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explainer

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, on Oct. 21, 2020.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

An inquiry is examining the RCMP response to a deadly rampage in Nova Scotia in April, 2020, when a lone perpetrator posing as a Mountie killed 22 people in the worst mass shooting in Canadian history.

Testimony and subpoenaed documents obtained through the Mass Casualty Commission’s (MCC) inquiry have cast light on critical missteps by police during the attack and allegations of political interference into the RCMP’s investigation by the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office, which has ignited a political firestorm.

The inquiry, which began holding hearings in February, will conclude in November, when the MCC will present a report with recommendations intended to inform systemic reform and prevent similar tragedies.

Here’s a breakdown on everything that’s been revealed so far.

What happened at the inquiry last week:

  • Superintendent Darren Campbell and Chief Superintendent Chris Leather testified this week as the MCC investigated alleged political interference in the mass shooting investigation by the former minister of public safety and the Prime Minister’s Office.
  • Chief Supt. Leather said that he believes political interference motivated RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to call and email him directly, pressing him to give her information on the guns used in the days after the mass shooting. The Mountie admitted that he shared none of that discussion with the inquiry’s lawyers in a July 6, 2022, interview, and says federal lawyers advised him not to disclose the call. Chief Supt. Leather also criticized Commissioner Lucki for passing details about the type of firearms on to her political bosses in the minister of public safety’s office and the PMO.
  • The inquiry revealed Commissioner Lucki gave the information on the firearms to former public safety minister Bill Blair’s staff, and scolded the Nova Scotia RCMP five days later for not releasing the details in a news conference – telling them it was needed to boost support for the Liberals’ gun control legislation.
  • Commissioner Lucki gave conflicting testimony at a hearing in Ottawa looking into the alleged interference, where she told MPs she was not under political direction from the Liberal government to release information on the type of firearms. She acknowledged, however, that she felt pressure to get more information to the public as quickly as possible.
  • In his testimony, Chief Supt. Campbell said there was “a very good reason” not to release details about the weapons used during the active investigation, as to not compromise the RCMP’s ability to test witness credibility. Any interference in the investigation, he said, is “unacceptable.”
  • The inquiry is on a temporary break starting July 28.
  • Commissioner Lucki, whose actions in a conference call 10 days after the April 2020 mass shooting are at the centre of these allegations, will testify on Aug. 23.

The Nova Scotia shooting inquiry

The MCC has spent the past year and a half independently investigating the mass shooting, with particular focus on the Nova Scotia RCMP’s response, to understand how the deceased perpetrator, Gabriel Wortman, was able to commit so many murders in a 13-hour span while impersonating a Mountie and driving a fake patrol car.

In preparation for the public hearings that have been under way since February, the MCC interviewed nearly 150 witnesses.

The hearings have touched on the RCMP’s many missteps during the attack – including failing to properly alert the public, neglecting to ask other police forces for help, allowing the gunman to slip away and continue killing for a second day and permitting a senior officer to give commands after having several drinks. They have also brought to light new allegations of political interference from Ottawa in the RCMP’s investigation.

MCC chair Michael MacDonald, former chief justice of Nova Scotia, said the inquiry won’t function as a trial to assign blame or award damages based on the information uncovered, but is looking more broadly to recommend measures for systemic reform and prevent future attacks.

The inquiry is on track to be one of the most expensive independent probes in Canadian history, with months to go before the MCC behind it delivers a final report in November with recommendations intended to prevent similar tragedies. If the MCC’s operating expenses continue at its current level, the total costs for the probe could approach $50-million.

Criticism from victim’s families

Family members of victims killed in the mass shooting announced in May that they were boycotting the public inquiry out of frustration that some senior RCMP officers were being shielded from cross-examination. Some of them accused the inquiry of prioritizing RCMP commanders’ mental health over getting to the truth.

