The Mountie in charge of the investigation into the Nova Scotia mass shooting says it was a “no-brainer” for him to withhold details of the killer’s guns nine days after the rampage.
Chief Supt. Darren Campbell was testifying today before the public inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020, murders of 22 people by a gunman driving a replica police vehicle.
According to notes from Campbell tabled earlier as evidence, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki criticized him for not providing the gun details during an April 28 press conference, saying she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office the information would be released in connection with “pending gun control legislation.”
The superintendent’s notes prompted opposition parties to accuse the federal Liberals of meddling in an active investigation in order to advance a gun control law that was being prepared at the time.
Campbell told the inquiry that as a veteran homicide investigator, he was firmly opposed to releasing information about the guns possessed by the killer, Gabriel Wortman.
Some gun control experts have argued the release wouldn’t have had a significant impact on the investigation and would have allowed for public debate on the necessity of added gun control.
However, Campbell testified that releasing details about the semi-automatic weapons, such as their colour, type, serial numbers, calibre and additions to the weapons, would have closed down avenues for a criminal probe.
He said he had spoken to the investigators involved and they’d agreed not to release the details.
“For me, simply, the way I could put it is: It was a no-brainer,” he said.
“We were nine days post the April 18 and 19 events. We were still involved in multi-agency investigations … with the objectives of determining what role Gabriel Wortman played, as well as (the role of) any individual who may have assisted him in any way,” said Campbell.
He said police can assess the credibility of an individual’s evidence about the guns if they could ask the witness questions about details like calibre and type of arms, and see if they in fact were knowledgeable about these details.
He also said that if, during a covert operation, somebody confessed to aiding Wortman obtain the weapons, and the details of the weapons hadn’t been widely publicized, then officers could assess the truth of that confession.
Campbell didn’t reveal the details of weaponry at the time, which only emerged after the National Post obtained them through an access to information request in November that year.
The officer became involved in the response on the night of April 18, 2020, as killings began in Portapique, N.S., and he remained involved as the killer continued his rampage the next day before being shot by police.
He approved deploying a critical incident commander to the scene at 10:46 p.m. on the first night and stayed in contact with RCMP officers on-site as the killer drove a replica police car through the province.
The inquiry’s lawyer, Rachel Young, asked Campbell about the failure of the RCMP to interview two eyewitnesses to the shooting until about seven hours after it started, and incorrect assumptions made about the replica vehicle being unmarked — despite an initial witness describing it as a marked RCMP vehicle.
The superintendent agreed with the commission’s lawyer that communication of initial evidence on that night could have been improved.
He said he favours a system where officers overseeing a response to a mass shooting could review and re-listen to statements of witnesses, rather than relying on memory and potentially losing track of what was originally said.
He said the failure to interview two people whom the killer had fired at until the next morning, at about 5 a.m., may have been due to concern for the health of Andrew MacDonald, who had been wounded.
Campbell led the RCMP’s investigation into the incident, and was the public face of the RCMP during news conferences in the weeks after the rampage.
He is also scheduled to testify before the House of Commons public safety committee, which is exploring whether there was political interference as the RCMP investigated what happened.
Campbell, who was a superintendent at the time, has since been promoted to chief superintendent of the RCMP division in New Brunswick.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2022.