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Former police watchdog head denies directing RCMP not to reveal N.S. shooter’s guns

Click to play video: 'Bill Blair denies receiving ‘assurances’ from RCMP to release N.S. mass shooting weapons' Bill Blair denies receiving ‘assurances’ from RCMP to release N.S. mass shooting weapons
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair appeared on Monday before the House of Commons public safety committee to testify on the government’s interference into an RCMP investigation of Nova Scotia 2020 mass shooting. Blair denied his office received “assurances” from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki that the types of weapons used in the shooting will be publicly released. “She didn’t make any promise to me,” Blair said – Jul 25, 2022

The former director of Nova Scotia’s police watchdog denies telling the RCMP not to release a list of the weapons seized from the gunman who murdered 22 people in April 2020.

Pat Curran — who led the Serious Incident Response Team at the time of the shootings — says he “gave no directives to the RCMP” about the five firearms Gabriel Wortman had in his possession when he was killed by police at a gas station on April 19.

Read more: Mountie has ‘impression’ Liberal government interfered with N.S. mass shooting probe

That contradicts statements made by RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather and retired assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman on Monday to a parliamentary committee investigating alleged political interference in the case.

Leather told the House of Commons public safety committee that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki called him directly on April 22 to ask for a weapons inventory.

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The next day, he sent the list to Bergerman, who passed it on to Lucki.

“We have permission to release internally. Getting it sent now, you should have it soon,” an email from Bergerman to Lucki, Leather and Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan read on April 23.

Emails show that Lucki sent the list to then-public safety minister Bill Blair’s office with the caution that it should not be shared beyond the minister and the Prime Minister’s Office, as it was part of the ongoing investigation.

Click to play video: 'N.S. shooting victims’ family members pleased to hear RCMP take accountability' N.S. shooting victims’ family members pleased to hear RCMP take accountability
N.S. shooting victims’ family members pleased to hear RCMP take accountability – Jul 27, 2022

On April 24, the prime minister was given the list of firearms and information about where they came from, according to a briefing note released through access-to-information legislation.

But Leather and Bergerman told the committee they don’t think Lucki should have shared the information, and cited the Serious Incident Response Team investigation as the reason.

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“That was the agreement and the commitment that we made to the director of SIRT,” Leather said.

Conservative members of the committee seized on the testimony Monday as further evidence that Lucki was being pressured by the federal government.

“We have on one side the operations people, the criminal investigators, who are saying, `do not release this information,’ and we have a commissioner who took the information and did with it what she wanted to, that’s what it seems to me,” said Conservative MP Stephen Ellis.

“Under pressure, of course, from the politicians. Minister Blair, perhaps.”

Members of the Nova Scotia RCMP have said they believe Lucki was under pressure from the federal government to ensure police released the type of weapons involved, as the Liberals were preparing to announce a new ban on assault-style rifles.

Those allegations surround a meeting Lucki called on April 28, 2020. Bergerman and Leather, who were in the meeting, described her as angry and say she told them she promised the minister the information would be released, and that it was tied to gun control legislation.

Lucki told the committee she confirmed to Blair that weapons information would be released at a press conference that day. She said she called the meeting because she was frustrated with the poor communication from Nova Scotia RCMP with her office and with the public.

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In April 2020, the Serious Incident Response Team was called to investigate the RCMP’s fatal shooting of the gunman. Leather told the committee it “had primacy on that investigation.”

Read more: Early details of N.S. mass shooting not ‘consistent’ with reality: senior Mountie

But it was the RCMP who seized the five firearms, according to their own records.

“The weapons located in the vehicle operated by the shooter were relevant to the RCMP’s investigations of the mass shootings,” Curran said in an email to The Canadian Press. “I played no role in those investigations and gave no directives to the RCMP concerning them.”

Leather has also been testifying before the public inquiry into the shooting spree in Nova Scotia this week. He told the inquiry on Wednesday that Curran told him during the April 23 call, “that it was fine to provide the inventory internally and secondly, to obtain it not from SIRT directly” but from within the RCMP.

“On April 27, 2020, the RCMP provided SIRT with descriptions of the weapons found in the vehicle operated by the shooter,” Curran wrote in an email.

“Up to that point SIRT had no information with which to prepare an inventory of those weapons, had it wanted or been asked to do so.”

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It was days later, on May 1, that Justin Trudeau and Blair announced a ban on some 1,500 types of assault-style weapons.

Details about the firearms Wortman had that weekend and how he obtained them were not released by the RCMP or the government, and only came to light through news reports in November 2020. He did not have a firearms licence, and smuggled a number of semi-automatic weapons from Maine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2022.

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