RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says there was poor communication between her office and Nova Scotia Mounties in the days following the shooting spree that left 23 people, including the gunman, dead in April 2020.
“It was for this reason I called the meeting (on April 28) to express my frustration and disappointment,” she told the House of Commons public safety committee Monday.
“It needed to happen. It was essential that I had more timely and accurate information.”
Lucki said she did not interfere in the investigation, but that part of her frustration with the Nova Scotia division stemmed from the fact she was told by her communications team that information about the firearms used by the gunman would be released during an April 28, 2020, public briefing.
As a result, Lucki said, she confirmed to then-public safety minister Bill Blair that details of the weapons would be released publicly. When that didn’t happen, “I felt I had misinformed the minister and by extension the prime minister,” Lucki said.
The public safety committee is looking into allegations the federal government was meddling in the police investigation.
Then-Supt. Darren Campbell wrote in his notes about the meeting that Lucki said releasing the list of weapons was tied to pending gun control legislation.
On Monday, Nova Scotia RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather and retired assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman said they also recall Lucki saying she made a promise to the minister.
Both told the committee they did not know about conversations Lucki had with other officials about what information was being released. They also said they plan to give their own notes from that meeting to the committee.
Bergerman said the reaction to Lucki’s comments was, “Confused and a bit stunned, because any police officer knows that if you’re in the middle of an investigation certain information cannot be released.”
Bergerman also said Lucki should not have been told what information was going to be released in the media briefing.
Leather said the inventory of weapons from the killing spree was not to be released outside the RCMP at the time, and he doesn’t know why Lucki shared that with federal officials.
Lucki said she did not recall using the word “promised,” and said it was a “confirmation” from her to the minister.
She said she did connect the information about the weapons to “the minister’s mandate letter” in that meeting, specifically the direction to ban assault-style firearms.
Lucki told the committee that information about what happened during the 13-hour killing spree was changing, and that media were reporting facts before the Nova Scotia RCMP released them.
“I remember looking up at a screen and seeing 22 faces on the screen,” she said, adding that the RCMP were reporting a different number of victims at the time.
“We needed to get ahead of it.”
Meanwhile, Blair told MPs on the committee the government decided after the shooting spree to schedule May 1, 2020, as the date to announce its ban of some 1,500 models of assault-style firearms.
Blair said the terrible Nova Scotia events were “highly motivating” to him in moving forward on the Liberal government’s promise to outlaw the firearms, but he added that the ban was in the works for months.
He said strengthening gun control is one of the reasons he entered public service after a career in policing. “There is no place in a civil and safe society for such weapons.”
Blair and the department’s deputy minister, Rob Stewart, were asked by MPs whether the government was trying to drum up support for the weapons ban.
Blair told the committee he believes there is “overwhelming support” among Canadians for the firearms ban, and he didn’t think the government needed to connect it to the shootings to justify its decision.
“I don’t think it’s in any way relevant, to be frank,” he said.
Campbell’s handwritten notes say that Lucki was “obviously upset” in the April 28 meeting, and that she accused him of disrespecting her by not following instructions.
He believed releasing information about the guns would jeopardize the investigation in Canada and the United States. Gunman Gabriel Wortman smuggled a number of handguns and assault-style weapons from Maine. No one in either country has been charged with weapons offences in the case.
Blair and Trudeau have adamantly denied there was any political interference in the case.
Campbell’s notes were published as part of the ongoing public inquiry into the shootings — an exhibit to a scathing document outlining dozens of instances in which the RCMP concealed or obfuscated basic information about the case in the three months following the horrific events.
That includes the number of victims, their relationship to the gunman, the fact that one victim was a child, the number of crime scenes, the reason for the first 911 call the night the killings began, and when police learned the gunman was disguised as an RCMP officer, among other things.
Blair and Stewart told the committee Monday there was a great amount of public concern that the RCMP was not being forthcoming during its news briefings.
Campbell and Leather were the main spokespeople for the RCMP during six public briefings between April 19 and June 4, 2020.
Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press