The high-ranking Nova Scotia RCMP officer at the centre of a controversy over possible political interference by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki following the 2020 mass shooting is doubling down on his allegations.
RCMP Chief Supt. Darren Campbell told a House of Commons committee Tuesday that he recalls Lucki saying during an April 28, 2020 call that she was “sad and disappointed” that Campbell had not released details about the gunman’s weapons at a news conference.
Campbell told MPs that the commissioner also said she had “promised” the offices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-Public Safety minister Bill Blair that those details would be released.
Campbell said he tried to tell Lucki that releasing that information could hurt the ongoing investigation, which involved agencies in the United States.
“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,” Campbell said.
“The commissioner made me feel as if I was stupid.”
When asked how much of the call with Lucki had been about releasing the gun information, Campbell said the entire 20 minutes he heard of the meeting before walking out had been about the firearms.
Blair and Lucki have denied repeatedly that Blair interfered in the investigation. Blair also told the committee he never asked Lucki to promise him the gun information would be released.
Campbell said that while he knew Lucki likely was under pressure regarding how to share information from all kinds of sources, including the public, media, government and the RCMP, he has no first-hand knowledge of who was asking Lucki about the guns.
‘I could not and would not break that oath’
Campbell said that while it was never his intention to enter into a “political disagreement or discussion” about what happened in the April 28 meeting with Lucki, there was a principle at stake.
“The principle was the oath that I swore to uphold as a young recruit over three decades ago,” he said. “I could not and would not break that oath.”
The details about the guns became public through a briefing note given to the prime minister, which surfaced through an access to information request. Despite a request from the Nova Scotia Mounties that the firearm information be shared only internally to the RCMP, emails show Lucki sent those details to the offices of the Public Safety minister and the national security adviser to the prime minister.
When asked how the public could be sure the investigation into the massacre was not affected by this information being shared, Campbell said that’s a difficult question to answer because their work “very well” may have been compromised.
Campbell said it’s obvious that the Public Safety minister’s office was interested in the firearms and conversations between Blair and Lucki might have taken place, but “the direction was fairly clear that it could not be shared.”
When asked whether the commissioner offered a rebuttal to Campbell’s argument that releasing the firearms information might hurt the investigation, Campbell said it seemed to him that Lucki felt the release of the information was “more important.”
The 13-hour rampage by a gunman took 22 lives and is now the subject of a public inquiry.
Lia Scanlan, former communications director for the Nova Scotia RCMP, appeared alongside Campbell before the committee. She said she does not remember the exact words Lucki used in the April 28 call but believes Campbell’s account is accurate.
“I would never dispute Darren Campbell’s notes and at the end of the day, whether we’re saying promise, pressure, influence — they all lead to the same end result,” Scanlan said.
Scanlan wrote a letter to the commissioner more than a year after the shootings, echoing Campbell’s concerns and telling Lucki the meeting was “appalling, inappropriate, unprofessional and extremely belittling.”
On Tuesday, Scanlan recalled her feeling of “disgust” over the call with Lucki and told MPs she “understood exactly what was being said.”
When asked for her thoughts on whether new legislation should be brought in to strengthen the RCMP’s independence and prevent political interference, Scanlan agreed that should take place.
While keeping political partners like federal ministers and the prime minister informed of ongoing investigations is important, she said, it’s “very different” from interfering in or influencing a case.
“Words need to be carefully examined, and if it’s vague we should be more specific so that we’re never in this situation again,” Scanlan said.
A number of other people appeared ahead of Scanlan and Campbell at the committee on Tuesday, including deputy minister of justice François Daigle and Owen Rees, the acting assistant deputy attorney general.
Daigle was asked why four key pages of Campbell’s notes about the April 28 call initially were held back from the commission to be reviewed for legal privilege, among 35 pages from other senior Mounties.
Daigle said that while there’s nothing necessarily privileged about a call with the RCMP commissioner, the team of justice lawyers would have flagged any pages for review if there was a reference “to cabinet meeting, reference to a Treasury Board submission, or a reference to legal advice,” among other things, he said.
Daigle said the justice minister’s office had “no involvement whatsoever” in deciding which documents to hold back for review, or in gathering thousands of documents for disclosure to the commission.
Two other RCMP staff members were also summoned to the committee: Alison Whelan, the chief strategic policy and external relations officer, and Jolene Bradley, director general of the National Communications Services.
Rick Perkins, a Conservative MP from Nova Scotia, suggested the committee hold a future meeting to hear from others on the topic of political interference, including more RCMP communications staff in Nova Scotia and Ottawa and Blair’s own chief of staff.
Fellow Conservative MP Stephen Ellis represents the N.S. riding where much of the mass shooting took place. He said he supported Perkins’ suggestion, adding it’s important to have the full picture.
“Somebody’s not telling the truth. And that is very, very disappointing to me and I think it’s very disappointing to Canadians,” Ellis said.
Perkins’ request did not pass a committee vote. Instead, the committee passed a Liberal MP’s motion to adjourn the debate for now and hold an in-camera meeting about the matter in September.