2nd RCMP staffer suggests commissioner under political pressure after N.S. mass shooting

The former head of communications for the Nova Scotia RCMP said it was “appalling” to hear the commissioner of the Mounties bring up federal political pressures in a meeting days following the mass shooting.

New documents released Tuesday by the inquiry into the massacre on April 18-19, 2020, have accounts from three senior staff and officers stating that firearms used by the gunman were brought up in a meeting with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

Lia Scanlan, former communications director for the Nova Scotia RCMP, wrote in a scathing email to Lucki that during the April 28, 2020, meeting she attended with the commissioner and senior Nova Scotia officers, Lucki informed the group of “the pressures and conversation with [then public safety] minister Blair,” which the group clearly understood was related to upcoming gun control legislation.

“I remember a feeling of disgust as I realized this was the catalyst for the conversation,” Scanlan said in her email dated April 14, 2021, about a year after the shooting.

“I could not believe what you, the leader of our organization, was saying and I was embarrassed to be privy to what was unfolding. It was appalling, unprofessional and extremely belittling.”

Lia Scanlan was the head of communications for Nova Scotia RCMP in April 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

On May 4, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on some 1,500 makes and models of guns, including two of the guns used in the Nova Scotia mass shooting. At that time, police had not released the specific makes and models used in the attacks.

Scanlan’s email echoes controversial notes released last week by Supt. Darren Campbell on the same topic. 

Campbell’s allegation that Lucki had made commitments to Trudeau and Blair in advance of new gun control legislation has ignited a political storm in Ottawa and resulted in an upcoming parliamentary hearing to address allegations of potential political interference.

Both Blair and Trudeau have denied doing so and stated the RCMP makes its own decisions about releasing information.

In her email to Lucki, Scanlan said she suspected the April 28 meeting might be about the issue of guns, as she was asked if Campbell could speak about the firearms less than two hours before a press conference he delivered that day.

Before April 28, Scanlan said there had been conversations between the Nova Scotia RCMP team and national headquarters about the calibre of guns used in the shooting, but the Nova Scotia team felt like those details could not be discussed publicly from an investigation standpoint.

Scanlan wrote that within the Nova Scotia division, they had committed to sharing any new information with the victims’ families before the media to prevent them from being re-victimized, and the gun details had not yet been shared with them.

Campbell’s notes also said he felt this information could risk jeopardizing the investigation into how the shooter obtained his weapons.

N.S. reality ‘very different’ from Ottawa: Scanlan

Scanlan wrote that at the time of the Lucki meeting, the Nova Scotia Mounties were dealing with worldwide scrutiny while processing the loss of their colleague Const. Heidi Stevenson, and stories of “unbelievable” terror about the 22 victims.

“Suffice it to say, what we were facing in Nova Scotia, day in and day out, likely looked and felt very different from the vantage point in Ottawa.”

Besides Scanlan’s letter, the commission also released handwritten notes from former assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman, who has since retired from the role she held as the commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, and Chief Supt. Chris Leather, who was the second-in-command in April 2020.

Bergerman’s notes listed who attended the meeting and included the phrase, “angry about lack of detail about guns,” but not who made the comment. Leather’s notes said the meeting with Lucki was about “firearms used,” and noted “adjustment to include firearms information into speaking notes.” He also noted a topic that came up was concern about “information flow.”

Neither Bergerman nor Leather’s notes referenced what Lucki said about Blair.

Michael Scott of Patterson Law, the firm representing the families of most shooting victims, said he was concerned about possible political interference. He said it would be helpful for those in the April 28 meeting to confirm “exactly what was said” to remove any debate on that point.

“Then we’re going to have some real questions about what involvement the RCMP from headquarters in Ottawa had into this investigation, because we would be extremely concerned about using the mass casualty event as some sort of political opportunity,” Scott told reporters at the inquiry Tuesday.

Michael Scott is a lawyer with Patterson Law, whose firm represents more than a dozen families of Portapique victims. (CBC)

The Justice Department held back four crucial pages of Campbell’s notes containing information about the April 28 meeting until four weeks ago when they shared them with the Mass Casualty Commission leading the inquiry. The federal Justice Department has said the pages required assessment for whether they were privileged.

Scott said it was “particularly concerning” that the Mounties hadn’t told the commission about this review of privilege.

“The fact that it’s these four, specifically these four pages, I think speaks for itself,” Scott said.

Last week, Lucki also denied she interfered with the police investigation, but did not address the claim she wanted to release more information in advance of the Liberals’ plan to introduce new gun control legislation in May 2020.

Campbell and Lucki are expected to be called as witnesses at the inquiry late next month. They’ve also been summoned to appear before the parliamentary hearing in Ottawa at the end of July.

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