June 24, 2022

MCC Day 40 – Brenda Lucki is Not the Problem

On a day when the MCC proceedings included a technical roundtable on communications interoperability, followed by an expert witness presentation on supporting survivors, the main public focus turned to (or remained focused on) a brewing political controversy.

The Commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki, has become the subject of heavy criticism following the revelation that she tried to compel senior NS-based RCMP officers into releasing the makes and models of the firearms used by Gabriel Wortman in the April 18-19, 2020 mass shootings during one of the initial press conferences. She is alleged to have done so at the direction of Prime Minister Trudeau and Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. I think many people have things wrong when it comes to Commissioner Lucki.

As someone with a Generation-X mentality, I am not surprised in the least that these sorts of political discussions would take place in the immediate aftermath of a major event, even (or perhaps especially) a tragic event. Indeed, it would be shocking if no such discussions took place among the political entities involved. Gun control has been deployed as a wedge issue by the federal Liberals, for fundraising and vote-getting purposes.

At times, a tragic event can be a powerful force for change. But where it does, the change has to emerge naturally from the event. Here, the political decision makers, Blair and Trudeau, misread the situation and gave poor direction. They should own their own political decisions, and answer for having given it. The proposed legislation banning certain firearms was their initiative. They were the ones who felt they could raise this wedge issue to their advantage, so now that it has gone poorly, it is them who should bear the brunt of the impact.

The elevated opportunity for change flowing from an event is also the risk. If you misread the situation, what you do can look crass, as it does here.

At least Commissioner Lucki was on the side of disclosure, as opposed to concealment. This has proven to be a rare instinct within the RCMP. The main issue (or at least one of them) during the MCC with respect to the RCMP performance has been their institutional instinct to secrecy. Everyone else involved in the discussions about what information should be made public seemed to want to keep the information on the killer’s firearms secret.

The explanation given for keeping information secret was the need to not jeopardize an ongoing investigation. This explanation may seem sensible at first glance, but does not stand up to any real scrutiny in this case. Was there a real ongoing investigation? Perhaps, but two years later nobody has been charged with cross-border weapons smuggling. So, whatever goal the RCMP had in mind when they decided to keep (yet another) secret has not appeared to have panned out.

Canadians who have been following the MCC closely will know that the RCMP has been facing heavy criticism about their performance during the events of the mass casualty, and perhaps more so for their inability to communicate (with anyone) after the fact. This past week, video from the Enfield Big Stop of officers approaching and shooting the killer were released publicly, which for many have called into doubt the heroic account of those moments.

The release of these notes from Superintendent Campbell, which have generated this controversy around Commissioner Lucki, appears to be an attempt by someone to offer Commissioner Lucki as something of a sacrifice in the hopes of preserving the RCMP brand. That would be both insufficient, and likely personally unfair to the Commissioner.

The evidence emerging so far in the MCC suggests that the hierarchical structure of the RCMP, coupled with their institutional mistrust of us as citizens, are what made this tragedy so much worse than it might have been.

The proceedings themselves today were not particularly compelling. There was a great deal of information and opinions conveyed in the communications interoperability panel. Essentially, it amounts to trying to get the latest, user-friendly technology, and then training with those with whom you may work.

The supporting survivors expert report did not cover any real new ground on how to treat or support survivors. People can have very different reactions to tragic events, support should start early and may need to last a long time, and in addition to professional help it is helpful for survivors to talk to one another.

Communications interoperability and the supports offered to survivors can certainly be improved, but the focus of this inquiry is the performance of the RCMP in facing an active shooter, and the relationship between the RCMP and the public. That means the allegations against Commissioner Lucki naturally consumed the public attention to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

When it comes to her actions, my sense is that the initial stories have the wrong target. There appears to be an orchestrated plan to undermine her leadership, as a way to maintain the viability of the RCMP as a contract policing agency in Nova Scotia. It will be very interesting to hear her explanation, and that of Superintendent Campbell, whose notes were the source of the controversy. It is ironic and suspicious, that Sup. Campbell’s notes were only disclosed to the MCC last week. It gives all of this the look of a planned operation against the Commissioner, one that should not distract us from the core issues at stake.