Blair, Lucki tell Commons committee they didn’t meddle in N.S. shooting probe

10
Blair, Lucki tell Commons committee they didn’t meddle in N.S. shooting probe

Head of RCMP denies allegations she interfered with N.S. mass shooting investigation

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki denies pressuring Mounties investigating the Nova Scotia shooting to advance Ottawa’s gun-control legislation at hearings on Parliament Hill.

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told a House of Commons committee Monday that the controversy over her alleged interference in Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia was the result of a miscommunication between Nova Scotia RCMP, herself and then-minister of Public Safety Bill Blair.

“Let me begin, and let me be clear. I did not interfere in the investigation around this tragedy,” Lucki told members of the House of Commons public safety and national security committee.

“Specifically, I was not directed to publicly release information about weapons used by the perpetrator to help advance pending gun control legislation.”

Controversy erupted last month when the Mass Casualty Commission probing the tragedy released documents that included handwritten notes by RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell. Those notes allege Lucki tried to get investigators to publicly reveal the weapons the gunman used.

The notes also say Lucki indicated she promised Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release this information, and that this was tied to pending gun control legislation intended to make officers and the public safer.

Campbell’s notes suggest the government wanted the information public to further its gun control agenda. Shortly after the tragedy, the government outlined its plan to ban 1,500 types of assault-style firearms.

Lucki told the committee there was a miscommunication between herself and Nova Scotia RCMP that resulted in her giving incorrect information to Blair’s office.

Ahead of a RCMP news conference on April 28, 2020, Lucki said, Blair’s chief of staff asked her which items of information police would reveal in the briefing.

“I provided information to the government about what would be released,” Lucki told committee members.

“At that time, I was asked if the information about the weapons would be included. When my communications team told me that it would be, I relayed this information back to Minister Blair’s chief of staff and the deputy minister of Public Safety.”

Bill Blair, the federal minister of emergency preparedness, says he didn’t put any pressure on RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to get the Mounties to reveal details about the weapons in the gunman’s possession during the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

But Nova Scotia RCMP later told Lucki that information about the guns would not be revealed at the news conference.

“I felt I had misinformed the minister and, by extension, the prime minister,” Lucki said at committee.

Lucki said that while she may have used the word “promise” in a call with officers following the press conference, she did not make a formal promise to government officials about the sort of information the RCMP would reveal.

She said that communications between Nova Scotia RCMP and herself were not up to standard and expressed regret about how she handled the call with her subordinates.

RCMP under public pressure to reveal shooting details: Blair, Lucki

In his testimony, Blair denied ever asking Lucki to pressure the RCMP to make public the weapons used.

“I did not ask the RCMP commissioner to reveal that information, nor did she promise she would do so,” Blair said.

He added that the RCMP was under public pressure to reveal more information about the massacre, which claimed 22 lives and was the deadliest in Canadian history.

Lucki said the government did press her for more details about the shooting,

“Was there pressure from the federal government for information about this incident? Yes,” she said, adding that it wasn’t surprising given the gravity of the event.

But Lucki said more pressure to reveal information came from the media than from the government.

“The only inappropriate pressure was the media,” Lucki said.

“We were getting criticized by the media at every angle for the lack of timely information.”

Blair repeatedly denied the suggestion that any pressure came from him.

Lia Scanlan, the former communications director for the Nova Scotia RCMP, said in a letter released publicly last month that Lucki was under pressure after conversations with Blair.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government did not put any “undue” pressure on the RCMP.

Blair refused to answer questions about why the prime minister’s comments on the matter differ from his.

RCMP members escort the hearse at a regimental memorial service on June 29, 2022 for Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in the line of duty during the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The controversy has raised questions about how much influence the federal government should have over the RCMP commissioner.

The RCMP Act states the RCMP commissioner “has the control and management of the force and all matters connected with the force” but “under the direction of the minister [of public safety].”

Blair said he knows where the line is when it comes to politicians directing police operations, citing his career as a police officer and his decade as Toronto police chief.

“It’s a line of which I’m quite familiar. I spent many years as a police chief,” Blair told the committee, saying he would never try to influence or direct a police investigation.

Former RCMP official says Lucki unusually angry in call

Lee Bergerman, a retired assistant commissioner of the RCMP, was on the April 28 call with Lucki. She told the committee Lucki’s behaviour during the call was uncharacteristic.

“[When] the commissioner started the conversation, it was evident she was very angry at my team. The tone of her voice and what she said to all of us made it apparent she was not happy, she felt disrespected and disobeyed,” Bergerman said.

“I don’t think the commissioner realized the impact the words had on our staff.”

Like Campbell, Bergerman recalled Lucki saying that she had made a promise to the minister of public safety about the information police would reveal.

Sharon Tessier, the RCMP’s director general of national communication at the time (now retired), told the committee she was the one who relayed the incorrect information from Nova Scotia RCMP to Lucki.

Bergerman said Lucki’s frustration with the miscommunication is understandable but added that the situation should never have happened in the first place because it violated RCMP protocol.

“It should have never been shared with [Lucki] that we were going to release details about the weapons and calibres. She should have never been told that,” Bergerman said.

Bergerman agreed with Campbell that publicly releasing information about the gunman’s weapons might have compromised an active investigation, since police had not yet interviewed many witnesses.

“It would be detrimental to that investigation to have that [information] out in the public, for potential witnesses to hear all this information, without first getting the information from that witness,” Bergerman said.

In an interview with the Mass Casualty Commission released today, Supt. Campbell said he was “shocked” by Lucki’s tone in the April 28, 2020 conference call.

“The commissioner essentially said that we, meaning those of us in the room that were part of all of this, didn’t understand that you know, this is about the legislation, and this legislation would make officers and the public safer,” Campbell said in an interview with the commission on July 12.

RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell was the support services officer at the time of the shootings, the third-highest ranking Mountie in Nova Scotia. In a newly released interview, Campbell said he walked out of a call with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki early after it was clear Lucki was disappointed he didn’t reveal information about the guns in the shooter’s possession. (CBC)

Campbell said he wasn’t told in advance that RCMP headquarters wanted information about the firearms released in the media briefing. Campbell said once Lucki’s disappointment became apparent in the call, he argued that releasing the information could undermine the criminal investigation.

After feeling that he wasn’t being heard, Campbell said, he decided to walk out of the meeting early.

“I do remember telling Chris Leather and the [commanding officer], Lee Bergerman, that I would be writing notes about this because I was concerned that if these details were forced out, that would have an impact on the investigation and that would have an impact on the families,” Campbell said in the interview.

Committee members passed a motion to call several other witness to testify at the committee at a date to be determined later, including Campbell and Scanlan.