The RCMP must improve its communications internally and with the public, Commissioner Brenda Lucki testified on Tuesday, adding that even she was kept in the dark in the aftermath of the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting.
“We need to be able to respond. We need to be able to communicate, both within and externally,” Lucki told the public inquiry that is examining how a gunman driving a replica police car carried out 22 murders on April 18-19, 2020.
Lucki said the Nova Scotia RCMP division was too slow and too vague regarding the details it released about the rampage, particularly in the days that followed the killings, as journalists and residents waited until April 28 for the police to fill in details about how the killings took place.
“If they (local RCMP staff) were continually providing information, day to day to day, and when they had it, they may not have had to have one big (news) conference,” Lucki said, adding that she realizes in hindsight that more communications staff should have been sent to assist.
Following the April 28, 2020, news conference, Lucki scolded staff over their decision to withhold detailed information about the semi-automatic guns that the killer used.
Her behaviour during that meeting has sparked accusations of political interference, with some RCMP officers — and federal opposition parties — inferring that Lucki faced direct political pressure from the federal minister of public safety to have the details released as part of the Liberal government’s gun-control agenda. She has repeatedly denied she was directly pressured.
In her testimony, Lucki portrayed the matter as a problem of internal communications — one of several breakdowns of information flow she described during Tuesday’s hearing.
She testified that she was told prior to the April 28, 2020, meeting that the details on the guns would be released. She said she wasn’t told, however, about an email that day to deputy commissioner Brian Brennan, who was informed that RCMP investigators didn’t want the details made public out of fear doing so would harm their case.
“All of this back and forth, I wasn’t aware of,” she testified.
Similarly, Lucki blamed a communications breakdown for the months-long delay in her receiving a report that described plummeting morale among staff at the Nova Scotia RCMP division.
Lucki said it was only in June of this year that she saw the “wellness report” that had been prepared. The report by Ottawa-based consultant group Quintet Consulting Corp. was completed in September 2021.
”I was surprised that it had been out for months, like six to eight months, and I wasn’t aware of it,” Lucki testified.
The report included comments by staff members who said that there were “dysfunctions” at H-Division before the mass shootings and that they felt abandoned by their superiors in the aftermath of the murders. The redacted summary released this week by the inquiry also included confidential interviews describing top regional leaders as “a small clique of officers in a mutually supportive group, with others treated as outsiders.”
Rachel Young, lawyer for the inquiry — called the Mass Casualty Commission — asked Lucki why the report hadn’t been shared with commanding officers in Nova Scotia and hadn’t been acted upon by national headquarters in Ottawa.
“I just think someone dropped the ball or it fell through the cracks among 100 other things,” she said. “How are you going to fix something if you don’t follow through? That needed to be done better.”
Lucki said that as of July, an action plan has been in the works to address the findings in the report.
Moments before the commissioner took the witness stand on Tuesday, the inquiry released a wide-ranging interview she did with inquiry lawyers on Aug. 4, during which she described a desire to make transparency a hallmark of the police force.
“When you talk about culture, our culture is to be less transparent — we hold things in because we can,” she said in the interview.
“We’ve always felt that because things are under investigation, that we can’t release things. That’s not the case anymore. There are things that can be released even within an investigation. We just have to make sure what is being released does not compromise (the investigation).”
The RCMP’s difficulties in swiftly and forthrightly communicating with the public and media during and after the 2020 mass shooting have been revealed in testimony from officers and civilian employees throughout the inquiry.
Lucki told the commission, “we have been doing a lot of work to be more transparent, giving our commanding officers more media training, giving them training so that they can be more forthright in the information instead of saying, `No comment,’ or `I can’t speak about that.”