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RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme waits to appear before the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee, on Feb. 27 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme acknowledged Wednesday the force made mistakes in its response to a 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia and insisted the Mounties are making progress on changes, a year after a public inquiry identified a series of disastrous failures and called for an overhaul of Canada’s national police service.

Commissioner Duheme said that last year he apologized to the victims’ families for their pain and suffering and for the RCMP’s failure to keep the community safe during the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history. But about six months ago, a lawyer representing the victims’ families said they were still awaiting a meaningful apology that accepts mistakes were made in the police response.

In April, 2020, a gunman dressed as a police officer went on a shooting rampage, evading RCMP for more than 13 hours through the northern and central part of the province and killing 22 people, including a pregnant woman.

“Part of taking responsibility is doing better and … making sure that we respond in the future better. We’re better resourced, better trained, we’ve made investments in technology. This must not happen again in Nova Scotia or across Canada,” Commissioner Duheme told reporters at a news conference in Millbrook, N.S., one of the communities where the killings took place.

“I’m sorry for the mistakes that were made.”

He said after visiting the crime scenes and reading the Mass Casualty Commission report, which issued 130 non-binding recommendations after two years of testimony from more than 40 witnesses and 27 RCMP members, he better understands the environment officers were operating in during the rampage and the need for changes to equipment, critical incident command and technology.

Commissioner Duheme released a progress report, saying the Mounties have completed eight of the 130 recommendations, 33 of which are under direct control of the force.

Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry’s final report condemns RCMP failures

The RCMP has implemented new rules around officer use of alcohol and cannabis, reviewed front-line supervisor training, updated Alert Ready (Canada’s emergency alerting system) training and policies and reviewed how it recruits, trains and promotes senior officers, which is now posted on its website.

Commissioner Duheme said the RCMP also now uses blue force tracking, GPS-enabled capability to track officers’ movements.

The MCC called for the force to phase out Depot, the police training academy for RCMP in Regina, and sell the land – a call to action Commissioner Duheme said he was surprised by.

“Obviously, the RCMP has to get better when it comes to Depot,” he said, adding that there have already been improvements to the 26-week cadet program. The average age of recruits is now older and most have postsecondary education, he said. He noted that such change would include implementation of another MCC recommendation; that Public Safety Canada work with provinces to develop a three-year university training program for all police services across the country.

The RCMP’s 18-page progress report, released Wednesday, is a roadmap for how it’s going to implement changes, which it says will be phased in in stages. That plan however appeared vague. Between now and April, 2025, the force says it’s implementing changes and establishing “work plans to identify the specific actions, resources and capabilities required,” to carry them out. After that, the progress report didn’t offer a timeline, saying “longer-term implementation efforts may take many years, as many are rooted in necessary systemic cultural change.”

Commissioner Duheme said progress will be posted on the force’s website and victims’ families will be informed.

Sandra McCulloch, a lawyer who represents most of the victims’ family members, said her clients are underwhelmed by the update from RCMP, which she said was vague and ambiguous.

Ms. McCulloch said RCMP are diverting attention to “flashy things,” such as Alert Ready and blue force tracking.

“Beyond that, there’s a lot of questions about, what are the details? What are the things that have changed?” she said. “How is that going to address and properly respond to the recommendations? And how are you going to police that and make sure it’s effective on a long-term basis?”

Officials from the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade, whose members were shot at by RCMP at their firehall despite it being designated a safe area during the massacre, said they continue to be disappointed by the force.

The brigade’s chief Greg Muise said the RCMP showed a continued lack of respect by not inviting him and deputy chief Darrell Currie to a meeting with the victims’ families earlier in the week, and there is still no action in response to the incident at the firehall.

“I’m just absolutely furious that we didn’t get invited,” said Mr. Currie. “I’m very fortunate that I’m not one of the victims or a family member of one of the victims, but the apology should be going as well to the community, to the fire brigade.”

Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit is currently reviewing what happened at the firehall, following a recommendation from the MCC that Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, an independent police investigator, reopen its investigation. SIRT asked SIU to review information considered by the MCC to avoid any potential or perceived conflict of interest.

Members of a government-appointed MCC progress-monitoring committee recently attended the RCMP’s Dartmouth headquarters for briefings. Progress monitoring committee minutes show the RCMP officers spoke about current recruitment strategies and diversity in the force.

But the retired high court judge who is chairing the progress-monitoring committee say there is little she can say about this. “The materials that we have received from the government and the RCMP are confidential,” Linda Lee Oland, a former Nova Scotia appeals court judge, said in an interview.

Ms. Oland said her group will release public reports in the spring and the fall, but she cautioned that much of that work will be incremental, especially when it comes to structural change.

She added that “we’re not an accountability body as such. As I said, we’re not holding people to hard deadlines, we’re not creating the priorities. We are to monitor and report.”

In the Nova Scotia legislature on Wednesday, Premier Tim Houston said he’s committed to implementing the report’s recommendations, one of which is to review the province’s policing structure and make recommendations that can be implemented before the 2032 expiration of the Provincial Police Services Agreement.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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