Legal expert says RCMP should replace husbands of top officers on public inquiry team

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Magazine facing backlash from public, victims’ families after releasing leaked audio
A psychologist says the release of 911 audio from night of the shooting spree in Portapique last April is a “terrible failure.’ A magazine is facing backlash after the audio was leaked. Sarah Ritchie has more. – Jun 4, 2021

The RCMP is reviewing its decision to appoint the husbands of two senior officers to the team tasked with co-ordinating the force’s response to the public inquiry investigating the killing spree that left 22 people dead in April 2020.

The two men — Mike Butcher and Chief Supt. John Robin — are married to RCMP Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman and Chief Supt. Janis Gray, respectively.

Bergerman is the commander of all Nova Scotia RCMP members. She took the lead during the first press conference held by police on April 19, hours after gunman Gabriel Wortman was shot and killed by police at a gas station in Enfield.

Gray leads the Halifax RCMP, which works closely with the Halifax Regional Police.

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Butcher and Robin are part of a team set up to provide information to the public inquiry as it investigates what happened during the killing spree.

The inquiry will examine the actions of the RCMP and other police services on the weekend of the shootings, including the force’s response to the shootings, its communication with the public, and its past interactions with the gunman.

A spokesperson for the RCMP said in a written statement that the team will be overseen by senior leadership in Ottawa and that Butcher and Robin were appointed to the positions after being transferred from other roles within the force.

The RCMP did not directly answer questions about whether the appointments represent a conflict of interest. Instead, they said the force’s conflict of interest policies prevent couples working together in situations where one person reports to the other.

The appointments and the questions of conflict were first reported by Frank Magazine in Halifax.

Expert weighs in

Wayne MacKay, a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, said the appearance of a conflict in this case could be harmful to the RCMP and the commission.

“This is no reflection on the commission itself, it’s more of a reflection on the RCMP and how information, vital information that they have, was fed to the commission,” he said.

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“And that should be another thing that people have full confidence in. They should be confident that the commission had all the evidence available to them to make the correct findings and make the most useful recommendations that they can.”

The RCMP said in a statement that it’s cooperating with the Mass Casualty Commission and “we are not aware of any immediate plans to change current staffing arrangements.”

But MacKay said the RCMP needs to replace Butcher and Robin.

“If there was evidence implicating her spouse or his or her spouse in this case, then that might be something that would put them in a conflict of interest. Now, how would they respond there? We don’t know,” he said.

“I’m not impugning anyone’s integrity or motives. But I think as a matter of appearance and as a matter of optics, it’s not a good situation to have.”

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Garry Clement, the former director of the RCMP’s proceeds of crime unit, said he knows Butcher and Robin personally and believes they will be objective in their work. But given the sensitivity and significance of the public inquiry, he questions why the force decided to appoint them to these positions.

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“I don’t know why the RCMP continually shoots itself in the foot,” Clement said.

“I don’t think a lot of people would see it being an objective process when (the two men) are linked to the senior managers, (who) may or may not be criticized for how they handled certain things.”

There’s no timeline for the RCMP review to be complete.

The Mass Casualty Commission will begin public hearings in late October. It’s required to present an interim report in May 2022 and a final report six months later.

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