Politics

Top Mountie denies claim she interfered in N.S. shooting investigation

Emergency Management Minister Bill Blair says no one from the federal government pressured or directed RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to release information about the weapons used in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting to boost support for a new gun control law.

Conservatives accusing Liberals of using the deaths of Canadians to push political agenda

A memorial in front of the RCMP detachment on April 20, 2020, in Enfield, Nova Scotia, honours RCMP Constable Heidi Stevenson, who was one of 22 people killed during the shooting rampage. (Tim Krochak/Getty Images)

The head of the RCMP is denying a claim by a fellow Mountie that she tried to direct the information investigators released as part of their probe into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

That allegation was contained in handwritten notes from Nova Scotia RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell which were released Tuesday as part of the Mass Casualty Commission probe.

The commission is investigating the April 18-19, 2020, rampage that claimed the lives of 22 people — including a pregnant woman — and left several people injured and several homes destroyed. The commission released a report Tuesday on the way the RCMP and government communicated with the public about the incident.

In those notes, Campbell wrote that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was upset that the RCMP in Nova Scotia was not revealing more information about the weapons used because she had promised the federal government — which was considering gun control legislation at the time — that they would raise it.

"As a police officer, and the RCMP commissioner, I would never take actions or decisions that could jeopardize an investigation. I did not interfere in the ongoing investigations into the largest mass shooting in Canadian history," Lucki wrote in a statement released Tuesday evening.

WATCH Did Ottawa try to interfere in the investigation?

Did the government try to interfere in an RCMP investigation of the Nova Scotia mass shooting?

4 days ago
Duration 11:02
A report released by a public inquiry into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting suggests RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki had promised the government to release information regarding the firearms used in the tragedy. MPs Taleeb Noormohamed and Raquel Dancho weigh in.

Lucki did not address the claim that she was pushing for the release of more information to help the Liberals' plans for gun control. She did say briefings with the minister of public safety are necessary, particularly during a mass shooting.

"This is standard procedure, and does not impact the integrity of ongoing investigations or interfere with the independence of the RCMP," she wrote.

"I take the principle of police independence extremely seriously, and it has been and will continue to be fully respected in all interactions."

Mountie feared release would 'jeopardize' investigation 

The allegation stems from an April 24, 2020 news conference. During that event, Campbell told reporters the gunman had two semi-automatic handguns and two semi-automatic rifles. He would not offer more details but said that some of the guns might have come from the United States and the Canada Border Services Agency was assisting with the investigation.

"The commissioner was obviously upset. She did not raise her voice but her choice of words was indicative of her overall dissatisfaction with our work," Campbell wrote after meeting with Lucki a few days later. His handwritten notes describing that meeting became part of the commission's investigation.

"The Commissioner said she had promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister's Office that the RCMP (we) would release this information," Campbell continued. "I tried to explain there was no intent to disrespect anyone, however we could not release this information at this time. The Commissioner then said that we didn't understand, that this was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and the public safer."

Then-Public Safety minister Bill Blair speaks with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki as they wait to appear before a Commons committee on February 27, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In the spring of 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on some 1,500 firearm makes and models, including two of the guns used in the Nova Scotia mass shooting — a Colt Law Enforcement Carbine, a semi-automatic weapon, and a Ruger Mini-14.

At that time, police had not released the specific makes and models used in the attacks. That information didn't become public until the fall of 2020, when the National Post reported details of the weapons after obtaining a briefing note prepared for the prime minister after the shooting.

Campbell said he told the RCMP Strategic Communications Unit not to release information about the firearms because it might hamper the investigation.

"I said we couldn't because to do so would jeopardize ongoing efforts to advance the U.S. side of the case as well as the Canadian components of the investigation," he wrote.

"Those are facts and I stand by them."

Of the meeting with Lucki, Campbell wrote that some in the room "were reduced to tears and emotional over this belittling reprimand."

In her statement, Lucki said she regrets her behaviour in that meeting.

WATCH | Victims' families lash out at N.S. shooting inquiry: 

Angry victims’ families heard at N.S. shooting inquiry

4 days ago
Duration 4:57
Family members of the N.S. shooting victims expressed their frustration about how the RCMP handled telling them about what happened to their loved ones. Meanwhile, a report questioned whether the RCMP's top cop interfered with the release of some information because of promises to the Prime Minister's Office.

"Several days after the mass shooting, I met with Nova Scotia RCMP colleagues to discuss a number of things. This included the flow of information to RCMP National Headquarters on the investigation and the public release of information. It was a tense discussion, and I regret the way I approached the meeting and the impact it had on those in attendance," she said.

"My need for information should have been better weighed against the seriousness of the circumstances they were experiencing. I should have been more sensitive in my approach. Had I led the meeting differently, these employees would have felt more supported during what I know was an extremely difficult time."

Blair denies pressuring top Mountie

During a fiery round of questioning in the House of Commons Tuesday, Conservative MP Stephen Ellis accused Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair — who was public safety minister at the time — of using the deaths of Canadians to push the Liberals' political agenda.

Blair denied the allegation.

"The commissioner of the RCMP has confirmed for the commission that no such direction or pressure was ever exerted by me or by any other member of this government," he said.

The Conservatives continued to raise the issue during question period Tuesday, and Blair kept replying that the RCMP commissioner's police operations are independent of the government.

"Among the more important work of the Mass Casualty Commission is to examine the important communication challenges that were evident during this tragic event. We look forward to fact-based findings and recommendations for improvement," Blair said.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Blair denied the minister had any involvement in RCMP decisions.

"At no time during his tenure … did Minister Blair or his office direct the RCMP in any of their operational decisions, including during and immediately following the tragic events in April 2020," the statement reads.

"The decision of what information to publicly disclose regarding any investigation, as with all operational matters, is taken solely at law enforcement's discretion."

The commission investigation has not released any notes from Lucki. She is expected to be called as a witness next month. 

"The RCMP continues to be an active participant in the MCC. I will be providing testimony in the coming weeks, and the RCMP will continue to support the Commission's important work," Lucki's statement says.

The Liberals last month tabled Bill C-21, which would impose a national freeze on the purchase, sale, importation and transfer of handguns in Canada.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

With files from Elizabeth McMillan

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