VANCOUVER—Last June, the quiet, tree-lined streets of Saanich on Vancouver Island suddenly turned into an amphitheatre of echoing gunfire as what appeared to be a botched bank robbery quickly became a chaotic shootout between the suspects and police.
When the smoke cleared, six officers were wounded and the suspects, twin 22-year-old brothers Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie, were dead. More than 30 homemade explosives, ammunition and more firearms were found in the brothers’ car.
Six months later, police say it was blood lust, not cash, motivating the brothers from Duncan, a city 60 kilometres away, to rob the Bank of Montreal and engage in the June 28 shootout. The Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit investigated the incident.
“It was determined the suspects’ primary objective was to shoot and kill police officers in what they saw as a stand against government regulations, especially in relations to firearms ownership,” RCMP Cpl. Alex Bérubé told a news conference Friday.
The first officers arrived on scene and began containing the area, Bérubé said. The Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team was nearby on an unrelated matter and joined the efforts. The six wounded officers were from that team, and most have yet to return to work.
The brothers, wearing body armour and balaclavas, exchanged gunfire with the arriving team using semi-automatic SKS rifles. Police said their aim was to kill as many officers as possible and they expected to die. Their weapons were legally acquired, police said.
Video of the incident in the Victoria suburb showed the intense gunfight. An earlier report said police fired as many as 100 rounds at the suspects.
Some of the 22 people trapped in the bank during the ordeal — kept there to lure in the officers, police said — told local media they had thought it strange the men had not fled the bank after being handed over some cash.
The day after the incident, a woman who had been trapped inside, Shelli Fryer, told Victoria radio station CFAX the brothers appeared calm during the robbery and waited.
Fryer said one suspect was pacing the floor, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”
At the time, police also indicated they weren’t sure the robbery was the main motive.
“The types of explosives and what their intentions were — we don’t know,” RCMP Sgt. Chris Manseau told a news conference after the incident last June. “That information may come forward in the future, or it may form part of the investigation, or we may never know.”
Now, the police say, they know.
The pair had waited in the bank for 11 minutes after they were given the money and before police arrived, Bérubé said. During the wait, the brothers were repeatedly looking out the front window of the bank, surveillance showed.
“The time spent in the bank and their actions made it apparent to police that the objective of the robbery was not to obtain money, but rather to generate an armed confrontation,” Bérubé said.
Bérubé said “personal annotations” found at the scene revealed the men held strong “anti-government, anti-police and anti-authority” views. They were particularly upset about restrictions on firearms and body armour.
“The individuals had been plotting an act of extreme violence since at least 2019,” Bérubé said. They were not known to police and it appears they acted alone.
Evidence recovered at the scene and at the brothers’ residence suggest they were isolated from society and “harbouring” deep anger and resentment toward authority, he said.
Bérubé said they had been plotting an attack for 2023 at an unknown location, but chose to act in June because they had to move and were concerned their arsenal would draw attention.
A statement last year from the Canadian Armed Forces said Mathew Auchterlonie didn’t pass the aptitude test when he tried to enlist. The statement also said Isaac participated in the Soldier for a Day program in 2018.
During Friday’s news conference, Saanich police Chief Const. Dean Duthie thanked the public for their outpouring of support for the department and for those who experienced the violence.
The officers involved displayed courage and, though members of the department have suffered physically and emotionally, Duthie encouraged them to remember it as a day that police officers saved many lives.
“I know that many questions have gone unanswered until today, and it is my hope that the information that you now know can assist you to move forward with a healthy degree of closure and clarity,” he said.
With files from The Canadian Press
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