RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is vowing to “change the future” within the RCMP after intense scrutiny over its response to the largest mass shooting in Canadian history.
She made the promise while testifying at the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission, an independent public inquiry tasked with providing recommendations after a gunman, driving a replica police car, killed 22 people in a 13-hour rampage in April 2020.
“I can’t undo the past, but I surely can change the future,” Lucki told one of the lawyers representing families of the victims.
“You have my commitment.”
Lucki’s comment was in response to questions from Josh Bryson, the lawyer representing the family of Portapique victims Peter and Joy Bond, about what the RCMP intends to implement to avoid repeating the mistakes that brought them under fire during the 2020 mass shooting — including a failure to secure the crime scene for 18 hours and 45 minutes.
The RCMP commissioner testified before the commission Wednesday for the second day in a row, where she’s faced questions about the RCMP’s controversial response to the mass casualty.
The Nova Scotia RCMP has come under fire for a number of decisions made during the shooting, including failing to immediately specify that there was an active shooter when the force warned residents in Portapique in a tweet that they had received a “firearms complaint” and people should stay inside.
Despite a series of 911 calls and eyewitness accounts that night, the RCMP also failed to inform the public that the perpetrator was driving a replica police cruiser until the following day.
Members of the N.S. RCMP have also criticized Lucki, alleging that she pressured them to release firearms information in the wake of the shooting — and that the push was politically motivated due to looming Liberal firearm legislation.
Both Lucki and then-public safety minister Bill Blair have denied the allegation.
Meanwhile, Lucki pledged on Wednesday not to wait until the conclusion of the inquiry to begin implementing institutional changes within the RCMP.
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“I have people that are going to take notes of my testimony. When I say you have my commitment, I know they’re writing this down. They’re going to be tasking it,” she told Bryson.
“It’s fine for something to happen, maybe once, but when it starts repeating itself, there’s something fundamentally wrong.”
When pressed for details about what concrete changes are already in the process of being made on issues like training, Lucki said they are “not yet” implemented.
“I’m a big believer that the things you measure get done,” she said, adding that the feedback and implementation will be “tracked.”
One of the ideas Lucki floated was having an analyst available during major incidents where lots of information — some of it conflicting — is flowing in.
“How do you deal with massive amounts of information? Usually, in an event, there’s not multiple crime scenes,” Lucki explained.
“I can’t imagine how they would deal with … all of this information coming in. Even telecoms would be segregated.”
She said analysts “are trained to deal with massive amounts of information and work through it.”
During Wednesday’s hearings, Lucki also faced difficult questions about the RCMP’s actions during and immediately after the mass shooting.
In a statement to the Mass Casualty Commission a year ago, Gina Goulet’s family said they felt neglected by the RCMP after their loved one was killed — and it took “days” for family members to receive confirmation of Gina’s death.
The Goulet family’s lawyer pressed Lucki on whether the RCMP’s handling of the murder — and their delay in securing the crime scene — met the commissioner’s expectations.
“Nobody would do that intentionally. It doesn’t make it right, though,” Lucki responded.
When pressed for a specific answer, Lucki added that it “doesn’t appear that they met my expectations.”
Lucki also faced questions from the National Police Federation, the union representing the RCMP, which pressed her on whether the RCMP’s top brass provided sufficient support to the officers who responded to the tragedy.
The commissioner replied that officers who responded to the mass shooting were engaged in an act of “sheer heroism.”
Criticism the force has faced over their handling of the tragedy, Lucki added, has been difficult for the individual officers to endure.
“Many feel we did not meet their expectations. There’s always things we can do better,” Lucki said.
“We will look at this incident…but that doesn’t change the trauma. Actually, all of this just adds to the trauma of what they went through. To put their best foot forward and to be criticized.”
While she defended the officers who responded on the ground in Nova Scotia that day, Lucki acknowledged that holding the RCMP to account is “important” and affirmed that changes will be made where it’s possible to make them.
“I don’t think we were what you wanted us to be or what you needed us to be,” she said, speaking in a room full of relatives of the victims of the mass shooting.
“I wish that we could have been more, and we could have been different.”
Lucki said she is “committed” to make the RCMP’s response better, stronger, more efficient” and will “provide the tools and training” the RCMP members would need to deal with a repeat of the N.S. mass shooting — if a similar crime ever happens again.
“These recommendations, any of the ones that we can implement, we will implement,” Lucki said.
“It’s bigger than Nova Scotia. Because this could happen anywhere.”