June 8, 2022

MCC Day 34 – More RCMP Public Communications Witnesses

There were two witnesses today appearing before the Mass Casualty Commission, one civilian member, and one staff sergeant, each of whom had a role in public communications during the events of the mass casualty. In the morning Director of Strategic Communications, Lia Scanlan testified. In the afternoon, Staff Sergeant Addie MacCallum gave his account of the events of April 18-19, 2020. Both witnesses had strong emotional responses at times during their testimony.

Lia Scanlan is the civilian head of Strategic Communications for the NS RCMP. She was the supervisor to Cpl. Jennifer Clarke, who spoke yesterday about the issuing of Twitter posts throughout the active shooter situation. Cpl. Clarke testified that she had waited a half an hour at one point for approval to tweet out a photo of the killer’s replica police cruiser.

Ms. Scanlan spoke about the decision to use twitter, and social media generally, as a way to convey information to the public during a critical indicent. She said that after the Moncton RCMP shootings, this was the recommended way to do so, and she herself was the author of part of the report emerging from that earlier shooting which dealt with public communications.

Despite this recommendation, it emerged that Ms. Scanlan is not a twitter user personally, and did not seem to have a clear understanding of how best to use the platform. The RCMP posts were inconsistent in their use of hashtags, and did not thread the information. So, in addition to not being timely or having appropriate content, the tweets were also disjointedly laid out.

Ms. Scanlan was apologetic for her tone as reflected in her earlier statements to the MCC, which were released publicly over the last week, and which were the subject of several appropriately critical news pieces. In those statements, she said that nothing was done wrong in terms of public communications. Today, she admitted there could have been improvements, and was emotional at times when she said she wished things could have happened faster.

Despite that apparent self-reflection, nothing significant appears to have changed from a policy perspective. Ms. Scanlan testified that in April 2020 there was not policy for approving tweets during critical incidents, and (amazingly, but perhaps not surprisingly) there still is not. As for who has the authority to issue a tweet, she says the Critical Incident Commander does, as do Risk Managers, without her approval.

In the afternoon, S/Sgt. Addie MacCallum testified about his involvement. S/Sgt. MacCallum was in Guysborough during the Desmond family tragedy, and testified at that Inquiry. His involvement, and his leadership at that time, was rightly and widely, praised.

S/Sgt. MacCallum was open about mistakes he thought were made with the RCMP response, in particular the failures in technology at the Bible Hill detachment, and the failure for key pieces of information to reach the command level. In particular, he noted that had the mapping software Pictometry been available, he would have immediately noticed the road coming out of Portapique by the blueberry field.

S/Sgt. MacCallum remains very bothered, and became emotional discussing, a key moment in the pursuit of the killer, when he was reported to be at the home of the Fishers. S/Sgt. MacCallum knew the location, and drove there with Cst. Hubley. Unfortunately, the RCMP convoy stopped to stage about two kilometers from the site. S/Sgt. MacCallum urged the members to continue on, but now knows that those precious minutes may have cost him a sighting of the killer as he left the Fishers’ going north.