In the days after a public inquiry found serious problems with the RCMP’s response to a mass killing in rural Nova Scotia, a memo landed on the desk of Michael Duheme, who had recently been named the force’s acting commissioner.
“It is imperative that the RCMP acknowledge its failures and display a willingness to be accountable for them,” the document, signed by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Sorab Rupa, said. That acknowledgment, it added, should be “timely and decisive.”
The memo, which The Globe and Mail obtained through an access to information request, was sent in April. Now, more than four months later, a lawyer for the families of many of the victims says his clients are growing increasingly frustrated that the force has yet to issue an apology or admit responsibility for mistakes during the shooting rampage, which claimed the lives of 22 people.
“It’s so avoidable, but entirely on brand,” said Michael Scott, whose firm has represented more than a dozen of the families. He added that his clients have been subjected to unclear communication from the RCMP “since literally day one, since the day they were trying to get information like: ‘Is my family member alive or dead?’”
The rampage began on April 18, 2020, when a resident of the small community of Portapique, N.S., attacked his partner before murdering 13 of his neighbours. He evaded an RCMP cordon and stalked through central Nova Scotia, where he continued to kill for about 12 more hours before being shot dead by police while trying to refuel his stolen vehicle. The inquiry, known as the Mass Casualty Commission, tabled its final report on the attack and the police response in late March this year.
The 3,000-page report identified failures in communication, training, command, equipment, and many other areas. It said RCMP senior management’s response to valid criticism after the incident was “often characterized by denial or deflection.”
Among the report’s recommendations is that the RCMP should “adopt a policy of admitting its mistakes, accepting responsibility for them, and ensuring that accountability mechanisms are in place for addressing its errors.” The inquiry called for such a policy to apply at every level, and for compliance with it to be a prerequisite for advancement in the force.
When Commissioner Duheme appeared at a news conference shortly after the release of the report, he did not apologize or accept that his force had made mistakes. He said he had not yet read the report, whose seven volumes he had received 24 hours earlier.
Mr. Scott, who cross-examined witnesses during the inquiry, said the mood after that news conference was dour. “All the air got sucked out of the room,” he recalled.
Internally, the RCMP recognized that Commissioner Duheme’s comments had been poorly received.
Less than a week later, Assistant Commissioner Rupa submitted his memo about the inquiry’s report to senior RCMP leadership. In it, the senior Mountie noted that the national and international media coverage of the RCMP’s reaction to the report was “largely negative.”
Assistant Commissioner Rupa acknowledged in the memo that the report had found a number of “failures regarding critical incident command and decision making.”
It continued: “Given the justified expectations of survivors, families of victims, and Canadians as a whole, timely and decisive actions with respect to the final recommendations should be prioritized.”
The RCMP declined a request for an interview with Assistant Commissioner Rupa. RCMP spokesperson Robin Percival said in a statement that the briefing note “represents the RCMP’s initial analysis.”
“A more detailed analysis was undertaken in the weeks following the release of the final report,” she wrote. That analysis recommended a more “holistic, strategic approach.”
After internal reviews and “discussions with impacted families,” Ms. Percival added, the RCMP are preparing a “comprehensive action plan” and will release a public update this fall.
In July, the federal and Nova Scotia governments set up a committee to monitor the RCMP’s progress in implementing the inquiry’s recommendations. Ms. Percival said the force “has been hard at work to move forward the recommendations to restore trust with Nova Scotians and all Canadians.”
The RCMP website lists some changes made since 2020, such as improvements to radio communications and the addition of new training on intimate partner violence.
But Mr. Scott said the victims’ families have heard virtually nothing from the RCMP in recent months, beyond a letter committing to a review of the inquiry’s report. “To the extent that they’re talking about involving stakeholders, that’s just not happened,” he said.
He added that the families have been waiting more than three years for the RCMP not just to apologize, but to take responsibility. “We cannot move that forward if we can’t even get past the initial stage,” he said. “Which is acknowledging that mistakes were made.”
He said the families have yet to see “concrete” progress on fixing the many problems identified by the inquiry.
While the RCMP as a whole have not acknowledged fault, various senior members of the force have offered apologies. Brenda Lucki, who was commissioner during the mass killing and stepped down shortly before the release of the report, apologized to the families during her testimony at the inquiry. But she declined to specify where her force had actually failed, saying at one point that “we could have had more hindsight.”
Commissioner Duheme has said that he is “sorry for what the families had gone through.” But he has declined to say where his service came up short. The families have said those comments are insufficient.
The office of Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said it expects the RCMP to make an official apology, but did not explain why the force has not already done so.
“That work is well under way, and is being done in collaboration with the RCMP,” Jean-Sébastien Comeau, a spokesperson for Mr. LeBlanc, said in an e-mail.
The talking points from the RCMP have become “really predictable,” Mr. Scott said. “In fact, what’s been striking is how consistent they’ve been since day one.”
Through much of the inquiry, Mr. Scott noted, the RCMP suggested that major change would occur after the release of the final report. Now, he said, that timeline has shifted into the future once again. “It’s hard to take the RCMP seriously until they can acknowledge that these things were mistakes,” Mr. Scott said.
He added that even if the families are frustrated by the lack of progress, “that doesn’t change the fact that the families will keep trying.”