The Nova Scotia RCMP members who first alleged political interference occurred during an inquiry into the largest mass shooting in Canadian history are standing by their claim.
Two letters emerged in recent months that allege then-public safety minister Bill Blair pushed RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to demand Nova Scotia RCMP release details about the firearms used during the shooting spree, which took 22 people’s lives on April 18, 2020.
According to notes Chief Supt. Darren Campbell took during a meeting with Lucki on April 28, 2020, the government wanted the information released because it was “tied to pending gun control legislation.”
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While both Blair and Lucki have denied any political interference occurred, Campbell doubled down on his claim during an appearance before the House of Commons public safety committee on Tuesday.
He told the committee that Lucki allegedly “promised” Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s offices that information about firearms the gunman used would be included in a press briefing on April 28, 2020.
“As detailed in my notes, I attempted to explain to the commissioner that I could not and would not release that information at that time as a premature release could have a negative impact on the investigation,” Campbell said on Tuesday.
“It was at that time the commissioner told my colleagues and I that we didn’t understand — that this was tied to pending legislation that would make officers and the public safer.”
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The meeting, Campbell said, left him feeling “deflated.”
“The commissioner made me feel as if I was stupid,” he said.
“She didn’t seem to appreciate or recognize the importance of maintaining the integrity of an investigation.”
Speaking to the public safety committee on July 25, Blair said he “did not ask (the RCMP) to release any specific information, nor did I receive a promise for them to do so.”
Lucki, meanwhile, told that same committee that she did use the term “promise” during the meeting she had with Campbell that day — but that it was a “miscommunication.”
“I was trying to convey that I had confirmed to the minister that the information about the weapons would be released during the press conference — a confirmation that was made based on information that I had been provided,” Lucki said during the July 25 meeting.
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Lia Scanlan, a strategic communications director with the RCMP who has also levied the same allegation of political interference, said the exact words don’t matter as much as the message that was received.
“I just think at the end of the day, whether we’re saying promise, pressure, influence, they’ll lead to the same end result,” she told the committee on Tuesday.
Less than two weeks after the massacre, Trudeau announced a ban on 1,500 makes and models of “assault-style firearms” — including some used by the Nova Scotia shooter.
This Order in Council had been in the works for “several months,” Blair told the committee on July 25.
Officials defend decision to withhold notes
Another key issue raised at the committee Tuesday was the fact that Campbell’s notes detailing the political interference were not released to the Mass Casualty Commission for months.
During Tuesday’s committee, Justice Department officials defended the decision — saying the notes were part of 35 pages in total that were initially withheld so the department could ensure they didn’t contain any privileged information.
“Only four of the 35 pages related to the April 28th meeting,” said François Daigle, deputy minister at the Department of Justice.
All four pages were eventually produced “without redactions,” Daigle said, while the other 31 pages were also made public with some redactions.
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As part of the explanation for the delay, Daigle said handwritten notes take “longer to review because they have to be reviewed in person.”
“They can’t be machine-read,” he explained.
The decision to release the documents was not made at the political level, added Owen Rees, acting assistant deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice.
“These are decisions that are taken by the litigation team working on the inquiry,” he said.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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