Recordings show RCMP commissioner didn’t ‘promise’ to release info about N.S. gunman’s firearms

Click to play video: 'Recording released of RCMP head Lucki expressing frustrations after N.S. massacre'
Recording released of RCMP head Lucki expressing frustrations after N.S. massacre
The Mass Casualty Commission in Nova Scotia has released audio recordings of RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki speaking with colleagues days after the 2020 Portapique mass killings. Lucki and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair have both denied political interference in the massacre investigation, but Ross Lord looks at what the recordings do suggest, and the references made to government officials – Oct 20, 2022

Newly released audio recordings of a meeting between RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and several of her subordinates make no mention of a “promise” she allegedly made to politicians to release details about the types of firearms used by the gunman during the Nova Scotia shooting spree.

The phone call, which took place on April 28, 2020, nine days after the killing spree ended, has been at the centre of a political firestorm ever since members of the Nova Scotia RCMP accused Lucki of pressuring them to release details about the gunman’s weapons against their will.

They claimed Lucki told them during the April 28 meeting that she “promised” former public safety minister Bill Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that this information would be shared publicly and that the promise was connected to gun control legislation the Liberals wanted to put forward.

“It was clear during that meeting that the commissioner had said that she had made a promise and that it was tied to the legislation,” RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said during an Aug. 16 parliamentary committee meeting investigating the allegations of political interference.

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The partial audio recordings of the meeting — it’s unclear how much of the meeting is missing from the recordings or why it’s missing — were provided by the Department of Justice, which represents the RCMP, and released Thursday by the public inquiry looking into the killing spree.

The recordings make it clear that Lucki was frustrated with how Nova Scotia RCMP handled communications in the week following the tragedy, which left 22 victims plus the gunman dead.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia shooting inquiry: Trudeau says RCMP, authorities decide what is released'
Nova Scotia shooting inquiry: Trudeau says RCMP, authorities decide what is released

At several points during the call, which lasted about 20 minutes, Lucki said she was “disappointed” that details about the firearms used by the gunman weren’t released to the public after she specifically asked that they be released.

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She also said she felt like Nova Scotia RCMP “dropped the ball” on communications and failed to adequately share information about the killing spree with RCMP headquarters and the public.

At no point during the audio recordings did Lucki say she was ordered or pressured to release details about the gunman’s weapons by anyone in the government — an assertion made by political opponents who’ve accused the Liberals of interfering in a police investigation.

Click to play video: 'Political interference allegations evolve in N.S. shooting inquiry'
Political interference allegations evolve in N.S. shooting inquiry

Lucki has responded to these claims, saying she didn’t promise Trudeau or Blair that the RCMP would release details about the guns used during the killing spree.

“Honestly, I was very frustrated, very disappointed, and I was feeling quite disrespected by what happened today and probably some of the stuff that’s happened this week,” Lucki said during the call.

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During the call, Lucki referenced a series of incidents she believed demonstrated how the Nova Scotia RCMP failed to communicate effectively after the killings.

She said she tried to get a chronology of the shooting spree to share with the government, including the Prime Minister’s Office, but didn’t receive one on time. Lucki said she had to apologize to the public safety minister and planned to apologize to the prime minister because of this failure.

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She also said she received only two updates from Nova Scotia RCMP about their investigation during the nine days after the killing spree ended, adding that it was the “first time” she had to proactively make phone calls to get information about an investigation.

Lucki also said RCMP headquarters in Ottawa repeatedly offered to send additional communications staff to Halifax to help with the response but all of these offers were rejected by Nova Scotia RCMP.

“Everything Commissioner Lucki has said about that meeting has shown to be accurate,” said Adam Rodgers, a criminal defence lawyer In Nova Scotia who’s followed the public inquiry closely.

“There’s no promise. There’s no reference to a promise.”

Allegations of political interference

The political firestorm surrounding Lucki began this summer when the public inquiry looking into the killing spree released details of notes made by Campbell about the April 28 meeting.

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These notes, and subsequent testimony from Campbell before parliament, alleged Lucki was pressured to release information about the firearms.

Campbell’s claim resulted in allegations of political interference from opposition parties in Ottawa, who accused the government of messing with an ongoing police investigation in order to advance its own agenda.

Trudeau and Blair denied these allegations, as did Lucki.

