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RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather is questioned by lawyer Rachel Young at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia on April 18/19, 2020, in Halifax on July 27.Kelly Clark/The Canadian Press

A top-ranked Mountie told a public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting that information about the guns used by the killer should never have been shared outside of the RCMP just days after the rampage – not with the minister of public safety, or the Prime Minister’s Office.

Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, testifying in Halifax on Wednesday, criticized RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki for passing details about the type of firearms on to her political bosses in Bill Blair’s office and the PMO. The senior officer said the Commissioner called him directly on his cell phone shortly after the April, 2020, mass shooting that killed 22 people, and asked about the guns.

Thinking it was only of “organizational interest,” he gave those details to his superior, former assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman, who shared them with the Commissioner. The inquiry revealed she gave the information to Mr. Blair’s staff, and five days later scolded the Nova Scotia RCMP for not releasing the firearms information in a news conference – telling the Mounties it was needed to boost support for the Liberals’ gun control legislation.

Commissioner Lucki and Mr. Blair say they didn’t meddle in the shooting investigation. Opposition parties have accused the Liberals of exploiting the Nova Scotia tragedy to further their political agenda.

Chief Supt. Leather said releasing the gun details at that stage would have compromised the investigation into the worst mass shooting in Canadian history.

Senior civilian Mountie rebukes RCMP Commissioner for ‘appalling’ behaviour during Nova Scotia shooting investigation

“It should have never been shared outside of the RCMP,” he told Mass Casualty Commission lawyer Rachel Young.

Pressed further by Ms. Young, Chief Supt. Leather said he didn’t consider the Prime Minister or Mr. Blair to be part of the RCMP, and they should not have been privy to that information.

The allegations of political interference surfaced after notes by another senior Mountie, Chief Superintendent Darren Campbell, described a tense conference call in which the Commissioner urged the Nova Scotia RCMP to release details about the guns. Chief Supt. Campbell testified this week that any potential political interference in the active investigation was “unacceptable,” and victims’ families deserved an uncompromised and comprehensive investigation.

He ended his testimony on Tuesday by apologizing to the families who lost loved ones for the RCMP’s many missteps in their response to the rampage.

“I apologize for failing,” he said. “I’m truly sorry that we failed you, and I promise that we’ll do better.”

Chief Supt. Leather, who was among the first to tell the public about the mass shooting in Nova Scotia, also testified that some of the early descriptions police provided were not “consistent” with what had happened.

Ms. Young asked Chief Supt. Leather about language he used at news conferences and in media releases, including his comment during the first news conference on April 19, 2020, that the RCMP had responded to a “firearms call” the night before.

“Firearms call” was also the innocuous term an RCMP communications officer used in the first tweet about the rampage at 11:32 p.m. the night before, even though by then the Mounties were aware an active shooter had killed several people in Portapique, N.S.

Three days later, Chief Supt. Leather said at another news conference that he was “very satisfied” with the early messages sent by the RCMP.

Chief Supt. Leather agreed with Ms. Young that, in fact, the term mischaracterized the reality and didn’t conform with RCMP policies requiring police to provide the public with accurate information.

“I think the way it was described … is not consistent with what we were dealing with,” he said.

The Mountie was asked why he said “in excess of 10 people” had been killed in the attack in a news conference on April 19, 2020, when he’d been given information an hour before that suggested at least 17 victims. He said he sometimes only had five or six minutes to review talking points and often had to rely on his memory to answer questions from reporters.

“That’s what led to some of the incorrect accounting,” he said. “I’ll say it right now: Obviously I missed the mark on more than a couple occasions.”

Ms. Young also asked Chief Supt. Leather about a phone call shortly after the murders that involved himself, RCMP Superintendent Janis Gray and Truro police chief David MacNeil.

In previous testimony before the inquiry, Chief MacNeil said he was left with the impression the Mounties were concerned that an officer safety bulletin issued by the Truro force sent nine years before the killings – which warned all police officers in Nova Scotia that the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, owned restricted weapons and wanted to “kill a cop” – would be made public as a result of freedom of information requests.

Ms. Young asked Chief Supt. Leather whether, during that phone call, he and Supt. Gray were “trying to bury the bulletin” to avoid criticism of the RCMP for not investigating the killer in 2011.

“The opposite is true,” he replied, adding the call to the Truro police chief was to let him know that RCMP investigators would be interested in speaking with the police officer who authored the bulletin.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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