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What to think? Whom to believe? Did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former minister of public safety Bill Blair pressure the commissioner of the RCMP to interfere, for political purposes, in the force’s investigation of the worst mass murder in Canadian history? Did the commissioner in fact interfere? You be the judge.

On the one hand, we have the contemporaneous handwritten notes by RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell of a conference call with Commissioner Brenda Lucki on April 28, 2020, in which he recalls the commissioner pressing for the public release of information on the specific types of guns used to murder 22 people in rural Nova Scotia 10 days before.

When Supt. Campbell demurred, on the grounds that this would jeopardize efforts to nail down where the killer obtained the weapons, he says she told him and the other officers on the call that “she had promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP [we] would release this information.” He says she told them “that this was tied to pending gun control legislation.”

She was apparently quite adamant about it. At another point in his notes, contained in a report by the federal-provincial commission of inquiry into the police handling of the murders, Supt. Campbell writes: “Again the commissioner referenced promises to the Minister of Public Safety and to the PMO.” Three days later, the government issued an order-in-council (legislation did not follow until last month) banning more than 1,500 “assault-style” rifles, including the AR-15, one of the guns used in the Nova Scotia shootings.

Supt. Campbell’s recollections are buttressed by evidence from Lia Scanlan, the RCMP’s director of strategic communications for Nova Scotia and a participant in the same call. In an interview with the inquiry in February of last year, she complained that “all these people, the Prime Minister, they were weighing in on what we could and couldn’t say” in press briefings.

And not only on the subject of guns. Inaccurate and conflicting estimates of the numbers of dead had been given out, in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, by people other than RCMP communications staff, including the commissioner. “It was all political pressure,” Ms. Scanlan told the inquiry. “That is 100 per cent Minister Blair and the Prime Minister. And we have a commissioner that does not push back.”

But on the specifics of the conference call, Ms. Scanlan’s account jibes with Supt. Campbell’s, as she told Commissioner Lucki herself, in a letter to the commissioner in April of last year. Commissioner Lucki, she wrote, had told those on the call that she faced “pressures and conversation with Minister Blair, which we clearly understood was related to the upcoming passing of the gun legislation.”

So that’s, as I say, on the one hand: a contemporaneous account by a widely respected RCMP officer, corroborated by another ear-witness. On the other hand, we have the carefully worded denials of all those involved.

Commissioner Lucki has repeatedly denied “interfering” (“I would never take actions or decisions that could jeopardize an investigation”) but has also repeatedly declined to deny the specific allegation: of having promised the Prime Minister and/or the former public safety minister that the information on what specific guns the killer used would be made public, in time for the government’s rollout of its new gun law.

Mr. Blair has said: “I made no effort to pressure the RCMP to interfere in any way with their investigation. I gave no direction as to what information they should communicate. Those are operational decisions of the RCMP and I respect that and I have respected that throughout.”

The Prime Minister, for his part, has said no “undue influence or pressure” was put on the commissioner, leaving us to ponder the meaning of “undue.” But all concede there were ongoing “conversations” and “sharing of information” between the political ministers and the commissioner, while Commissioner Lucki herself has acknowledged discussing “the public release of information” during the conference call.

Whom to believe? It is difficult to think why Supt. Campbell would lie, in a note to file written the same night, or why Ms. Scanlan would have the same recollection if he had. On the other hand, it’s easy to think why Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Blair might.

To have exploited a horrific crime for political purposes, as the opportunity to release a fresh batch of gun regulations (none of which would have prevented the Nova Scotia murders: the weapons were unregistered, and purchased illegally; the killer was unlicensed) is bad enough. To interfere in a police investigation is worse. But to interfere in a police investigation so you can exploit a crime for political purposes is off the charts.

And while nothing in either Supt. Campbell or Ms. Scanlan’s record gives us reason to doubt their version of events, everything in this Prime Minister’s does. To take only the most obvious example – obvious, because the accusation of political interference in a criminal matter is so lethally apt – the Prime Minister flatly denied that he had pressured the former attorney-general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to interfere in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin (“the allegations in The Globe story are false”).

Only later, after it became impossible to deny, did he retreat into those strenuous Clintonian attempts to parse how much pressure was too much pressure: as if there really was any ambiguity to the impressive all-government effort to bend Ms. Wilson-Raybould into compliance, or as if the standard we should expect of a prime minister is that he should tiptoe up to the line of interfering in a criminal prosecution, as long as he can plausibly claim he didn’t cross it.

The government’s credibility is further undermined by the justice department’s still-unexplained decision to withhold Supt. Campbell’s notes from the commission of inquiry for four months. Sorry, did I leave you with the impression it withheld all of his notes? Not all, no: just the four pages that surrounded the conference call with Commissioner Lucki. Those four pages, out of 136.

It’s possible that was just a coincidence. It’s possible, as Mr. Blair seemed to suggest, that Supt. Campbell misinterpreted the commissioner’s remarks (“the superintendent obviously came to his own conclusions”). Who knows: Maybe Commissioner Lucki, in the course of all those discussions and conversations and exchanges of information with the Prime Minister and other members of cabinet, mistook an innocent suggestion for pressure or direction.

Still, it’s remarkable how often this seems to happen with this Prime Minister.

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