Canada’s top Mountie has told a public inquiry into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting that the RCMP must become a more transparent organization.
Commissioner Brenda Lucki is before the inquiry today to testify about how a gunman driving a replica police car carried out 22 murders over 13 hours on April 18-19, 2020.
The 131-page transcript of Lucki’s Aug. 4 interview with inquiry lawyers, released today, includes her discussing her regrets about an Aug. 28, 2020, meeting with regional staff, nine days after the murders.
Lucki scolded staff over their decision to withhold detailed information about the semi-automatic guns that the killer used.
She has repeatedly denied allegations she wanted those details released because of political pressure from the federal Liberals, who were working on gun-control legislation.
Lucki says that her push to release the information about the killer’s weapons was linked to her desire to be more open with the public.
“When you talk about culture, our culture is to be less transparent … we hold things in because we can,” she told the inquiry lawyers.
She says in her interview that she went too far in criticizing her exhausted subordinates during the Aug. 28, 2020, call. “When I think about it before I go to bed, I honestly can’t sleep.”
“We’ve always felt that because things are under investigation, that we can’t release things. That’s not the case anymore. There are things that can be released even within an investigation. We just have to make sure what is being released does not compromise (the investigation).”
The RCMP’s difficulties in swiftly and forthrightly communicating with the public and media have been revealed in testimony from officers and civilian employees during the inquiry.
On the night the mass shooting began in Portapique, N.S., the police force didn’t directly contact media to tell them an active shooting was underway. Instead, the force used a single tweet on April 18, 2020, at 11:32 p.m., which referred to the incident as a “firearms complaint”—even though the Mountie overseeing the response knew an active shooter had killed people and was on the loose.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Halliday—who was helping oversee the response the next morning—confirmed in testimony that at 8 a.m. on April 19, 2020, he decided a photo of the replica car driven by the killer should be released, and he testified he expected this to occur in “the immediate future.” However, the photo wasn’t distributed publicly until 10:17 a.m., and during that delay at least six deaths occurred.
Lucki told the commission, “we have been doing a lot of work to be more transparent, giving our commanding officers more media training, giving them training so that they can be more forthright in the information instead of saying, ‘No comment,’ or ‘I can’t speak about that.'”
“We need to be more transparent with the Canadian public,” Lucki told the commission lawyers in her Aug. 4 interview.
The commissioner said in her interview that she has regarded modernizing the RCMP as central to her mandate since she was appointed in 2018. She cited initiatives such as introducing courses on systemic racism and allowing rank-and-file members to directly send her critical emails, as part of a “change” process.
However, Lucki was also questioned by inquiry lawyers about why some prior recommendations from earlier public studies of the force haven’t been implemented, including a 2021 recommendation by retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache that officers have at least two years of post-secondary training.
Lucki said the force was “looking at” that recommendation, adding that police didn’t want to exclude recruits coming from trades backgrounds and from diverse populations who might not have had the opportunity to attend university.
She said purchasing new equipment, such as body-worn cameras, has proven to be a slower process than expected. “The body-worn cameras, we haven’t deployed them yet. There’s so many steps,” she told the inquiry in her interview.
On Monday, the inquiry released a summary of a consultant’s wellness assessment involving senior RCMP managers in Nova Scotia. The managers described long-term problems with funding as an underlying factor in the struggle to respond to the mass shooting. Survey respondents also described a sense of abandonment by national headquarters after the shooting.
By Michael Tutton and Keith Doucette