“At no time have I ever interfered operationally or given operational direction to the RCMP in my role as the minister of public safety,” Blair said at a special parliamentary committee meeting in July.

During a portion of the audio recordings of the April 28 meeting, Lucki talks about gun control legislation the Liberals were planning that she believed would help protect police officers in Canada.

Lucki explained during the call how frustrated she was by the fact that the details she wanted released about the weapons weren’t shared with the public.

“When you’re dealing with the biggest mass shooting in the history of Canada it’s not all about us, it’s about the country and it’s about the country getting information,” Lucki said.

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RCMP commissioner vows to do better after N.S. shooting

There are several remarks in the recorded audio that could suggest a request was sent to Lucki by Blair or his office, but it’s unclear what the details of this request were.

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“Flew it up the flagpole because it was a request that I got from the minister’s office. And I shared with the minister that it in fact was going to be in the news release and it wasn’t,” Lucki said at the very beginning of the phone call.

At another point in the conversation, near the end, Lucki said she felt bad because she wasn’t able to “come through for the minister on the simplest of requests.”

It’s unclear from this statement whether the “request” Lucki referred to is a request she received from the minister or a request she made herself to Nova Scotia RCMP to share details about the gunman’s firearms — or even something else.

During a portion of the audio, Lucki said it wasn’t until after she was told by Nova Scotia RCMP that information about the gunman’s firearms would be included in a press briefing that she told the minister’s office these details would be released publicly.

It was after these details weren’t released in that press conference that Lucki appears to have become frustrated enough to call the April 28 meeting to discuss issues she had with RCMP communications. She said at one point during the call that she maybe should have had the meeting earlier in the week to discuss her concerns.

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“To watch what happened last week, to watch the media chew us up, eat us up, and spit us out. And to watch what, or to hear what the minister and the prime minister had to say about the RCMP’s inability to communicate – I will never forget it because I know we’re better than that,” Lucki said.

Criticism of the RCMP

Nova Scotia RCMP have been widely criticized for their response to the killing spree, including criticism from victims’ families.

In the days after the shooting spree, relatives of some of the people killed questioned why the RCMP didn’t issue an emergency alert to warn the public about the gunman.

Some family members, including Nick Beaton, whose pregnant wife Kristen was murdered more than 12 hours after the first 911 calls about the gunman were received, said an emergency alert would have saved lives.

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The public inquiry also heard testimony about a tweet sent by the RCMP roughly an hour after police arrived at the scene of the first killings.

The tweet described the incident as a “firearms complaint” despite the fact that officers at the scene had discovered multiple bodies and burning buildings before the tweet was sent.

Several senior RCMP officers have since told the inquiry they believe that this was an inaccurate representation of the facts and that it didn’t adequately describe the danger the public faced.

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Campbell has also been criticized for his communications after the killing spree.

His actions during a June 4, 2020, press conference are included in a proposed class action lawsuit filed by victims’ families against the RCMP and the province.

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The families claim Campbell and the RCMP misled the public when it said several of the people killed during the attacks weren’t pulled over in their vehicles and shot on the side of the highway while the gunman was driving a mock RCMP cruiser.

Campbell also testified before Parliament in August that at no point during the meeting with Lucki, when he was present, did she mention any concerns other than her concerns about the decision not to release details about the gunman’s firearms.

Transcripts of the recorded meeting show Campbell was present for portions of the phone call when Lucki said she was disappointed that she didn’t get a chronology of the killing spree in time to share with the government and that she had to apologize because of it.

The transcripts also show Campbell was present for portions of the call when Lucki said she offered Nova Scotia RCMP additional communication staff to help with the response and that these offers were rejected.

Campbell also appears to have been present for portions of the meeting, according to the transcripts, where Lucki complained about how poor communications by the RCMP had resulted in unfavourable media coverage.

“She was really trying to convey, I thought, a complaint of overall communication difficulties between Nova Scotia and (RCMP headquarters) ” Rodgers said. “And, you know, it seems like a fair criticism when you listen to it all.”

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The public inquiry is mandated to examine how the RCMP communicated with the public and victims’ families.

The inquiry was supposed to release its final report into the killing spree and its recommendations at the beginning of November. This deadline was pushed back to March 2023 due to delays with the public hearings portion of the inquiry.

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