’s now a key part of the investigation to understand how Gabriel Wortman obtained his weapons, as well as an “authentic” police uniform and a Ford Taurus that was painted in a fashion identical to a regular RCMP patrol car.

The 51-year-old denturist, whose business was in Halifax, began his killing spree in the small community of Portapique, about 40 kilometres west of Truro, late Saturday.

He managed to evade a police perimeter and continued killing people and burning homes in four other communities.

He was finally shot and killed by police at a gas pump in Enfield, N.S., his illegal guns nearby, about 12 hours after the first reports of his attacks at a home in Portapique.

Leather referred the issue of the exact type of guns that Wortman possessed to the acting director of an agency that is investigating the police shooting of the killer.

Contacted late Wednesday, Pat Curran, the acting director of the Serious Incident Response Team said he would look into providing the information about the types of guns Wortman had.

Andrew Somerset, the author of “Arms: the Culture and Credo of the Gun,” said in an interview the news that Wortman was using firearms that he wasn’t licensed to possess raises fresh issues.

“The big question now is how did he get that gun?” he wrote in an email.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia RCMP say shooter acted alone

Police will have to examine issues such as whether the gun was smuggled or purchased by a surrogate for Wortman, Somerset wrote in an email.

He noted there are already measures in place to discourage a black market in restricted weapons like handguns, which are supposed to be noted in a registry.

The array of gear and weaponry is emerging as one of the main elements of the RCMP probe three days after Wortman’s death.

“Whether it’s transportation, weapons, the uniforms, the vehicle itself, associates here and elsewhere, these are all the elements in the investigation currently being explored,” Leather said.

He also said it’s still unclear how many people died as a result of gunshots, as bodies were discovered in the burned homes and have required detailed autopsies to determine the exact cause of death.

It remains unclear whether Wortman was ever, in the past, granted a licence by the federal firearms licensing body operated by the RCMP.

Provincial court records confirm he was ordered to receive counselling for anger management after he pleaded guilty to an assault in the Halifax area on Oct. 29, 2001.

The victim, who asked not to have his name published, said he was 15 at the time and was waiting for a bus when Wortman came out of his denture clinic smelling of alcohol and told him to leave his property.

The man said he started walking to the next bus stop. ”He grabbed me by the shirt and punched me in the back of the head,” he said. “I was shocked.” Police were called and they charged Wortman with assault after taking a statement from the victim in hospital.

Wortman was granted a conditional discharge, placed on probation nine months, ordered to undergo counselling, fined $50 and told to stay away from the victim. As well, he was prohibited from owning or possessing a weapon, ammunition or explosive substances. That prohibition expired after nine months under Section 110 of the Criminal Code.

Federal legislation passed last year expanded the scope of background checks on those who want to acquire a gun. Questions about an applicant’s history now cover their entire lifetime, instead of just the five years immediately preceding the licence application.

It also forces gun retailers to keep records of firearms inventory and sales and requires the purchaser of a hunting rifle or shotgun to present a firearms licence, while the seller would have to ensure its validity.

— With files from Jim Bronskill in Ottawa and Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

Michael Tutton , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Nova Scotia

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seiners fill the waters between Comox and Nanoose Bay during roe herring fishery. file photo, Pacific Wild
Quota debate heats up on the eve of Vancouver Island herring fishery

Industry and conservationists weigh in how much catch should be allowed as DFO decision coming soon

Joan LeMoine. (Peter McCully photo)
OPINION: Joan LeMoine represented the very best in all of us

Beloved Parksville area volunteer left an indelible mark on the community

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials says it will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Letisha Reimer died Nov. 1, 2016 after being stabbed at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
No evidence that killer was in ‘psychotic state’ during Abbotsford school stabbing: Crown

Second day of closing arguments at ‘not criminally responsible’ hearing for Gabriel Klein

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring has expressed his frustration with harassment of people who have made racist comments online about Cowichan Tribes in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in the First Nation. (Citizen file)
Island mayor calls for de-escalation as social media gets uglier in racism fight

“Racism is wrong. But so is this kind of reaction”:

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said a lack of experienced crew members and the inability to detect navigational errors is what led to a Sooke search and rescue boat running aground in February 2019. (Twitter / @VicJRCC_CCCOS)
TSB: Sooke search and rescue boat crash caused by ‘misinterpretation of navigational information’

Crew members were lacking experience and unable to detect navigational errors

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in 60 B.C. First Nations by next week

B.C. has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations for distribution by the end of February

Most Read