A communications manager for the RCMP broke down on the witness stand on Wednesday when pressed about delays in warning the public about an active shooter, including that he was driving a replica police car during his 2020 rampage in rural Nova Scotia.
“I just need people to know that if I could maybe go back and have those minutes disappear, I would do anything,” Lia Scanlan told a public inquiry. “I just need people to know that we’ll do better.”
Since the shootings on April 18 and 19, 2020, the Mounties have faced intense criticism about how they alerted the public during the gunman’s 13-hour massacre. The police force relied mostly on Twitter social-media warnings. Relatives of the 22 people who were killed and their lawyers say the messages were not timely, often insufficiently detailed and did not reach enough people.
Nine victims were killed on the morning of April 19, most of them after 10 a.m., and the inquiry has been examining police communications in this period.
Ms. Scanlan was not involved in the Saturday night response. But by 6 a.m. on Sunday, the two phones she had on her night table were abuzz with requests for her to get to work.
As director of the Nova Scotia RCMP’s seven-person strategic communications team, she was tasked with getting threat information to the public.
At 8 a.m., Ms. Scanlan sent out a Twitter alert that said police were contending with an active shooter. The only RCMP tweet sent the previous evening described events as a “firearms complaint.”
Mounties in the field had acquired a photo of the suspect and the replica RCMP squad car he was driving by 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. Inquiry officials who later interviewed Mounties determined some wanted to get these pictures out to the public as soon as possible while others expressed fear that communications about these images, if not done carefully, could “send the public into a frantic panic.”
It was left to the strategic communications unit to figure out what to do. The photograph of the suspect was relayed at around 8 a.m. to Ms. Scanlan, who ensured it was publicly posted to the RCMP Twitter feed at 8:54 a.m.
But an e-mail to her with a photo of the suspect’s car appears to have been misdirected by the Mountie who wrote it. “It is presently unclear to the commission whether a subsequent e-mail, with photographs of the perpetrator’s replica RCMP vehicle attached, was sent to Ms. Scanlan,” according to a document published this week by the inquiry.
In testimony, Ms. Scanlan said she doesn’t recall seeing that e-mail.
At 9:40 a.m., an RCMP corporal in the communications unit received another copy of the photo and drafted a tweet. She got permission from a senior Mountie to put it out.
But she also wanted approval from Ms. Scanlan, and sent her an e-mail, but Ms. Scanlan did not immediately see that message or answer follow-up phone calls from the corporal. “Did I authorize it at 9:49? No. Because I didn’t see the e-mail,” Ms. Scanlan testified on Wednesday.
Her approvals were delayed until shortly before 10:17 a.m. when the RCMP tweeted out the image of the replica RCMP cruiser for the first time.
When commission officials pressed her about the nearly half-hour delay between the draft tweet and the actual tweet, Ms. Scanlan teared up. She said the RCMP needs better standard operating procedures for police communications.
When she finished, she said she wanted to walk back the tone of remarks she had made in prior interviews with inquiry investigators, in which she was defensive about RCMP communications practices. These conversations occurred months ago, but were released publicly this week.
During those conversations, Ms. Scanlan candidly criticized political officials. She also said that if police had issued a direct-to-cellphone warning about a gunman dressed as a Mountie, that mass-disseminated message might have got officers shot if any gun-owning residents attempted to defend themselves. “My gut?” she said at the time. “You would have more dead police officers.”
On the witness stand on Wednesday, Ms. Scanlan said she regretted these remarks.
“I just want to apologize for my delivery in my transcripts,” Ms. Scanlan said.
She added: “I just want people to know that not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and I think about the victims and the families and their kids.”
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