One of the people who protested these accommodations outside the Truro, N.S., hotel where the public hearings were being held was Charlene Bagley, whose father Tom was fatally shot by the perpetrator early on April 19, 2020. Ms. Bagley said the decision to shield senior RCMP officers from cross-examination by the MCC signalled to her that the trauma of officers was considered more important than that of the families of the victims, who want full transparency in the police response to the shooting.

“We’ve been wanting answers and we’ve been wanting the truth. With the announcement of this week’s accommodations, it just shows that we’re probably not going to ever get that,” she said to The Globe and Mail in late May.

The MCC defended this decision, saying any witness could use confidential medical reasons to request avoiding cross-examination to protect against being retraumatized on the stand. However, when these special accommodations first sparked backlash, they had only been granted for senior RCMP commanders.

The Decibel: What we learned from the Nova Scotia shooter’s spouse

In June, the inquiry announced that Ms. Banfield did not have to answer direct questions from lawyers representing the families of the 22 victims because she is a survivor of the murderer’s violence and has already been interviewed by inquiry investigators.

Family members of the victims were “extremely upset” by this decision, complaining it was an unjustified departure from typical inquiry processes for fairness and will prevent the full truth of this situation from coming to light, according to Michael Scott, whose law firm represents 14 of the families. Mr. Scott said the families he represents are reconsidering their participation in the inquiry as a result.

“This is not what they expected. This bears no resemblance to what we told them an inquiry would be,” he said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. “They’re largely ready to wash their hands of this commission.”

Testimony from the perpetrator’s spouse

Lisa Banfield, the perpetrator’s common-law spouse, appeared at the inquiry on July 15, answering questions under oath from an inquiry lawyer. In her testimony, she said that fear kept her from reporting her husband’s violent behavior and illegal weapons. Over the course of their relationship, Ms. Banfield said, he became abusive, manipulative and violent.

She said she knew it was illegal for him to have guns without a firearms license and lied to police about his guns when they showed up at her door, but said she never thought about reporting him to the police. Her husband assaulted her in front of witnesses in 2003, and several times during arguments allegedly pointed a gun at her head to intimidate her.

“He said he could blow off my head,” she said. “I was scared of what he might do. Grown men knew he had those guns, and they were scared of him, so I thought ‘What am I going to do?’”

Opinion: The spouse of the Nova Scotia shooter was another one of his victims

Ms. Banfield initially refused to participate in the inquiry on the advice of her lawyer. She changed her position after criminal charges against her for supplying ammunition to the killer, to which she had pleaded not guilty, were referred to restorative justice.

The MCC said it allowed her to testify without cross-examination from lawyers representing the families of the 22 victims because she is a survivor of the perpetrator’s violence and has already been interviewed five times by inquiry investigators.

This move has angered the families, who had hoped this independent probe would finally give them the answers they’re seeking, and prompted them to reassess their participation in the inquiry. Some inquiry participants frustrated with the lack of cross-examination said there are inconsistencies in previous statements Ms. Banfield has made to the MCC’s investigators.

Ms. Banfield said in her testimony that she understands the raw emotion among families who lost loved ones, and stressed she had nothing to do with their murders. However, many didn’t hear her because they had already walked out in protest.

Ms. Banfield said she was the last person with the perpetrator before he began his fatal rampage. On July 13, a video was released showing her detailing a re-enactment of events from start of rampage to police.

Warning: Video contains details of intimate partner violence, assault and firearms. Lisa Banfield was the common-law wife of the Nova Scotia gunman who killed 22 people in 2020. In October 2020, Ms. Banfield led police though locations where she had been assaulted by the gunman the night the massacre started, later fleeing into the woods in terror.

The Globe and Mail

Allegations of political interference

Documents made public through the inquiry process have also uncovered allegations of political interference. The MCC released documents on June 21 that included notes taken by Nova Scotia RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell during a heated conference call with Commissioner Brenda Lucki and officers overseeing the investigation.

