A senior Mountie told a public inquiry on Thursday that federal lawyers advised him not to disclose a call he received from the RCMP Commissioner that he says appeared to be motivated by a desire to use the Nova Scotia mass shooting to boost support for Liberal gun-control measures.
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, testifying for a second day, said he believes political inference was behind RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s insistence that police release details on the guns used in the April, 2020, mass shooting that killed 22 people.
“That’s my impression,” he said, during cross-examination by Tom MacDonald, a lawyer who represents the families of two victims.
The Mountie said he came to that conclusion following a conference call with Commissioner Lucki nine days after the rampage. In that call, the Commissioner pressed the Nova Scotia RCMP to release details on the types of guns the killer used, despite concerns that would compromise the investigation, according to notes from RCMP Chief Superintendent Darren Campbell that the inquiry made public in late June.
Chief Supt. Leather said the Commissioner had called him directly and pressed him to give her information on the guns just three days after the mass shooting and six days before the conference call. E-mails followed on the same issue. The Mountie admitted that he shared none of that discussion with the inquiry’s lawyers in a July 6, 2022, interview.
During cross-examination on Thursday by Michael Scott, a lawyer who represents most of the victims’ families, Chief Supt. Leather said he hadn’t previously raised the call from Commissioner Lucki or the e-mails with the inquiry at that time because lawyers with the federal Department of Justice had suggested in early July that he take “a reactive posture.”
“The advice I received was not to pro-actively disclose the conversation and the e-mails leading up to the meeting on April 28,” he testified.
“I knew from my notes and e-mails I had prepared and submitted that it was obviously relevant to what would become the infamous phone call April 28 and was troubled by that and wanted their advice and was advised to take a reactive posture.”
Opposition parties say the Liberals tried to use the country’s worst mass shooting to help their legislative agenda, and that the Justice Department has been reluctant to hand over politically damaging evidence requested by the Mass Casualty Commission. The inquiry’s lead lawyer has said the Justice Department withheld for many months the notes that described the April 28, 2020, meeting despite a subpoena to share all relevant documents.
Lori Ward, a lawyer for the federal Justice Department and the RCMP, told the inquiry on Thursday she believed there had been a “misunderstanding” about the advice to Chief Supt. Leather not to disclose the call from the Commissioner. She said she and another federal lawyer had believed he had a document relevant to the April 28, 2020, meeting that they needed to review because it might contain privileged information.
“At no time did we advise Mr. Leather not to speak about it and not to speak the truth,” she said.
Ms. Ward said the document, which she didn’t describe in detail, will be disclosed to the inquiry soon.
Commissioner Lucki has denied interfering in the police investigation. She testified on Monday before a House of Commons committee that she didn’t recall promising then-public safety minister Bill Blair to have the details on the guns released. She said she remembered using different words.
Chief Supt. Leather also addressed the criminal charges laid against Lisa Banfield, gunman Gabriel Wortman’s common-law spouse, who was accused of supplying him with ammunition. Those charges, laid in December, 2020, were dismissed this week after Ms. Banfield completed Nova Scotia’s restorative justice program.
Mr. Scott, the family lawyer, asked the Mountie if the charges were intended to delay or obstruct the inquiry. Rachel Young, an inquiry lawyer, suggested the charges could be viewed as an attempt to prevent evidence from being subpoenaed, because it would be protected while any court case was active.
Chief Supt. Leather strongly denied that suggestion.
“The idea of, even the sentiment of, obstructing any agency is foreign to me,” he said.
The RCMP was well aware the inquiry had just been called, he testified, but it didn’t impact the decision to continue investigating evidence against Ms. Banfield.
“We were going to pursue that with all our ability unless we were directed to do otherwise, and there are very few sources that can provide that kind of direction to have us halt an investigation,” he said. “We certainly did not receive any such recommendation or direction from any authority above us to do so.”
With a report from the Canadian Press
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