After providing his direct testimony yesterday, Superintendent Darren Campbell was cross examined by lawyers for the participants today. Sup. Campbell was the third ranking RCMP officer in Nova Scotia at the time of the April 18-19, 2020 mass shooting, and is the first of the senior ranking RCMP officers to testify at the Mass Casualty Commission.
Before Sup. Campbell’s testimony began, we learned that the criminal charges against Lisa Banfield of supplying ammunition to Gabriel Wortman were withdrawn by a Crown lawyer for the NS Public Prosecution Service. The families have not been told what conditions may have been attached to Ms. Banfield’s restorative justice process, which lead to the charges being dropped, but given the timing of the withdrawal, it seems clear that her appearance before the MCC must have been the main, or perhaps only, condition.
I have been told that the families have been informed by a lawyer for the MCC that this was not the case. It strikes me that this answer lacks credibility. It is often the case that when a matter returns to Court to be withdrawn after the completion of restorative justice, there is mention of what exactly it was that was done outside of the Court process as part of the RJ agreement. From the Saltwire article on Ms. Banfield’s charges, we learned the Judge Tax said he did not know what was in the RJ agreement. Those details should be publicized here, given the high profile and high stakes of this particular matter.
The proceedings today started with cross examination by Rob Pineo from Patterson Law, the firm which represents many of the family participants. One of the first topics covered by Mr. Pineo dealt with Sup. Campbell not having a ‘scribe’ assigned to him, as was done with S/Sgt. West, the Critical Incident Commander. The scribe takes notes for the senior officer, so that they can focus on making decisions rather than making notes.
The relevance of the questions was to point out that Sup. Campbell was not able to make notes at the time, and therefore was relying on his later recollection when he made his notes. This tends to lead to less accurate notes and reports than someone who is making notes contemporaneous to the events in which they are involved. Sup. Campbell was clearly well prepared for his testimony, and had carefully prepared his notes, so appears very credible. That conclusion should be tempered, however, based on his lack of contemporaneous notes.
Sup. Campbell was asked about details of his press conference statements, some of which were not quite accurate, and seemed designed to show the RCMP in a more positive light. For example, he said it was “important to note” that there was only one way in and out of Portapique, that Wortman was wearing a police uniform, and that first responding officers provided “life saving” care to civilians in Portapique. None of that was accurate. There was a second way out, Ms. Banfield had told officers that Wortman was wearing jeans and an orange plaid shirt, and the injuries treated in Portapique were comparatively superficial.
In ending his cross examination, Mr. Pineo read some of the detailed 911 transcript comments from the McCully/Blair children, who gave detailed descriptions of Wortman and his replica police car. Sup. Campbell said he did not, and has never, gone back to review 911 transcripts during a police operation. My sense was that Mr. Pineo knew that, but was seeking to remind everyone listening that extensive details of Wortman’s status were provided very early on by the children.
Thomas MacDonald asked about the decision not to send a second Immediate Action Rapid Deployment (IARD) team into Portapique. Sup. Campbell said it was for those on the ground to make those decisions, and not those at a distance. This view is consistent with my previous commentary on this element, but not with what actually happened in this case. Staff Sergeants at a distance were making the decision about sending more officers into Portapique, and decided against a second team entering the community.
MacDonald also asked about Alert Ready. Sup. Campbell said that currently the Critical Incident Commander, the Risk Manager, and the Criminal Operations officer could all now direct that an emergency alert be issued. This still seems unduly restrictive. It would be better for all officers to have that authority when there is an active shooter on the loose.
After Mr. MacDonald, Tara Miller asked Sup. Campbell about the location and utility of the Operational Communications Centre. In the response to the mass shooting, the RCMP felt they had to set up a command centre near the site of the incident, which lead to delays and technical deficiencies. Sup. Campbell agrees that the new, centralized, approach to critical incident command centres is much better.
In Ms. Miller’s cross examination, Sup. Campbell also asked why GPS has not been fully implemented, who is in control of coordinating air services support, and Sup. Campbell’s reactions to the MacNeil Report (which followed the Moncton shootings by Justin Bourque). One issue is that MacNeil recommended that IARD training incorporate training in rural areas and at night, and this evidently has not been done. Sup. Campbell agreed that this training should be incorporated into future training plans.
After lunch, Natasha Najawan, lawyer for the National Police Federation, which represents all lower ranking RCMP officers, asked questions of Sup. Campbell on the staffing levels in Nova Scotia. The entire focus of her questions was to transparently advocate for more police officers to be hired. This was later echoed by Lori Ward for the Federal Department of Justice.
Josh Bryson, from Chester Law, representing the Bond family, asked Sup. Campbell about the RCMP’s failure to canvass the Cobequid Court area of Portpique. There is no specific evidence to suggest that anyone was left to bleed out or die as a result, but there was certainly a risk that there could have been just such a victim.
Finally, we had our first appearance by Lisa Banfield’s lawyer, James Lockyer. He asked Sup. Campbell whether he was involved in the decision to charge Ms. Banfield. Sup. Campbell testified that he was involved in those discussions in November, 2020, and had some concerns that it would look bad to be charging someone who was already known to have been a victim of domestic violence. He denied that he considered whether the charges would serve as a distraction for people who had been critical of the RCMP.
Critically, Mr. Lockyer also asked whether Sup. Campbell was aware of a strategy (which must have been included in Ms. Banfield’s criminal disclosure) to not give Ms. Banfield, her brother and brother-in-law their s. 10(b) Charter right to speak with a lawyer before being questioned.
This last series of questions confirmed to me what I thought must have been the case about Ms. Banfield’s charges after I read her interview with S/Sgt. Vardy, where very late in the interview he started giving her a paraphrased version of a Charter warning. This all means that none of the three would likely have been convicted of the crime, as any statement they gave, and any evidence derived or discovered as a result of those statements would have been excluded from their trials.
The MCC is back tomorrow, when it will hear from Chief Superintendent Chris Leather. I will be attending the proceedings in person.