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Experts assess NS RCMP decision  amid controversy over commissioner


The Nova Scotia RCMP could have shielded their investigation by withholding information about the firearms used in the country’s worst mass shooting.

Or, they could have unnecessarily kept the public in the dark – a recurring practice by Canada’s National Police of keeping the information close to their chests, to the frustration of critics and, at times, the public.

The version of events you hear regarding what unfolded in the aftermath of the 2020 massacre on Canada’s east coast depends on who you ask.

The debate is one of many reignited by revelations of an internal RCMP dispute that has caused a storm of outrage on Parliament Hill and calls for an emergency debate on whether government officials – including the Prime Minister’s Office – interfered with police operations afterwards. of a stunning tragedy to advance a political agenda.

Documents released this week as part of the Mass Casualty Commission revealed what was happening behind the scenes at the RCMP as the country grapples with the actions of a gunman who killed 22 people in the north of Nova Scotia.

Handwritten notes from senior RCMP officials and a transcript of an interview with an RCMP communications director in Nova Scotia indicate that Commissioner Brenda Lucki wanted information about the weapons used in the shooting to be made public, pointing out that they were “tied” to impending gun control laws.

According to the documents, the RCMP in Nova Scotia did not want to release information about the firearms, fearing it would interfere with the investigation.

The political controversy and potential outrage lies in whether Lucki was doing the bidding for liberal officials by pushing for the release of information – an allegation she strongly denied on Tuesday, as did the former minister of health. Public Safety Bill Blair.

“Our clients are understandably troubled by what they heard yesterday,” Michael Scott, one of three Patterson Law lawyers representing the majority of families of Nova Scotia shooting victims, said in a statement to the Star.

“In the days following April 19, 2020, all efforts should have been focused on supporting the victims, their families and the active investigation by the local RCMP. Interfering with these efforts, to exploit a perceived political opportunity or otherwise, would have been inexcusable. We hope the Mass Casualty Commission recognizes the importance of determining the veracity of these allegations and the need for thorough cross-examination of the witnesses involved.

Regardless of any inappropriate political pressure that was – or was not – exerted, opinions differ on the force’s decision regarding the release of information about firearms.

Christian Leuprecht is a police expert at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University.

Leuprecht said there are good reasons police don’t release information about weapons used in crimes, like trying to trace a gun’s origins or worrying about revealing how they got there. got information. It could also be concerns about other police work.

“They might have had a separate ongoing investigation already underway that they either realized it was related to or they already knew it was related to,” Leuprecht said. “They may have started an investigation after realizing these weapons were smuggled across the border and it’s entirely possible that investigation is ongoing.”

He said the local RCMP could also have simply blocked the press, but he doubts that is the case.

It would later be revealed that the weapons had been obtained illegally, including some that had been smuggled in from the United States and one that had been taken from a police officer whom the shooter shot in the act.

The shooter’s common-law wife was eventually charged with illegally supplying him with ammunition and referred to restorative justice. Police said they had no prior knowledge of the shooter’s plans.

Tom Engel is less convinced of the RCMP’s motives.

Engel, an Edmonton lawyer who chairs the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association police committee, said the systemic concealment of information is a problem in Canada’s police force and is eroding public trust.

“Exactly how could that have jeopardized the investigation?” Engel asked.

He said, for example, that police “love” posting pictures of guns seized in raids, so claiming to keep the type of guns seized from the shooter in Nova Scotia secret on the grounds that it would compromise the investigation would not makes no sense.

Engel pointed to how police departments in the United States were immediately releasing details of the weapons used in the shootings in hopes of advancing the investigation with the help of the public.

Documents released Tuesday indicate that the RCMP withheld additional information, such as the names of the shooting victims, longer than necessary.

The RCMP has faced criticism in the past for not releasing information about violent crimes in a timely manner. Following the targeted shooting of four people in Penticton, British Columbia, in 2019, the RCMP refused to release the names of the victims.

The agency also declined to release details related to the murders in British Columbia and the manhunt across the Prairies for two Port Alberni youths that same year.

“Police departments in general lack transparency,” Engel said. “To me, it’s disconcerting.”

With files from Steve McKinley, Halifax office and The Canadian Press

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