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Inquiry releases recordings of heated RCMP meeting after Nova Scotia mass shooting

HALIFAX — The inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting has released partial recordings of a tense RCMP meeting at the centre of allegations of political interference into the Mounties' investigation of the massacre.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, front, arrives for a change of command ceremony for incoming B.C. RCMP Commanding Officer, Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, in Langley, B.C., Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. The inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting today released partial recordings of a tense RCMP meeting that is at the centre of allegations of political interference into the police investigation of the massacre. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

HALIFAX — The inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting has released partial recordings of a tense RCMP meeting at the centre of allegations of political interference into the Mounties' investigation of the massacre.

In recordings made on April 28, 2020 — nine days after the killings — RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki says she understands the police force can't release certain details about the investigation into how a lone gunman killed 22 people during a 13-hour rampage.

"I respect the protocol around keeping certain information back so that you keep the integrity of the witnesses," Lucki said during the conference call with senior officers and staff from Nova Scotia and Ottawa. "I've been involved in those kind of investigations."

But she goes on to say she felt frustrated when she learned the speaking notes used for an RCMP news conference earlier that day did not include basic information about the killer's weapons.

"I felt completely disrespected by the fact that I was told that (RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell) was going to talk about the guns in his speaking notes, and it wasn't there," Lucki said. "I don't know what happened, but I think we have to do better."

Lucki said 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.

"I flew it up the flagpole because it was a request that I got from the minister's office," she said. "And I shared with the minister that in fact it was going to be in the news releases, and it wasn't."

There are three recordings in all, capturing almost 24 minutes of conversation. It is not clear whether the recordings released Thursday represent the entirety of what was said that day.

At one point during the meeting, the RCMP's director of media relations, Dan Brien, said the Mounties' "command triangle" and Campbell were not comfortable with releasing the make and model of each weapon, but he said they had agreed to use the phrase "semi-automatic handguns (and) what can be considered assault weapons."

Lia Scanlan, director of strategic communications for the Nova Scotia RCMP, took responsibility for failing to include that description in Campbell's statement. "I will own the fact that that was not included or adjusted in his remarks," she told Lucki during the call.

Though references to semi-automatic or assault weapons were not included Campbell's statement, the senior Mountie did use a similar description in response to a reporter’s question. But that wasn't good enough for Lucki.

"What I don't get is that I was told that there was a certain line that was going to be used, it was eventually used in a question ... but I was expecting it to be part of the narrative that went forward," Lucki said. "And it was only by fluke. Had the question not been asked, nothing about the guns would have been mentioned."

Campbell's handwritten notes from the meeting, released June 21, prompted allegations of political interference because they indicated Lucki had assured then-public safety minister Bill Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release information about the firearms in a bid to support the government's pending gun control legislation.

Both Lucki and Blair have denied that any political pressure was applied before the meeting in question. But it is clear from the recordings that the legislation was on Lucki's mind.

"Does anybody realize what’s going on in the world of handguns and guns right now?" Lucki asked those on the call after Scanlan admitted to her mistake. "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."

Campbell's notes fuelled a political firestorm in Ottawa, where public hearings were held last summer to determine if there was any political interference with the national police force.

During his testimony, Campbell said he understood that the purpose of the meeting on April 28, 2020, "was to allow the commissioner to express her disappointment with the fact that I did not relay specific or detailed information about the firearms used by Gabriel Wortman."

At no time during the recorded meeting does Lucki ask for the public release of detailed information.

Aside from the debate over the weapons, Lucki scolded her colleagues for mishandling public communications in the days after the killings in northern and central Nova Scotia.

"To watch the media chew us up, eat us up and spit us out, 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," she said. Lucki said she had to apologize to a federal minister and the prime minister after the Nova Scotia RCMP failed to deliver a chronology of the tragic events with an accompanying map by a set deadline in the week following the shooting.

"It’s disheartening for me to try to manage the RCMP, which is bigger than Nova Scotia, and try to at least give the prime minister a bit of information before he hears it on the news. That's kind of a normal course of events, and yet we couldn’t do that," Lucki said.

At one point Scanlan, in response to a question from Lucki, said she did not have a meeting with the "command triangle" in charge of the investigation until five days after the shooting began. Lucki said Scanlan should have met with them the day after the shooting stopped.

The recordings did not come to light until September of this year, when RCMP Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan told the federal-provincial inquiry in Halifax that RCMP media relations director Dan Brien had recorded portions of the meeting. Brennan told the inquiry he learned of the recordings in April or May, but he said he believed they no longer existed.

Meanwhile, the RCMP released a statement Thursday saying briefings with the public safety minister are necessary, particularly during significant events.

"This is standard procedure, and does not impact the integrity of ongoing investigations or interfere with the independence of the RCMP," the statement said, adding that Lucki stands by previous statements she has made about the meeting on April 28, 2020.

A spokesperson for Blair, who is now minister of emergency preparedness, said in a statement that while the minister was regularly briefed about the Nova Scotia shootings, decisions on what information to release were always at the RCMP’s discretion.

"At no time did Minister Blair or his office direct the RCMP in any of their operational decisions, including during and immediately following the tragic events in April 2020, and in regards to releasing which weapons were used during the mass casualty event," the statement said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2022.

— With files from Jim Bronskill in Ottawa.

Michael MacDonald and Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press