Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government has questions about the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia, but remains adamant that his government did not intervene in the investigation.
His comments come as two Nova Scotia constables say Ottawa exerted political pressure on what to say in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
“We did not exert any negative influence or pressure. It is extremely important to stress that it is only the RCMP, it is only the police who determine what and when to release information,” Trudeau said, during an interview. a Thursday scrum with reporters in Kigali, Rwanda where he is attending a Commonwealth summit.
“I will point out, however, that when the worst mass shooting in Canadian history happened, we had a lot of questions. Canadians had a lot of questions.”
Trudeau said he still has “a lot” of faith in Lucki, whom he appointed in 2018, as she battles a new scandal over handwritten notes from the Nova Scotia RCMP superintendent. Darren Campbell was released earlier this week as part of the Mass Casualty Commission investigation.
WATCH | Government denies interference in Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation:
The investigation is investigating the rampage of April 18 and 19, 2020, which claimed the lives of 22 people – including a pregnant woman – and left several injured and several houses destroyed.
In Campbell’s notes, which were written after an April 28, 2020 conference call between headquarters and the division, he alleges that Lucki was upset that the RCMP in Nova Scotia were not revealing more information about the weapons used. because she had promised the federal government—which was considering gun control legislation at the time—that they would raise it.
“The commissioner said she promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release this information,” he said.
Campbell wrote that he believed the disclosure of gun information could harm the investigation.
“I tried to explain that there was no intention of disrespecting anyone, but we could not release this information at this time. The commissioner then said that we did not understand, that it was related to ongoing gun control legislation which would make officers and the public safer.”
Gun ban announced days later
Just days after that April 28 meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on some 1,500 makes and models of firearms, including two of the guns used in the Nova Scotia mass shootings — a Colt Law Enforcement carbine, a semi-automatic weapon and a Ruger Mini-14.
At that time, police had still not released the specific makes and models used in the attacks. This information only became public in the fall of 2020, when the National Post reported details of the weapons after obtaining a prepared briefing note for the Prime Minister after the shooting.
Trudeau said he receives regular briefings on what police know and don’t know about the shooter and the case.
“These answers keep coming out,” he said. “We will continue to take responsible action.”
On Wednesday, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, who was public safety minister at the time of the shooting, crushed Campbell’s written account of the call.
“The superintendent obviously came to his own conclusions and his notes reflect that,” he said.
“But I tell you, and I would tell the superintendent if I spoke to him, I made no effort to pressure the RCMP to interfere in any way with their investigation. I gave no no direction as to what information they should provide.”
Ex-communications chief says there was ‘political pressure’
Campbell is not the only member of the Nova Scotia RCMP to have come under attenuated influence from Ottawa in the aftermath of the rampage.
In an interview with commission investigators earlier this year, Lia Scanlan, former civilian director of the RCMP’s strategic communications unit in the province, said Blair and the premier were “weighing in on what we could and couldn’t tell”.
She said Lucki was advised not to do media interviews, but did so anyway and in doing so gave inaccurate information.
“She went out and did this and knew full well — and it was all political pressure,” Scanlan said.
“It’s 100 per cent Minister Blair and the Prime Minister and we have a commissioner who is not pushing back.”
Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino said “there was an exchange of information” after the shooting, but maintained there was no interference.
Although the Commissioner of the RCMP reports to the Minister, he is supposed to operate independently.
The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that “the commissioner should not be considered a servant or agent of the government when engaged in a criminal investigation”.
“I think it’s extremely important that Canadians have confidence in their institutions, including the RCMP and all law enforcement agencies,” said Mendicino, who has been tasked with reforming the RCMP.
“What is important to Canadians is that there is a line of respect that has been demonstrated around the principle of operational independence,”
Families are troubled, says law firm
On Wednesday night, Mendicino said he hadn’t spoken to Lucki.
The minister said he would let the commission look at the facts.
“We look forward to finally seeing the report and working closely with the commissioners on any recommendations they may provide,” he said.
Lucki is expected to be called as a witness at the inquest next month.
Patterson Law, the firm representing the families of more than a dozen victims of the mass shooting, issued a statement Wednesday saying its clients were troubled by the allegations.
“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,” the statement read.
“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.”