Senior N.S. Mountie says Ottawa did not act on request for review of mass shooting response

One of the highest-ranking Mounties during the mass shooting in Nova Scotia two years ago requested an independent review of how the incident was handled, but says Ottawa never took action.

Supt. Darren Campbell is testifying Monday before the Mass Casualty Commission leading the public inquiry into the killings on April 18-19, 2020, when a gunman shot and killed 22 people over 13 hours in several communities throughout the province. The victims include a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer. 

Campbell was the support services officer at the time of the shootings, which made him the third-highest ranked Mountie in the province. He handled most of the public briefings after April 19, 2020, and was in charge of bringing in critical incident resources like incident commanders and the emergency response team.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

After Campbell met with key responders and managers who were on during the mass shooting, including retired staff sergeants Jeff West and Kevin Surette, who were the incident commanders, he said he wanted an independent assessment of the Nova Scotia response.

On a “number of occasions” Campbell approached the national unit handling contract and Indigenous policing in Ottawa for this review, he said, which would ideally be done by critical incident commanders from outside the RCMP who had trained through the Canadian Police College.

He wrote a formal letter asking for this review and it went up to the deputy commissioner of the unit, but Campbell said he never received a formal response. Campbell said he got the sense Ottawa was wondering whether a review would be duplicating efforts of the Mass Casualty Commission.

“I was disappointed, because I saw utility and value in having other Canadian critical incident commanders look at what we did to identify what we did properly, and to identify any gaps that could be addressed immediately,” Campbell said.

When asked by commission counsel whether he could have launched an internal Nova Scotia RCMP review of the response, Campbell said it’s important to go outside of the province to ensure those looking at what happened can be objective.

Leather testifying later this week

Campbell said his bosses at the time, Chief Supt. Chris Leather and former commanding officer Lee Bergerman, would have been aware of his request, but he did not know if they supported it or had conversations about it.

The commission’s outline for this week indicates Campbell’s testimony Monday and Tuesday will cover topics including public communications during and after the rampage and other context. 

The force has been widely criticized for not providing information to the public about the gunman’s movements in a replica RCMP cruiser in a more timely manner. The Mounties relied on social media to provide updates and didn’t notify the public that the gunman was driving a replica police car for more than two hours after confirming the information.

Chief Supt. Chris Leather was the second-highest ranking Mountie in Nova Scotia at the time of the shootings. (CBC)

Families of the victims have also been critical of the information provided to them about their loved ones during and after the shootings.

Campbell’s handwritten notes taken during a meeting on April 28, 2020, touched off a political firestorm when they were released by the commission in June. The notes described a conference call with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, who berated the Nova Scotia management team for failing to disclose the types of firearms used by the gunman.

Campbell’s notes indicated Lucki made a comment about promising the Prime Minister’s Office and minister of public safety that information would be released. At the time, the federal Liberal government was getting ready to introduce new gun control legislation. 

The federal opposition parties are accusing Lucki of applying political pressure to the Nova Scotia investigators to help the federal government build its case.

Lucki and former public safety minister Bill Blair will both appear Monday before a House of Commons committee investigating the allegations of political interference.

Leather, the second-highest ranking Mountie in Nova Scotia at the time of the shootings, will also appear before the committee. He is then scheduled to testify before the commission in Nova Scotia on Wednesday and Thursday.

The commission’s schedule indicates Leather will be questioned about “internal and inter-agency communication” after the shootings.

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