Nova Scotia

Senior N.S. Mountie says Ottawa did not act on request for review of mass shooting response

One of the highest-ranking RCMP officers in Nova Scotia at the time of the April 2020 mass shooting, Supt. Darren Campbell, is answering questions about his role and involvement in the force’s response during and after the tragedy.

Supt. Darren Campbell testifying before the public inquiry on Monday and Tuesday

RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell was the support services officer at the time of the shootings, the third-highest ranking Mountie in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

One of the highest-ranking Mounties during the mass shooting in Nova Scotia two years ago requested an independent review of how the incident was handled, but says Ottawa never took action.

Supt. Darren Campbell is testifying Monday before the Mass Casualty Commission leading the public inquiry into the killings on April 18-19, 2020, when a gunman shot and killed 22 people over 13 hours in several communities throughout the province. The victims included a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer. 

Campbell was the support services officer at the time of the shootings, which made him the third-highest ranked Mountie in the province. He handled most of the public briefings after April 19, 2020, and was in charge of bringing in critical incident resources like incident commanders and the emergency response team.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

After Campbell met with key responders and managers who were on during the mass shooting, including retired staff sergeants Jeff West and Kevin Surette, who were the incident commanders, he said he wanted an independent assessment of the Nova Scotia response.

On a "number of occasions" Campbell approached the national unit handling contract and Indigenous policing in Ottawa for this review, he said, which would ideally be done by critical incident commanders from outside the RCMP who had trained through the Canadian Police College.

He wrote a formal letter asking for this review and it went up to the deputy commissioner of the unit, but Campbell said he never received a formal response. Campbell said he got the sense Ottawa was wondering whether a review would be duplicating efforts of the Mass Casualty Commission.

"I was disappointed, because I saw utility and value in having other Canadian critical incident commanders look at what we did to identify what we did properly, and to identify any gaps that could be addressed immediately," Campbell said.

When asked by commission counsel whether he could have launched an internal Nova Scotia RCMP review of the response, Campbell said it's important to go outside of the province to ensure those looking at what happened can be objective.

Campbell said his bosses at the time, Chief Supt. Chris Leather and former commanding officer Lee Bergerman, would have been aware of his request, but he did not know if they supported it or had conversations about it.

Campbell unsatisfied with firearms investigation

Campbell told the commission he is unsatisfied with the investigation into how Gabriel Wortman obtained firearms and brought them into Canada.

"In terms of those that assisted him, I would say for me, personally, I'm not satisfied that we've been able to conclude what I believe the expectations of survivors and victim families would expect and personally, me as a police officer and investigator, what I would wish to accomplish, in terms of the provision of firearms. That is the outstanding element for me."

Campbell confirmed in his testimony that any U.S. investigations into the gunman's acquisition of firearms are now closed.

A CBC News investigation found that at least two people in Maine may have broken U.S. federal laws by helping the gunman obtain firearms.

After police shot and killed the gunman at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., they found five firearms in his possession. Investigators traced three to Houlton, Maine, a town near the New Brunswick border.

Court records and documents released by the commission suggested a longtime friend in the small town gave him one handgun, and that Wortman took another from the man's home. The gunman also arranged to buy a high-powered rifle for cash after attending a gun show there.

Under U.S. law, it is illegal for an American to transfer, sell, trade, give, transport or deliver a firearm to someone they know is not a U.S. resident.

The two remaining guns found in Wortman's possession after his death included Const. Heidi Stevenson's service pistol and a pistol bequeathed to him by his friend, former Fredericton lawyer Tom Evans.

Campbell said while officers are no longer actively investigating the Portapique case, the investigation has not been officially closed, and police will still take action if new information is received.

'You've got to be kidding me'

Campbell testified that a 2011 bulletin flagging the gunman as a possible threat was not intentionally withheld from the public because it could have been seen as embarrassing for the RCMP.

The bulletin, filed by a Truro police officer and distributed to policing agencies in Nova Scotia, warned the gunman "wants to kill a cop" and possessed at least one gun and possibly others stowed in a compartment behind the flue at his cottage in Portapique, N.S.

The RCMP did not disclose or address the bulletin until after the CBC published a story about it after receiving the document through a freedom of information request filed to Truro Police Service.

The commission lawyer, Rachel Young, asked Campbell Monday whether there was reluctance to mention the bulletin because it "might lead to an inference the RCMP could have done more to investigate the perpetrator prior to the events."

Campbell replied that was not the case, saying "there was no intent to not speak to it," and in fact, the bulletin could have generated some investigative leads after the mass casualty by pointing to people who may have known more about the offender.

The commission lawyer pointed to the minutes of a May 14, 2020, meeting of police chiefs in which Campbell notes that staff were working on tracking down the source of the American guns, and that "the timing of that information contained in the bulletin that he had access to weapons and/or he had firearms, you know, the reason why we want to hold back as much detail about that is because of the ongoing investigation."

Campbell said when he learned of the bulletin on April 21, 2020, "My reaction was, you've got to be kidding me, when I saw it. So where was that, and why did we not know about it? That was my reaction to it."

Leather testifying later this week

The commission's outline for this week indicates Campbell's testimony Monday and Tuesday will cover topics including public communications during and after the rampage and other context. 

The force has been widely criticized for not providing information to the public about the gunman's movements in a replica RCMP cruiser in a more timely manner. The Mounties relied on social media to provide updates and didn't notify the public that the gunman was driving a replica police car for more than two hours after confirming the information.

Chief Supt. Chris Leather was the second-highest ranking Mountie in Nova Scotia at the time of the shootings. (CBC)

Families of the victims have also been critical of the information provided to them about their loved ones during and after the shootings.

Campbell's handwritten notes taken during a meeting on April 28, 2020, touched off a political firestorm when they were released by the commission in June. The notes described a conference call with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who berated the Nova Scotia management team for failing to disclose the types of firearms used by the gunman.

Campbell's notes indicated Lucki made a comment about promising the Prime Minister's Office and minister of public safety that information would be released. At the time, the federal Liberal government was getting ready to introduce new gun control legislation. 

The federal opposition parties are accusing Lucki of applying political pressure to the Nova Scotia investigators to help the federal government build its case.

Lucki and former public safety minister Bill Blair will both appear Monday before a House of Commons committee investigating the allegations of political interference.

Leather, the second-highest ranking Mountie in Nova Scotia at the time of the shootings, will also appear before the committee. He is then scheduled to testify before the commission in Nova Scotia on Wednesday and Thursday.

The commission's schedule indicates Leather will be questioned about "internal and inter-agency communication" after the shootings.

MORE TOP STORIES

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now