RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and two senior Mounties offered conflicting testimony on Monday about whether political interference on behalf of the Liberal government’s gun control agenda was at work in the force’s response to the Nova Scotia mass shooting.
Commissioner Lucki told a Commons committee probing the matter that in late April, 2020, she had notified the office of then-public safety minister Bill Blair that the Mounties would release details on weapons used in the shooting, knowing it would aid the Trudeau government’s plans to ban 1,500 types of guns.
But Commissioner Lucki said the heads-up before an RCMP news conference planned for April 28, 2020, a little over a week after a gunman killed 22 people in Nova Scotia, was not made under duress.
The Commissioner said she was not under political direction from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to release information on the type of firearms. But, she acknowledged, she felt an imperative to get more information to the public as quickly as possible.
The controversy erupted in June after the Mass Casualty Commission probe into the rampage disclosed notes of a conference call between Commissioner Lucki and commanders on the investigation. It occurred shortly after the April 28 press conference at which the RCMP did not release details about the weapons.
In notes submitted to the inquiry, RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell described how he was reprimanded at length by the Commissioner. He wrote she was upset because she had “promised the minister of public safety and the Prime Minister’s Office” the RCMP would disclose specifics about the firearms. She told the conference call, according to his notes, that Nova Scotia RCMP needed to understand release of the information “was tied to pending gun-control legislation that would make officers and the public safer.”
On Monday, Commissioner Lucki confirmed that she told subordinates in the phone call the nature of weapons used was relevant because of a Liberal government promise to ban assault firearms.
In response to questioning from Conservative MP Raquel Dancho, she said she mentioned that the weapons were so important, and why the government asked if the details were going to be released, because of Mr. Blair’s mandate.
Commissioner Lucki told MPs that informing the government the gun information would be made public was not a commitment, only a notification.
“It wasn’t a promise in the traditional sense,” she told the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee.
“Was there pressure for information from the federal government about this incident? Yes,” she said. “This wasn’t surprising as we were dealing with the biggest mass shooting incident.”
In their testimony on Monday, two senior Nova Scotia Mounties backed up the version of the conference call provided in the notes taken by Supt. Campbell, who has been promoted to Chief Superintendent, and is to testify before the committee next month.
Retired RCMP assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman, who was in overall charge of Nova Scotia’s operation at the time of the mass shooting, said Commissioner Lucki made it clear she was under pressure from the minister’s office and the PMO to release the information to buttress Liberal plans on gun control.
“The conversation was we didn’t understand the big picture and there was pressure from the minister to release the calibre and the make and models used,” she said. “She [Commissioner Lucki] was very angry at our team … she felt disrespected and disobeyed.”
Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, who is director of criminal operations in Nova Scotia, testified that he was “truly taken aback by the conversation” with Commissioner Lucki. He added that Supt. Campbell’s notes were comprehensive and that he supported them “to the letter.”
Neither of the RCMP officers were aware the Liberals planned to announce the gun ban on May 1, 2020, in the aftermath of the mass shooting.
Sharon Tessier, who handled civilian communications at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa and was part of the conference call, said the Commissioner was irritated because she said she had told Mr. Blair’s office the RCMP would release the gun information but “I do not remember talk of pressure … but I didn’t take notes.”
E-mails released by the Mass Casualty Commission show that days before the April 28, 2020, news conference and conference call, Commissioner Lucki was concerned about operationally sensitive details being divulged to the public.
On April 23, Commissioner Lucki e-mailed Mr. Blair’s office and outlined what guns were used in the shooting, but urged the government not to release the information. Five days later, she was upset when those details were not made public at the April 28 RCMP news conference.
Asked by MPs to explain this, she said: “Things changed, so we could release points of information.”
Ms. Bergerman and Chief Supt. Leather said Commissioner Lucki should never have revealed the shooter’s guns to her political bosses during the investigation.
In Halifax on Monday, Chief Supt. Campbell told a public inquiry into the shooting that he firmly opposed releasing information about the firearms despite the request from the Commissioner.
The Mountie testified that releasing details about the semi-automatic weapons, including their colour, type, serial numbers, calibre and additions, would have closed down avenues for a criminal investigation.
Police could use that information, if kept confidential, to test the credibility of witnesses, he said. It would also have been useful if someone confessed to aiding the gunman, and the details of the weapons hadn’t been widely publicized, he testified.
“For me, simply, the way I could put it is, it was a no-brainer,” he said.
The April, 2020, notes give the impression Commissioner Lucki berated Nova Scotia RCMP investigators after they refused to release the gun details.
Asked to explain, Commissioner Lucki said felt she had misled the government.
“I felt I had misinformed the minister and by extension the Prime Minister,” she said, while emphasizing she did not interfere in the investigation.
“Specifically: I was not directed to publicly release information about weapons used by the perpetrators to help advance pending gun control legislation,” she told MPs.
She went on to say she did not handle the meeting with her subordinates very well, but did not take further action after her officers warned that “releasing the information could jeopardize the investigation.”
Mr. Blair, now Emergency Preparedness Minister, testified on Monday that he never instructed the Commissioner to use the shooting tragedy to push the Liberal government’s gun plans.
“At no point did I direct the RCMP in any operational matter, including on public communications. I did not ask them to release any specific information, nor did I receive a promise from them to do so,” he said.
He told MPs that whether to publicize information about the weapons was “wholly within the purview of the RCMP.”
Commissioner Lucki wrote a late night e-mail on April 28 to Mr. Blair’s chief of staff, Zita Astravas, and deputy minister Rob Stewart saying the meeting with Nova Scotia commanders was “not the execution I was expecting.”
Mr. Blair acknowledged there was a real desire to get all the information out about the shooting and “in the Commissioner’s mind, that included the weapons.”
He added the “terrible moments” of the mass shooting “deepened his resolve” to move quickly on banning assault weapons.
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