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Blair insists he 'did not ask' RCMP to release information about N.S. shooting guns

OTTAWA — Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair is sticking to his stance that he did not interfere in a police investigation into the Nova Scotia mass shooting of April 2020.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair waits to appear before the standing committee on Public Safety and National Security on allegations of political interference in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation, in Ottawa, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair is sticking to his stance that he did not interfere in a police investigation into the Nova Scotia mass shooting of April 2020.

Blair, who was public safety minister at the time, told a House of Commons committee Monday that he has never directed police to disclose information pertaining to an investigation, including in this case.

"I did not ask them to release any specific information," he said during the committee meeting.

"The independence of police operations is a principle that I have not only respected but vigorously defended over my nearly four decades in law enforcement, and throughout my subsequent career as a federal member of Parliament and minister."

The Opposition Conservatives have called for the resignation of Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki following the recent release of recordings of a tense conference call between Lucki and senior staff in Nova Scotia. 

During that April 28, 2020, meeting, Lucki said she understood the police force couldn't release certain details about the investigation into how a gunman killed 22 people during a 13-hour rampage. 

However, she told officers in Halifax she was frustrated upon learning that the speaking notes used for an RCMP news conference earlier that day did not include basic information about the killer's firearms. 

During the call, she said that her desire to publicly share these basic facts was in response to a request she received from a minister's office, though she did not specify which minister or the exact nature of the request.

Appearing at the Commons committee Monday, Lucki recalled that Blair's chief of staff at the time had asked if information about the guns would be included in the news conference.

"There was no political interference. I was neither asked, directed nor pressured by government officials to release information specific to the firearms used by the perpetrator in these horrific attacks," Lucki said.

"I did not interfere in the investigation. I did not receive direction."

During the April 28 conference call, Lucki said she "felt completely disrespected" by the fact that she was told that RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell was going to talk about the guns used during the shooting spree in his speaking notes, "and it wasn't there."

"I don't know what happened, but I think we have to do better.'' 

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho suggested to Lucki on Monday that the recording of the call makes it clear that the issue was very important to her. "It was a big deal to you, wasn't it? That's why you called that meeting."

Lucki said 90 per cent of the call was about issues regarding the flow of information from the start of the horrible incident. "There were several requests for several different kinds of information that I wasn't receiving in a timely manner. Some of the information wasn't completely accurate."

Campbell's handwritten notes from the April 28 call, released in June, sparked allegations of political interference because they indicated Lucki had assured Blair and the Prime Minister's Office that the RCMP would release information about the firearms in a bid to support the government's coming gun-control legislation.

While both Lucki and Blair have consistently denied that there was any political pressure, the recordings indicate Lucki was conscious of the federal gun-control efforts.

"Does anybody realize what's going on in the world of handguns and guns right now?'' Lucki asked Mounties on the call. "The fact that they're in the middle of trying to get a legislation going. The fact that the legislation is supposed to actually help police.''

In May of that year, shortly after the call took place, the Liberal government banned some 1,500 models and variants of firearms, including the AR-15 and Ruger Mini-14, through an order-in-council on the grounds they have no place in hunting or sport shooting.

New Democrat MP Alistair MacGregor suggested Monday to Blair that it would be logical to infer the "request" from his chief of staff to Lucki was tied to creating a public narrative related to the coming ban on firearms.

Blair responded that "it was no secret that our government had made a commitment" to introduce new gun-control measures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press