Allegations that the Liberal government interfered with RCMP operations to push a gun-control agenda swept through Canadian politics Tuesday, following the release of documents to an inquiry investigating the 2020 massacre in Nova Scotia.
The accusations — denied by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and former public safety minister Bill Blair — came in the wake of newly released documentation at the Mass Casualty Commission, which is reviewing Canada’s worst mass shooting.
Handwritten notes from RCMP officials made in the aftermath of the tragedy suggest Lucki had made commitments to government officials to release information about the firearms used in the attack.
“The commissioner said that she had promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP (we) would release this information,” notes from Supt. Darren Campbell said.
The notes go on to add that Lucki said, “This was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and (the) public safer.”
In the weeks after the shooting the federal government banned the sale of 1,500 models of “assault style” firearms through an order-in-council. The government is now moving a ban on handguns through Parliament via Bill C-21.
The notes, first reported by the Halifax Examiner, say Lucki said she felt “disobeyed” when the information wasn’t released to the media and the public, a decision Campbell wrote he made so as not to jeopardize the investigation into the shooting.
In April 2020, during a rampage that stretched across northern Nova Scotia, Gabriel Wortman killed 22 people and set fire to homes before he was eventually shot and killed by police.
The RCMP has been strongly criticized for its handling of the shooting and its aftermath.
The documents released through the inquiry show internal struggles over what details, including the number of victims, were to be released to the public. The number given by police ranged from 10 to 19 victims in the hours after the incident before Mountie officials confirmed it was 22 people, the documents said.
In a statement released late Tuesday Lucki said she did not interfere in operations and takes the independence of the RCMP seriously.
“It is important to note that the sharing of information and briefings with the Minister of Public Safety are necessary, particularly during a mass shooting on Canadian soil,” her statement read. “This is standard procedure, and does not impact the integrity of ongoing investigations or interfere with the independence of the RCMP.”
The notes revealed frustration from Nova Scotia RCMP officials at the requests made by Lucki as well as the commissioner’s releasing of different figures for the number of victims doing her own media interviews.
In a recorded interview with inquiry investigators that was also among the documents, the Nova Scotia RCMP director of communication for H Division, Lia Scanlan, expressed frustration that Lucki was releasing information on her own that did not match what RCMP in the province had said.
In the interview, Scanlan blamed political pressure.
“That is 100 per cent Minister Blair and the Prime Minister,” she said. “And we have a commissioner that does not push back.”
Scanlan told the interviewers government officials, including Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were “weighing in on what we could and couldn’t say” to the media but offered no further details.
She also revealed when the RCMP was telling media the number of dead was 10 officials knew it was higher, adding 10 was decided upon knowing another update would be given the next day. She said they had to make a call on the number for the media.
The details contained in the documents quickly ignited allegations about the federal government’s conduct.
On Tuesday in the House of Commons, opposition MPs accused the government of interfering in the RCMP’s handling of the tragedy for political gain.
“This is critical, because, according to the commander’s notes in the Mass Casualty Commission report, Commissioner Lucki promised the Prime Minister’s Office and the public safety minster’s office that they would release the information in an active investigation that she was discussing,” Conservative MP John Brassard charged.
“It would appear that somebody from the Prime Minister’s Office and the public safety minister’s office was directing Commissioner Lucki to interfere in an active police investigation, when the investigators on the ground said they did not want to.”
Brassard demanded to know who was responsible.
Blair rejected the allegations and stressed that the RCMP is independent of the government, accusing the opposition of being more interested in drama than the truth.
“I am very pleased to confirm that no one in the Prime Minister’s Office or in the public safety office exerted any pressure or direction on the commissioner of the RCMP,” he responded. “The commissioner of the RCMP engaged with our officials and she has already confirmed for the Mass Casualty Commission that no such direction or pressure was ever given by any member of this government.”
Blair is currently the Minister of Emergency Prepardeness and his office released a statement late Tuesday through press secretary Annie Cullinan.
“At no time during his tenure as Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness 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,” Cullinan wrote.
“The decision of what information to publicly disclose regarding any investigation, as with all operational matters, is taken solely at law enforcement’s discretion.”
Meanwhile, the uproar also sparked calls for an investigation into whether the federal government did interfere in the RCMP’s operations for political purposes.
Such calls included those from Conservative Party leadership candidates Jean Charest and Pierre Poilievre on their respective social media accounts.
The documents also assert details such as the names of the deceased and the weapons used were kept confidential longer than was needed.
The Mounties recovered a number of weapons from the car driven by the gunman but information about the weapons was not released during a number of news conferences.
With files from Steve McKinley, Halifax Bureau and the Canadian Press
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Trudeau’s office, public safety minister accused of interfering in RCMP operations after Nova Scotia mass shooting