The public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shootings has released a recording of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s tense phone call with police officers investigating the attack, in which she scolds them for not publicly sharing details about the types of guns used by the killer.
Accounts of that April 28, 2020, conference call, which came 10 days after the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, set off a political firestorm in Ottawa when they were first revealed this summer. Nova Scotia Mounties later publicly alleged that the RCMP Commissioner was allowing politics to interfere in the criminal investigation, by citing how Commissioner Lucki had repeatedly referenced her interactions with top federal politicians and their planned gun-control measures.
Until now, the call had only been described by people who took part in it, including Commissioner Lucki, who said it was blown out of proportion.
On the call, she can be heard telling the Nova Scotia RCMP she wanted the gun details released and that she had been speaking to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office and the office of then-public safety minister Bill Blair. She said she had expected that details about the make and models of the killer’s weapons would be shared in a Nova Scotia RCMP press conference earlier that day. And she highlighted how, at the time, the Trudeau government was only weeks away from introducing measures that would include a national ban on more than 1,500 variants of assault-style firearms.
“Does anybody realize what’s going on in the world of handguns and guns right now? The fact that they’re in the middle of trying to get a legislation going, the fact that that legislation is supposed to actually help police,” Commissioner Lucki said, in the partial recording released by the Mass Casualty Commission.
The RCMP Commissioner told her subordinates she would be apologizing to Mr. Trudeau for the Mounties not giving Ottawa officials enough timely information about the country’s deadliest mass-shooting, which killed 22.
“I have apologized to the minister; I’m waiting for the Prime Minister to call me so I can apologize and I’m telling you it’s not about me,” Commissioner Lucki said on the call with Superintendent Darren Campbell and other Nova Scotia Mounties. “I could care less that I have to apologize for me dropping the ball, it’s about the reflection of our organization.”
The Commissioner expressed concern over damage to the RCMP’s image in the fallout from the mass shooting. Days earlier, a gunman driving a replica RCMP patrol car went on a 13-hour rampage. The Mounties, who had failed to contain the killer, were also widely criticized for failing to use the Alert Ready system to warn Nova Scotians about the danger they faced.
“To watch the media chew us up, eat us up and spit us out, and to watch what, or to hear what the Minister and the Prime Minister had to say about the RCMP’s inability to communicate I will never forget it, because I know we’re better than that, and I know that we ought to have done better, and so it was very saddening for me,” Commissioner Lucki said.
“I know that the people on the ground are working tirelessly, but it didn’t get reflected to the outside world.”
In an e-mailed statement to The Globe on Thursday an RCMP spokeswoman said that Commissioner Lucki behaved appropriately in the circumstances.
“The sharing of information and briefings with the Minister of Public Safety are necessary, particularly during significant operational incidents,” said RCMP spokeswoman Robin Percival. She added that “this is standard procedure, and does not impact the integrity of ongoing investigations or interfere with the independence of the RCMP.”
Experts in Canadian policing say that the materials released Thursday yield an incredible glimpse into the power dynamics that can play out atop the RCMP.
“I would say the Commissioner is clearly interfering in the operations of the investigation at the provincial level by [RCMP] H Division by making it very clear she is displeased with communications, with the narrative. That’s part of the operation,” said Christian Leuprecht, a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, who specializes in security issues.
He said it struck him as unseemly that a law-enforcement leader would invoke pending enforcement measures about to be announced by politicians. “There is this remarkable line in there about ‘Don’t you know there’s legislation forthcoming about firearms,’” Prof. Leuprecht said. “And it’s kind of – like, ‘What the hell do you care what legislation is forthcoming?’”
Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, said the release of the tape yields an “unprecedented lens into decision making within the RCMP.”
But he also said Commissioner Lucki struck a more measured tone than what he called the “terrible dressing down” that some of her subordinates have suggested they had received.
“I didn’t hear anything that suggested improper political interference,” said Mr. Roach, the author of a new book, Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change. “I was struck by how relatively calm she was.”
Prof. Roach said the RCMP Act invites the federal public safety minister to give a degree of direction to the RCMP commissioner. Yet how much direction is appropriate is not made clear.
In July, the commission was told by the Department of Justice that a partial recording of the contentious call may exist. But Dan Brien, the RCMP’s director of media relations and issues management, told lawyers for the federal department he no longer had a copy. The Mounties’ spokeswoman, Ms. Percival, said the police force will reveal just how the recording resurfaced – something that was not explained Thursday. It was also not revealed why it was withheld from the inquiry until now.
The Commissioner asked for the 2020 call with the Mounties’ Nova Scotia leadership after a local press conference in which she had expected that Supt. Campbell would release details about the killer’s guns. Supt Campbell later testified that doing so at that early stage would have compromised the criminal investigation, before police had to chance to question people about the gunman’s weapons.
Commissioner Lucki said on the call this position had left her feeling “very frustrated, very disappointed and I was feeling quite disrespected by what happened today.” She said she had promised the Prime Minister a chronology of the attack days earlier, something that the Nova Scotia wing of the force had not prepared.