Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government did not interfere in the investigation into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting.
Earlier this week, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and the former public safety minister pushed back on suggestions they interfered in the probe into Canada’s worst mass shooting in order to push gun control measures.
“Absolutely not. We did not put any undue influence or pressure. It is extremely important to highlight that is only the RCMP, it is only police that determine what and when to release information,” Trudeau told reporters in Rwanda on Thursday, where is he partaking in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
“The commissioner’s statement, the minister’s statement were very clear on that, and yes I still very much have confidence in Commissioner Lucki.”
A report released Tuesday by the inquiry into the massacre revealed notes from a meeting among senior RCMP leadership 10 days after the shooting, in which Lucki said she had promised then-public safety minister Bill Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office that police would release information about the firearms used by the shooter.
According to notes taken by RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell, Lucki said she felt “disobeyed” when those details were not shared, adding that the information “was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”
Lucki later denied she interfered with the investigation and defended her discussions with Blair at the time.
“As a police officer, and the RCMP Commissioner, I would never take actions or decisions that could jeopardize an investigation,” she said in a statement.
“It is important to note that the sharing of information and briefings with the Minister of Public Safety are necessary, particularly during a mass shooting on Canadian soil. This is standard procedure, and does not impact the integrity of ongoing investigations or interfere with the independence of the RCMP.”
Lucki did not address the specific allegations that she had promised Blair and the PMO to release specific information, or that it was tied to government policy.
On Thursday, Trudeau said at the time, everyone in Canada had a lot of questions around what happened in Nova Scotia.
“I had regular briefings on what we knew, what we didn’t know and those answers continue to come out even as the public inquiry’s ongoing so families can actually learn what happened, and we will continue to take responsible action,” he said.
The issue was raised in the House of Commons again on Thursday, where the Conservatives accused the governing Liberals of interfering in an active police investigation. Blair, now the minister of emergency preparedness, insisted no one from the government issued directions to Lucki.
“The Prime Minister’s office, nor the public safety minister’s office, had any role in interfering or pressuring the RCMP to make any operational decisions with respect to the investigation, or in their communications around the investigation,” he said during Question Period.
The report also included comments from the RCMP’s director of strategic communications in Halifax, Lia Scanlan, who told the inquiry that government officials, including Blair and Trudeau, were “weighing in on what we could and couldn’t say” during media briefings. She did not elaborate further.
Less than two weeks after the 2020 shooting, Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 makes and models of “assault-style firearms,” some of which were used by the Nova Scotia shooter.
The inquiry released a report released last month that showed multiple weapons, including two semi-automatic rifles, were found in the stolen rental car the shooter was refuelling when he was shot and killed by RCMP. Even more firearms were uncovered at the gunman’s home.
The weapons were all owned illegally and many were purchased in the United States, the report revealed. The inquiry has heard that the shooter did not have a firearms licence.
The suggestion the government directed Lucki to interfere in the shooting investigation was “very disturbing” — especially if it was meant to further legislation, said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement Tuesday.
The Liberal government most recently unveiled a revamped Bill C-21, which includes a national “freeze” on handguns and other gun control measures, after a string of mass shootings in the U.S. that culminated in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
While Trudeau cited the violence in the U.S. in his announcement, the government has said the bill is meant to tackle rising gun crime in Canada, a majority of which has been fuelled by handguns.
Singh warned in his statement Tuesday against the Conservatives using the revelations out of the inquiry to “score political points” against Bill C-21 and firearms restrictions in general.
— with files from Sean Boynton