Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told a House of Commons committee Monday that they did not interfere in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia.
“Let me begin, and let me be clear. I did not interfere in the investigation around this tragedy,” Lucki told members of the House of Commons public safety and national security committee.
“Specifically, I was not directed to publicly release information about weapons used by the perpetrator to help advance pending gun control legislation.”
Controversy erupted last month when the Mass Casualty Commission probing the tragedy released documents that included handwritten notes by RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell. Those notes allege Lucki tried to get investigators to publicly reveal the weapons the gunman used.
The notes also say Lucki indicated she promised Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release this information, and that this was tied to pending gun control legislation intended to make officers and the public safer.
Campbell’s notes suggest the government wanted the information public to further its gun control agenda. Shortly after the tragedy, the government introduced legislation to ban 1,500 types of assault-style firearms.
Lucki told the committee the controversy was the result of a miscommunication between herself and Nova Scotia RCMP.
Ahead of a RCMP news conference on April 28, 2020, Lucki said, federal government officials asked her which items of information police would reveal in the briefing.
“I provided information to the government about what would be released,” Lucki told committee members.
“At that time, I was asked if the information about the weapons would be included. When my communications team told me that it would be, I relayed this information back to Minister Blair’s chief of staff and the deputy minister of Public Safety.”
But Nova Scotia RCMP later told Lucki that information about the guns would not be revealed at the news conference.
“I felt I had misinformed the minister and, by extension, the prime minister,” Lucki said at committee.
Lucki said that while she may have used the word “promise” in a call with officers following the press conference, she did not make a formal promise to government officials about the sort of information the RCMP would reveal.
She said that communications between Nova Scotia RCMP and herself were not up to standard and expressed regret about how she handled the call with her subordinates.
RCMP under public pressure to reveal shooting details: Blair, Lucki
In his testimony, Blair denied ever asking Lucki to pressure the RCMP to make public the weapons used.
“I did not ask the RCMP commissioner to reveal that information, nor did she promise she would do so,” Blair said.
He added that the RCMP was under public pressure to reveal more information about the massacre, which claimed 22 lives and was the deadliest in Canadian history.
Lucki said the government did press her for more details about the shooting,
“Was there pressure from the federal government for information about this incident? Yes,” she said, adding that it wasn’t surprising given the gravity of the event.
But Lucki said most of the pressure to reveal more information came from the media.
Blair repeatedly denied that any pressure came from him.
Lia Scanlan, the former communications director for the Nova Scotia RCMP, said in a letter released publicly last month that Lucki was under pressure after conversations with Blair.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government did not put any “undue” pressure on the RCMP.
Blair refused to answer questions about why the prime minister’s comments on the matter differ from his.
The controversy has raised questions about how much influence the federal government should have over the RCMP commissioner.
The RCMP Act states the RCMP commissioner “has the control and management of the force and all matters connected with the force” but “under the direction of the minister [of public safety].”
Blair said he knows where the line is when it comes to politicians directing police operations, citing his career as a police officer and his decade as Toronto police chief.
“It’s a line of which I’m quite familiar. I spent many years as a police chief,” Blair told the committee, saying he would never try to influence or direct a police investigation.