Embattled RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says she wants to remain at the helm of the federal police force even as she faces growing dissatisfaction at the highest levels of the government over her leadership.
Commissioner Lucki, who has dealt with a series of controversies that has put the government on the defensive, said she does not want to step aside. Her five-year term comes up for renewal in March.
“I’m absolutely staying on as Commissioner of the RCMP,” she told reporters late Tuesday evening after testifying at the inquiry into the invocation of the Emergencies Act.
Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not made a decision on whether to reappoint Commissioner Lucki, three senior government officials told The Globe and Mail that the federal cabinet is dissatisfied with her stewardship of the RCMP.
They point to what they call her poor communication skills and the mishandling of major files such as the Nova Scotia mass shooting, the Emergencies Act and systemic racism within the RCMP, the sources said. The Globe is not identifying the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss the government’s view of Commissioner Lucki’s performance.
The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino declined to say whether Commissioner Lucki would be reappointed by the Prime Minister. “We continue to work with Commissioner Lucki to keep our communities safe and make significant progress on an array of important issues – including reforming the RCMP, advancing Indigenous policing, protecting Canadians from gun violence and more,” communications director Alexander Cohen said in a statement.
The Official Opposition says they, too, have lost confidence in Commissioner Lucki, given her handling of last winter’s truck convoy protests and the 2020 mass shooting of 22 people in Nova Scotia.
“She does not evoke confidence in her ability to do this job,” Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said. “We need first and foremost an RCMP commissioner that has the confidence to effectively do her job and I don’t feel she has done that.”
Commissioner Lucki was called as a witness at both the mass-shooting inquiry and the federal inquiry under way in Ottawa, where Justice Paul Rouleau is reviewing Ottawa’s unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to end a rash of protests and blockades against pandemic measures.
What Commissioner Lucki did and didn’t do during the convoy protests has been a key point of contention during the inquiry. During testimony on Tuesday, Commissioner Lucki couldn’t recall key meetings during the protests; said she didn’t understand the role the Emergencies Act could play; and was unable to explain comments from meetings and text exchanges in which she participated.
Asked on Tuesday why she couldn’t recall many of the pivotal moments leading up to the act’s invocation, Commissioner Lucki told reporters that there were a lot of meetings and “it’s easy to confuse one meeting into another meeting.”
One of the meetings that she misremembered was chaired by the Prime Minister on Feb. 13. Her prepared notes for that meeting included her assessment that police had “not yet exhausted all available tools” in existing legislation but she never relayed that at the meeting.
Asked at the inquiry if it occurred to her that it could have been important for her to make the assessment clear, Commissioner Lucki testified that “in hindsight” it might have been “something significant.” She e-mailed her analysis to Mr. Mendicino’s chief of staff, Mike Jones, but her reservations on the act were omitted from a separate e-mail sent to the Public Safety Minister.
Commissioner Lucki was unable to explain on Tuesday why that advice to the minister was removed. She also couldn’t explain the discrepancy between her public comments on the need for the Emergencies Act and her private advice to government – something opposition MPs have criticized.
Criticisms of Commissioner Lucki’s conduct have now been raised at two different inquiries this year. Asked about that by The Globe on Tuesday, she dismissed the question.
“I don’t think there’s any question about my conduct at this inquiry. You’re questioning my conduct, but I don’t think anybody else is,” Commissioner Lucki said.
The Commissioner was also embroiled in controversy over her handling of the Nova Scotia mass shooting. After the massacre, she was accused by RCMP subordinates in the province of pressing them to release information about the type of weapons used to assist the Liberal government’s gun agenda. When the officers declined, they said she berated them and that Commissioner Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the information would be released.
Those allegations led to parliamentary hearings in which Commissioner Lucki and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair were called to testify about possible political interference. The Commissioner later denied she was under political direction to release firearms information. But, she acknowledged, she felt an imperative to get more information to the public as quickly as possible.
University of Ottawa criminology professor Michael Kempa said Commissioner Lucki, who previously ran the RCMP training school in Regina and never worked at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa until her appointment in 2018, struggles with the concept of operational independence.
“One of the difficulties of an RCMP commissioner is that they tend to manage upwards. Even if ministers are not directly pressuring them, and because the commissioner serves at the pleasure” of the Prime Minister, “they tend to anticipate and read into what the ministers want,” he said. “This has hurt her tenure as commissioner.”
Like other commissioners, Prof. Kempa said Commissioner Lucki has taken the position that “political leadership … can ask her anything about operations but they cannot get involved in offering any advice on any operational matters.”
In fact, he said the minister of public safety can offer strategic direction on operational matters – providing it is in writing – but they cannot direct the police in how they exercise their powers of arrest, investigation and charging.
When the Prime Minister named Commissioner Lucki as the country’s first permanent female commissioner in 2018, she pledged to “challenge assumptions” and ensure that “no stone will be left unturned” in dealing with issues of discrimination, sexual harassment and misconduct within the force.
But the Commissioner floundered when she was forced to contend with systemic racism. As the Black Lives Matters protests forced a reckoning around the world in 2020, a series of videos appeared to show Mounties using excessive force against Indigenous people, and six Indigenous people were killed by police officers in Winnipeg, New Brunswick and Nunavut in just three months.
At first, she disputed the notion that systemic racism exists in her organization and said she was unsure what the expression meant. Days later, she abruptly changed course, acknowledging that “systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included” and vowed to “lead positive change on this critical issue.”
In 2020, an independent report by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache found a “toxic” culture within the force that tolerated misogynistic and homophobic attitudes.