SIU states no grounds for charges in Gore Bay double shooting

Special Investigations Unit photos from its report show the trailer where Gary Brohman was living and where gunfire was exchanged between Mr. Brohman and PC Hovingh. Photo courtesy of Special Investigations Unit

EDITOR’S NOTE— This story is about the double-fatal November 2020 shooting in Gore Bay. This was an upsetting incident for many people and the details of the report may be upsetting for some readers. If you need support, contact Manitoulin-Northshore Victim Services at 705-370-3378; ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600; Maison McCulloch Hospice Grief Support at 705-674-9252 x227 or Crisis Centre Sudbury at 705-675-4760, or visit mnvictimservices.ca for links to online support.

MISSISSAUGA—Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the civilian oversight body that investigates police-involved shootings in the province as one part of its mandate, released a report Friday, March 26 that states deceased Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Provincial Constable (PC) Marc Hovingh shot Gary Brohman in self-defence during the November 19, 2020 incident near Gore Bay’s East Bluff.

“I am satisfied for the foregoing reasons that (PC) Hovingh conducted himself lawfully throughout his engagement with Mr. Brohman, justifiably resorting to lethal force that resulted in Mr. Brohman’s death at the same time as he too suffered mortal gunshot wounds. The file is closed,” stated SIU director Joseph Martino in the conclusion of the report.

SIU was required to investigate PC Hovingh’s conduct in this incident because it involved a civilian death as a result of a police interaction. The oversight body investigates whenever an officer in Ontario causes death, serious injury or sexual assault, or shoots at someone.

The director’s report, a summary of which follows, gives an overview of the circumstances and the scene of the crime, based on interviews of police officers and civilians that were present during the incident.

On Hindman Trail, an unmaintained bush trail on the East Bluff, a landowner was checking his property and noticed that someone had bulldozed a trail 100 metres into the forest. At the end of that rough path was a trailer in which Mr. Brohman was living.

On the evening of November 17, the landowner and another man went there to confront Mr. Brohman, who “falsely asserted a legal interest in the property” and told the landowner to leave. They agreed, to avoid a conflict.

The landowner contacted police and PC Hovingh checked into the matter, was satisfied that the landowner was indeed the owner, and visited the property for the first time the next afternoon to speak with Mr. Brohman. The trailer was empty at the time so he returned the next morning, November 19, with a fellow OPP officer.

Mr. Brohman asserted that he had the right to be on the property and when the landowner and his son arrived, they came to an agreement that Mr. Brohman would leave by noon the next day.

The bulldozed entrance to the site of the tragedy near Hindman Trail. It is alleged that Gary Brohman was squatting illegally on the property east of Gore Bay. Photo courtesy of Special Investigations Unit

However, as the officers and landowner began to walk away, PC Hovingh spotted 20 propane cylinders and became suspicious. He walked around the property and found a large clearing that was being used to grow cannabis. The other officer alleged there had been $100,000 worth of cannabis grown on the land.

Seeing this, the landowner said he wanted Mr. Brohman to leave immediately.

Back at the trailer, Mr. Brohman had locked himself inside and insisted he still had until the next day to leave and that he had nowhere else to go. Officers used tools to force open the door and the other officer entered, holding his conducted energy weapon (CEW, often called a Taser).

The officer spoke with Mr. Brohman across the trailer and demanded that he show his hands and leave the property. Due to a lack of progress, Mr. Hovingh decided to try negotiating.

He entered the trailer and began to step toward Mr. Brohman, who turned away and faced back holding a shotgun.

Mr. Brohman fired a total of three rounds of 12-gauge buckshot toward PC Hovingh, who, during those shots, had drawn his nine-millimetre pistol and fired seven times in return. Mr. Brohman hit the officer twice in his leg.

The other officer, the landowner and his son, who were all nearby, retreated to cover and the officer called for assistance. The landowner’s son took a quad to the family’s hunting camp and returned with firearms, including a shotgun he gave to his father, who aimed it at the door of the trailer in case Mr. Brohman would exit.

