It was a busy day for those following the analysis of actions of senior RCMP officers during the events of the mass shooting of April 18-19, 2020 and the press conferences which were held in the aftermath. Superintendent Darren Campbell, who was the third ranking officer in NS at the time of the mass shooting, was testifying in Halifax in the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings. At the same time, Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, and Chief Superintendent Chris Leather were all appearing before the Public Safety and National Security Committee.
I was watching both proceedings during the early afternoon when there was an overlap of a few hours. There was a time when Commissioner Lucki was in Ottawa talking about how she wanted to be open and transparent, while at the same time in Halifax, Sup. Campbell was saying the same thing. Meanwhile the evidence was showing that Commissioner Lucki had quashed an idea to participate in a CBC Fifth Estate documentary, and Sup. Campbell had withheld information on firearms during a press conference. It was more than a little disorienting.
The officers seem to recognize that their collective performance has received a failing grade, and are now trying to deflect blame from themselves to others in the senior roles in Nova Scotia and nationally, while at the same time protecting the reputation of the RCMP itself.
Superintendent Campbell was examined by Rachel Young of the MCC. The officer was wearing a business suit, rather than his RCMP dress uniform, perhaps in a subtle attempt to distance himself personally from the other officers. It may also be noteworthy that Sup. Campbell has been promoted since the events of the mass shooting and aftermath.
One of the first things that Sup. Campbell discussed was his request to the national division of the RCMP to perform a review of the NS RCMP’s performance in confronting the events of the mass casualty. He appears to have told his direct superior, Chief Sup. Leather, about the request, but perhaps not the top NS RCMP officer, Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman. This may have been Sup. Campbell (wisely, or perhaps cleverly) getting out ahead of criticism, hoping to ensure it is deflected away from him. It was virtue signaling, in a sense.
Sup. Campbell was asked about operational aspects of the initial response, and had all positive things to say about the officers who were among the first responders. He was asked about the poor communications, when the detailed information on Wortman provided by Jamie Blair was not properly passed on to decision makers or other investigators. He said that Ms. Blair may not have been sufficiently clear in her words. This answer was not popular with the people in the room, I could sense from the livestream, and rightly so. Ms. Blair provided the killer’s name, profession, and stated he was in an ”RCMP car”.
With respect to the press conferences held after the shootings, Sup. Campbell says he was selected to take over from Chief Sup. Leather because he knew more details about the investigation. He was asked why information was not disclosed, and he said it was due to there being an “ongoing investigation”. We have since learned that nobody has been charged with anything, other than the minor charges of supplying ammunition where Lisa Banfield and her in-laws were given restorative justice. Sup. Campbell gave a very broad definition of “ongoing investigation” which would seem to include any investigation which has not been solved, even if the investigation is not “active” in the sense that anyone is working on it. Using “ongoing investigation” as an excuse for withholding information should henceforth be met with great skepticism.
In Ottawa, Minister Blair admitted to the Parliamentary committee that the decision to announce the plan to enact legislation banning 1500 chosen types of guns, including one used by Wortman, on May 1, 2020 (just two weeks following the shootings) was made after the shootings took place. Clearly, there were political motivations behind the decision.
The main purpose of the committee hearings is to determine whether there was political pressure applied on the NS RCMP to release the make and model of the firearms, so as to support the legislative initiative to ban them. Minister Blair denied any effort to interfere in police operations. Commissioner Lucki said that she told the Minister, in a broad sense, that she would see that as much information as possible would be released, and that her disappointment with the NS RCMP was a broad critique, of which the failure to name the make and model was just one feature.
We may gain more insight tomorrow, when Sup. Campbell is to be cross examined by lawyers for the other participants. We still do not know what, specifically, anyone thought would be jeopardized by releasing information. Commissioner Lucki remains the only senior officer who seemed to want to disclose significant information at the time. Her reluctance to have NS RCMP participate in the Fifth Estate documentary process may have been based on a well-founded doubt that they could do a good job of it, given their poor collective performance in the press conferences that followed the mass shooting.