Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

“Military faced 'some confusion' during hectic Manitoba manhunt, report says”

Ian Froese, CBC News
24 January 2020 (read the complete article)

Military personnel involved in last summer's manhunt for two murder suspects in northern Manitoba were sent in without either a top commander directing them from headquarters, or an expert on how to best use the plane deployed to help with the search.

Those were among the key findings in a report, prepared by the military, after Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, were found dead after a weeks-long search led by the RCMP. 

The report — a routine review of the mission, obtained through an access to information request by CBC News — said the late July deployment was successful, but flagged several communication problems. 

There was also "some confusion" over who could direct the search planes, because there had been no formal transfer of command, the report said. 

And because the air task force was initially without a commander, the RCMP dealt with several military contacts instead of one, it said. 

The report does not say when the task force got a commander, and does not comment on whether the problems affected the mission, which it deemed a success. 

The air force personnel landed in Gillam, Man., on July 27 — four days after police said McLeod and Schmegelsky were suspects in the killings of three people in B.C.

They brought a CP-140 Aurora aircraft with infrared camera and imaging radar surveillance systems, a CC-130H Hercules with trained search and rescue spotters, and various crew members.

But without an Aurora expert at the task force headquarters, there were "some misunderstandings on how to best employ" that plane, the report said.

To a certain degree, personnel delays were unavoidable, according to James McKay, a political science professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.

That's because officials were forced to quickly gather aircraft and crews, building a team from Manitoba, B.C. and Quebec. 

"They're trying to build this on the fly," McKay said. 

Another national security expert says the transfer of command was likely missed because of the mission's urgency and demonstrates the rush in bringing the military on board. 

A still taken from surveillance footage shows Kam McLeod, left, and Bryer Schmegelsky leaving a store in Meadow Lake, Sask., on July 21, 2019. It was one of several sightings of the pair in July. (RCMP)

"I think this mission was building the plane while flying it," said Christian Leuprecht, a political studies professor at Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University. 

Leuprecht says the communication problems were minor, though they did complicate a serious public safety effort in unfamiliar territory.

He said such reports help the military improve.

"I think this is why the military does this after every mission, and why every government department should do this," he said.

A pilot of a Hercules aircraft from 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron in Winnipeg arrives in Gillam, Man., on July 27 to help in the search for McLeod and Schmegelsky. (Gilbert Rowan/CBC)

The four-page report commended the military for completing its task quickly in collaboration with the RCMP.

Both the Hercules and Aurora air crews "accomplished their missions, providing surveillance on specified geographical features, and investigated numerous objects of interest, in a safe, agile, and effective manner," the report concluded.

The aircraft scoured key points in northern Manitoba, including Gillam, Sundance, York Landing and the Nelson River, farther north to Churchill and east to James Bay.

The report says the Hercules was searching for nearly 24 hours, while the Aurora was in the air for more than 17 hours — which McKay says is a significant time investment.

Leuprecht wonders, though, whether military help should have been requested during the tense, early days of the search for the suspects, who were considered armed and dangerous.

Inside the RCMP's cross-country manhunt for admitted killers Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod

Because the planes arrived within a day of the initial request, Leuprecht said he believes the military was waiting for the call. 

Manitoba RCMP declined to comment on the report, but Assistant Commander Jane MacLatchy told CBC earlier this week she thought the police and military were good teammates. 

Such reports guide the military going forward, the Department of National Defence said in a statement.

"There was great collaboration between our two organizations and we were able to provide the RCMP with the support requested of us in a timely and efficient manner," a spokesperson said in a statement.