Supt. Campbell’s notes describe how in the meeting, which took place 10 days after the shooting on April 28, Commissioner Lucki chastised senior commanders for withholding information about the guns used in the attack – allegedly telling them she had “promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office” that the RCMP would disclose specifics about the type of firearms used by the perpetrator.

The notes detail that Supt. Campbell was concerned about politics interfering with a cross-border police investigation. He also says in his notes that Commissioner Lucki explained that the release of the information “was tied to pending gun-control legislation that would make officers and the public safer by or through this legislation.”

The Liberal government introduced legislation to ban 1,500 varieties of assault-style firearms in May, 2020, the month after the mass shooting. The perpetrator, however, never had a firearms licence and smuggled three weapons used in his attack into Canada from Maine.

These allegations of interference prompted opposition MPs to accuse the federal government of meddling in a criminal investigation for political purposes.

The MCC subpoenaed the RCMP’s entire investigative file last June, including the notes taken by Supt. Campbell. But investigations director Barbara McLean says the Justice Department did not initially include the four pages of notes detailing these allegations in the 132 pages sent last February.

Response from Trudeau, Blair and Lucki

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denied that his office interfered in the RCMP’s investigation, saying it did not exert what he described as “undue influence” on Commissioner Lucki to act in a way that could give momentum to the Liberal firearms-control legislation.

“It is extremely important to highlight that it is only the RCMP, it is only police, that determine what and when to release information,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, who was public safety minister at the time of the mass shooting, also denied allegations that the federal government gave any political direction to Commissioner Lucki. Instead, he questioned Supt. Campbell’s handwritten notes that were submitted to the inquiry – which prompted former RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson and other retired Mounties to speak out in defence of Supt. Campbell’s integrity.

Commissioner Lucki said she did not interfere in the investigation, but feels she mishandled the meeting with RCMP commanders. She has yet to deny or confirm allegations in Supt. Campbell’s written notes that she told her officers that she promised the Prime Minister’s Office and Mr. Blair that the RCMP would release the type of weapons used in the mass murder to help advance the government’s gun agenda.

Fallout of interference allegations

In the wake of the uproar around the allegations, opposition in the House of Commons called for parliamentary hearings with Mr. Blair, Commissioner Lucki, Supt. Campbell and other officers who were part of the April 28, 2020 call. The Commons public safety and national security committee voted to hold a hearing in July, with the actual date still to be set.

New information obtained from an April 23, 2020 e-mail sent by Commissioner Lucki to the then-public safety minister’s office details what the RCMP knew at the time about the specific firearms used in the mass shooting, as well as plans for a briefing of top-level political officials in Ottawa.

But in the e-mail, Commissioner Lucki tells Zita Astravas, Mr. Blair’s chief of staff, not to circulate the information beyond Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Blair, as it was part of an active investigation. The e-mail, which Ms. Astravas confirmed she would not distribute further, was copied to Vincent Rigby, then the Prime Minister’s national security adviser.

The inquiry sent yet another subpoena to the federal government on July 4, amid suspicions that more documents like the notes taken by Supt. Campbell might still be withheld.

The MCC tasked their lawyers with auditing the records shared by the federal government to assess if any requested records have not been shared. If they discover the subpoenas were not followed, Justice Minister and Attorney-General David Lametti must provide an explanation in writing for the missing documents, and those letters will be included as evidence and made public.

Other findings so far

The MCC confirmed that the perpetrator used “illegitimate or suspicious means” to enrich himself beyond his on-the-books revenue as a denturist. According to the inquiry, he had more than $2-million in assets – an estate now being fought over by the gunman’s spouse and families of his victims.

In spite of rumors circulated widely after the revelation that the gunman withdrew $475,000 in cash from a Dartmouth Brink’s facility shortly before his rampage, the inquiry said that there was no evidence he was a police informant or involved in organized crime. However, it did reveal that the gunman had a tendency to hide large sums of cash without a paper trail, including $705,000 found buried under the deck at his Portapique, N.S., property after his rampage.

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