Sault Police staying silent as mass shooting probe continues
A historian and expert on gun control and firearms policy says police departments across Canada are becoming more reluctant to release basic information about mass shootings to the public, like gun licence status or model of weapon used
Four weeks after a tragic mass shooting that made national headlines, Sault Police have revealed very little new information about the case — including the status of the gunman’s licence to carry, or the specific firearms he used.
Police have only confirmed that two weapons — a handgun and a long gun — were seized from the home on Second Line East where most of the victims were killed by 44-year-old Bobbie Hallaert. The department has not revealed who owned the two weapons or which ones were used in the murders.
SooToday has asked the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service repeatedly about the status of Hallaert’s Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL), as well as the specific model of firearms used in the Oct. 23 killings. Spokesperson Lincoln Louttit will only say that the investigation remains active.
“Out of respect for the victims and their loved ones, no further details are being released,” he said on Wednesday.
Brian Sweeney, father shooting victim Angie Sweeney, is on a personal mission to have the laws around intimate partner violence strengthened in Canada and believes a big part of that is addressing the problem head on. Asked on Saturday if he requested that police withhold those details, Sweeney said he did not, but he can’t speak for the family of the other victims.
“The public has to be made aware, that’s part of the problem,” said Sweeney. “Sure they can say they are protecting the families and the victims and what have you, but they are not being transparent to the public. The public should be told about this fucking problem. You can’t keep hiding everything forever and ever.”
Sweeney said detectives told him on Thursday that they are close to wrapping up the investigation into the Oct. 23 killings.
A historian and expert on gun control and firearms policy says his research shows Canadian police departments are becoming more and more tight-lipped in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings, such as the one that devastated the Sault last month.
Blake Brown is a professor in the Department of History at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and author of Arming and Disarming: A History of Gun Control in Canada. He has researched countless cases involving the use of firearms in Canada, the United States and beyond, including the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal.
In a phone interview with SooToday, he said police departments across Canada are becoming more reluctant to release even the most basic information after a mass shooting.
“In a lot of these cases there’s the event, we get very basic facts from the police about who was killed eventually and then that’s it,” Brown said. “Sometimes we never know whether the person was licenced or what kind of firearms [were used]. Depending on what follows, often maybe we find out a year or two or never.
“I find it perplexing because historically it’s kind of new — after the Montreal massacre we knew the next day what weapon the guy had and all of that kind of stuff,” he continued. “Now police are super quiet about it, they don’t want to release anything.”
“It’s a really good question and unfortunately I have to be a little bit speculative about it because I am not sure the police have ever laid it out, they usually just say for investigative purposes,” Brown said. “We had that here with the mass shooting in Nova Scotia in 2020 and of course that was a similar situation where it took a long time to figure out what [kind of firearm] was used in that case.”
Sault Police have previously disclosed that 41-year-old Angie Sweeney was killed first, shot at her Tancred Street home while her 12-year-old daughter was inside the house. Hallaert then drove to a home on Second Line East where he killed his three children: 12-year-old Abigail Hallaert, 7-year-old Alexandra Hallaert and 6-year-old Nathaniel Hallaert.
He also shot the children’s 45-year-old mother — who was wounded but survived — before turning one of the guns on himself.
As SooToday first reported, Hallaert was slapped with a one-year weapons ban after a December 2021 conviction for assaulting a police officer. That order expired in December 2022, just ten months before his shooting rampage.
Despite being asked, Sault Police have not disclosed whether Hallaert’s weapons were seized and returned to him after the one-year ban, or if his PAL was up to date at the time of the shootings.
Brown said he doesn’t understand why police are hesitant to release the PAL status or models of firearms used in killings.
“It never quite makes a lot of sense when we have these kind of murder-suicide events because from the police perspective, the main investigation, the criminal stuff, is largely over, unless they are investigating maybe a criminal transfer of firearms and that might be a reason,” he said. “If it’s a case they knew these guns were his guns and he got them back, that doesn’t give them much of an excuse.”
As SooToday also previously reported, Hallaert posted in the Facebook group Concealed Carry Canada that he had “a lot of” 30.06 Win rounds of ammunition that he was looking to trade for .32 Win Special and 308 rounds, or buy those rounds outright.
Generally speaking, Brown said he is somewhat suspicious when police say they are not going to go into details after a mass shooting.
“There are a bunch of ways police could be implicated in why someone has a firearm or got a firearm back that I think they can just avoid by saying things are still under investigation and we are going to hold off until an inquest or whatever else,” said Brown. “I am a little reluctant to say that myself but I suspect there may be some of that going on.”
Brown said it is difficult to have a conversation around firearms policy when police are being tight-lipped about it in the aftermath of a mass shooting.
“It’s really hard to discuss that in a rational way when we have so little facts, not only around what kind of gun should be around or not around, but how well is our screening process working?” he said. ”We mitigate risk by having a good licencing system, yet it’s really hard to evaluate how it’s working when we have these situations where someone who very clearly probably should not have a firearm, as things worked out, had one. If the screening process didn’t work or if the police didn’t do their job, it’s helpful from a public policy perspective to know what is going on here.”
Brown said police in the United States are often much more forthcoming with information made public immediately after a mass shooting.
“There’s a different culture around the Canadian police right now around this issue,” he said. “If you shed light on it, from my perspective, that would be good because I think more people should be thinking about it.”