June 21, 2022

MCC Day 39 – Support Services, Family Liaison Officer, and Political Pressure From Feds

The proceedings today focused on some of the after-effects of the shootings and the services made available to family members and others. There was a Foundational Document presentation on mental health supports offered, and then witness testimony from Cst. Wayne “Skipper” Bent, who was assigned to be the family liaison officer on behalf of the RCMP. The most explosive part of the evidence was left until the end of the day, when we were told about political pressure from the Prime Minister, through RCMP Commissioner Lucki, to use the shootings as support for the government’s gun control legislation.

There were many people who needed help after the mass casualty events. Victims Services, which is a division of the NS Department of Justice, opened 189 files for people that were seeking counseling help. It is not clear that the help was available to be given at that scale, either because there were not enough counsellors available, or else not enough who would accept $85/hr for their work. There was $500,000 in fee entitlement “awarded” to those in need, but only about a quarter of that has been used.

There were 271 RCMP officers involved in the events or investigation of the mass casualty, and 70 of these took some sick leave afterwards. That necessitated bringing in offices from Ontario and Quebec to fill spots. One unfortunate consequence, we were told, was that this caused some outbreaks of Covid-19 among officers.

In addition to the government supports, there was mention this morning of private support provided, through community efforts at fundraising, vigils, and GoFundMe options. Some of the money has been put to use, though there is still not yet a permanent memorial for the victims.

After the presentation, Cst. Wayne “Skipper” Bent was called as a witness. First of all, when your nickname is part of your ‘official’ name, it generally seems to mean that you are a well-liked individual, and Cst. Bent certainly fit that profile. He appeared to be a caring person, who used all his energy to do what he could for the families of victims.

The role of family liaison officer is not one that is well-defined. Cst. Bent’s main duties were to communicate information to the families, and then report feedback to the RCMP chain of command. He ended up doing much more, including next of kin notifications, dealing with insurance companies, arranging for house/scene cleaning, and dealing with pets and animals left behind. While there are questions about the value in some of the efforts made to help families, it seems that the reviews of Cst. Bent’s work have generally been positive.

Cst. Bent was coming to the role from RCMP Major Crimes, and in the course of the events he was assigned to check houses for any signs of life or death. He attended at the Bond residence, where Peter and Joy Bond had been killed, and noted that the door was ajar, and Peter Bond was laying there. This is significant, as Cst. Dorrington had testified that he drove by the house earlier and did not see that the door was open.

There was another moment of controversy with Cst. Bent. During cross examination by Michael Scott from Patterson Law, Cst. Bent was asked about returning Kristen Beaton’s vehicle and phone to her husband, Nick Beaton. In the course of questions, Cst. Bent was asked whether he suggested to Nick Beaton at the time that the police had to consider every possible angle, including the possibility that Kristen Beaton and the killer had a relationship of any kind, or planned to meet when they did. Cst. Bent denied that he made that suggestion or allusion of any kind of intimate relationship, and when he did, Nick Beaton yelled at him from the audience that he was under oath. The outburst continued, despite urging from Commissioner MacDonald to stop, and the Commissioners decided to take a break.

Watching the livestream, it did not appear that Mr. Scott made any efforts to stop Mr. Beaton from speaking out. It is a delicate situation for a lawyer when your client makes such an outburst. A lawyer is an officer of the Court, and has an obligation to the proper administration of justice, but you do not want to take sides against your client. Sometimes, it is good to let your client go on for a bit, and let the judge (and the public, in this case) understand the frustration level that your client is experiencing. It can be a powerful tool, if deployed rarely.

The final part of the proceeding day featured a presentation on the public communications by senior RCMP officers and politicians. The presentation noted that there was political pressure coming down from the Prime Minister and Federal Public Safety Minister to connect the tragedy to their intended firearm legislation. Commissioner Brenda Lucki was urging the NS RCMP Commanders to release the types of guns used in furtherance of this goal.

Notes from NS RCMP suggest Commissioner Lucki went on at length in her criticisms, and that some were reduced to tears, or had to leave the meeting as it was ongoing. This is going to reverberate nationally. Commissioner Lucki is set to testify later in the summer, but I expect she will be answering questions on this topic well before that in some setting.

There were issues with the RCMP releasing numbers of deceased people, and initially understated the numbers of people killed. Chief Superintendent Leather indicated publicly that a public alert had been issued, and had to be corrected. They RCMP had indicated that they only knew of the replica RCMP car in the morning, when in fact they had that information the night before.

No further RCMP briefings were held after April 28, 2020. These command and communication issues are some of the most damaging aspects of the RCMP performance in this matter. They held back key information from the public, made misleading comments, and then refused to say anything. All of this has lead to an erosion of trust in the force.

There are no proceedings set for tomorrow. The MCC will be back on Thursday with a roundtable discussion on communication and interoperability in that regard, as well as an expert presentation on supporting survivors.