Notes from a civilian’s call stated that the two men walked back to the scene in front of the officer.

UCCM Anishnaabe Police officers were the first backup to arrive and they secured the trailer until OPP’s emergency response team arrived at around 12:30 pm, an hour and a half after the shootings. Nobody entered the trailer in that time period.

When those officers arrived, they entered the trailer with paramedics who gave first aid to the two men. PC Hovingh was breathing but unconscious at the time; SIU did not specify Mr. Brohman’s state.

PC Hovingh was hit twice in his left thigh while Mr. Brohman took shots in the left side of his head, his right cheek and into his lower left arm, which then entered his left torso and his lung.

“Mr. Brohman must have known that his arrest was unavoidable and he acted as if he had nothing left to lose. On this record, it is entirely conceivable that (PC) Hovingh’s actions served to deter what could well have been a continuing risk to the lives and limbs of others around him,” Mr. Martino, the SIU director, stated in the report.

Ambulances took both men to hospital, where they died of their injuries.

Mr. Martino defended the delay in his report, saying that while the officers would have known their comrade was injured, none would have known the status of Mr. Brohman and whether he may be capable of harming others that tried to enter.

“In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the decision to wait to deploy an (Emergency Response Team)—with their specialized training and resources—was an entirely prudent one,” the SIU director stated.

•   •   •

Later that afternoon, other civilians called to warn that they thought the property may have been armed with explosives, which caused further delays in the investigation as they had to wait on explosives disposal unit officers from Greater Sudbury Police Service.

Through the investigation, they found “dozens of improvised explosives and incendiary materials on the property, and numerous firearms inside the trailer.” Police did not specify the quantities and types of such weapons.

The UCCM Police officer’s information in this report is listed as part of the civilian witness category because the SIU only has jurisdiction over provincial, regional and municipal police services.

Inside the trailer, investigators found Mr. Brohman’s certification from the Canadian Armed Forces as a field engineer. Part of combat engineer training includes working with explosives but the report did not identify this as the source of Mr. Brohman’s knowledge on the subject.

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson told The Expositor that the force will conduct its own investigation, as required whenever there has been an SIU investigation, to review policy, procedure and conduct of officers.

Due to this investigation by Greater Sudbury Police Service, as well as the ongoing investigation into the death of Mr. Brohman, Mr. Dickson declined to comment on The Expositor’s questions as to what firearms and explosives were found on the property or what state Mr. Brohman was in when paramedics arrived.

In response to a question  about the 90-minute delay before paramedics could offer support and if the men may not have died with a quicker response, Mr. Dickson said “(OPP) cannot engage in speculation or ‘what if’ scenarios.”

Family, OPP responds to report

Lianne Hovingh, PC Hovingh’s widow, began preparing a statement in response to the report but was unable to finish it before press time Monday. She said she would release her thanks to those involved at a later date.

Manitoulin OPP detachment commander Inspector Megan Moriarity told The Expositor that the publication’s release was a tough moment for everyone impacted by the tragedy last November.

“The report brings that horrible day back to the forefront. My thoughts are with Marc, his family, friends and the officers that this incident touched on that heartbreaking day,” she said.

June Baker of Gore Bay, Mr. Brohman’s mother, said she did not agree with everything in the report, based on her understanding of the case, but agreed that her son acted wrongly.

“There’s no sense fighting it; they’re both dead,” she said.

Her brother Calvin Blue, Mr. Brohman’s uncle, shared similar doubts about parts of the report, and said he wished the officers would have tried to talk to his nephew more.

“One way or the other, the police can cover their ass as well as anybody else,” Mr. Blue said. “There’s not a thing we can do about any of this.”

PC Hovingh, 52, was a husband and father of four children. He was fewer than two years from retirement.

Mr. Brohman was 60 years old.