RCMP surprised by New Brunswick's concerns about top cop
Letter says Mountie HQ wasn’t told of problems before cabinet minister Ted Flemming triggered removal
The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was caught by surprise last year when the Higgs government asked for the removal of the head of the force's J Division in New Brunswick.
Commissioner Brenda Lucki told the province's public safety minister it was "unfortunate" that no one told her or her senior management team that they had "concerns" about assistant commissioner Larry Tremblay.
"There may have been an opportunity to proactively address some of the issues you've raised," Lucki wrote to then-minister Ted Flemming in a July 29, 2021 letter obtained by CBC News.
Flemming had written to Lucki two weeks earlier, invoking a section of the province's policing contract with the RCMP that allowed him to ask the force to replace Tremblay.
"I do not invoke article 7.4 lightly, and I regret that it has become necessary," Flemming wrote in his July 15 letter.
That section says the minister can request a replacement if the commissioner is convinced "sufficient cause" exists that the head of J division "no longer commands the confidence" of the provincial government.
Flemming's letter opened by saying "as you are aware," Tremblay "no longer commands my confidence" to act on drug crime and be accountable to local communities.
In her response, Lucki said "neither I, nor my management, were aware of any concerns" about Tremblay before Flemming's letter.
The Department of Public Safety turned down an interview request Tuesday. "We have no additional comment on this matter," said spokesperson Geoffrey Downey.
Lucki's letter said she hoped the RCMP could work with the province to reach "a positive resolution that will ensure all parties involved are treated with respect and dignity" without having to invoke Article 7.4.
When CBC first revealed Tremblay's removal last year, J Division spokesperson Angela Chang claimed Article 7.4 hadn't been invoked and Tremblay made a "personal decision" to retire at the end of October.
Chang later withdraw the assertion the article hadn't been invoked.
The RCMP rejected an interview request Tuesday. Spokesperson Robin Percival repeated that Tremblay had made a personal decision to retire effective Oct. 31, 2021.
CBC News obtained Lucki's letter to Flemming this week through an access to information request to the RCMP.
In his letter to Lucki, Flemming complained that Tremblay did not help the Higgs government "drive significant change" in policing, especially on drug crime.
The minister said in an interview last October that J Division was "not having the kind of leadership that we felt we needed" and the situation was "out of control."
He said the province wanted to "declare war" on drug dealers.
Opposition Liberal MLA Rob McKee says Flemming often speaks about the independence of the justice and policing system but his decision to push out Tremblay "demonstrated just the opposite."
"The fact that now it's coming back that he did not even raise concerns with them is even more concerning," McKee said.
"I think this shows that after the fact, Lucki is saying that she felt due process wasn't respected in this case."
The province provided an extra $2.3 million for J Division's crime reduction unit last year to try to reduce drug crime, part of a five year addiction and mental health action plan.
This year's budget added another $3.3 million.
Tremblay was named assistant commissioner of the RCMP for New Brunswick in 2016.
Three days after CBC News revealed Flemming's push to remove him, the RCMP said it had decided "to not proceed" with appointing Chief Superintendent Kevin Leahy, head of the Parliamentary Protective Service in Ottawa, as his replacement.
In January, DeAnna Hill was put in the assistant commissioner's job instead.
Flemming himself was later replaced in the role of public safety minister.
Premier Blaine Higgs shuffled Carleton MLA Bill Hogan into the position in February, saying it would help "ramp up our intensity" in fighting drug crime.
He said it wasn't a reflection on Flemming, who remains attorney general and justice minister.
"I don't think it's a case of Minister Flemming not being able to continue," Higgs said. "I think it's a situation where we're putting an emphasis on public safety and rural communities and communities throughout our province that have continued to face crime issues."
With files from Catharine Tunney