July 28, 2022

MCC Day 57 – Participants’ Counsel Question Chief Superintendent Leather

The final day of Mass Casualty Commission proceedings before a three week break featured some revelations, expressions of regret, and careful answers from Chief Superintendent Chris Leather, who was the second ranking RCMP officer in Nova Scotia at the time of the events of the April 18-19, 2020 mass shooting.

These all emerged from cross examination by lawyers for the family participants, though I noticed that in her introduction to the day, Commissioner Fitch did not say the words “cross examination” but rather stated that MCC lawyer Rachel Young would facilitate questions from participants’ counsel. Nothing really turned on that characterization, but it is another subtle example of participants’ lawyers being marginalized by the MCC. All Ms. Young was called upon to do was state the order in which the other lawyers would be speaking, and rough time estimates for them to do so.

Michael Scott from Patterson Law was the first lawyer to question C/Sup. Leather. He started by picking up on a comment that C/Sup. Leather made yesterday that he did not want to answer a question without speaking to legal counsel. It seemed yesterday that Ms. Young should have followed up on that statement, but she did not. Today, C/Sup. Leather was prepared to speak further, and it was a significant exchange.

What C/Sup. Leather was trying to discuss was a recorded wellness interview he gave (with a private company brought in by the RCMP to talk to senior officers) in which he discussed the conference call where RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki expressed her disappointment with the NS RCMP’s failure to reveal the makes and models of the guns Wortman used. The fact of the interview, let alone its contents, have not been disclosed to the MCC, and C/Sup. Leather had questions about what he should say, if anything, about that interview when he was getting ready to be interviewed by the MCC in advance of his testimony.

He started his answer by saying that he waived solicitor-client privilege. This means that he wished to discuss advice he had sought or received from legal counsel. It is up to the client, not the lawyer, to waive privilege. C/Sup. Leather said that he was told by Federal DOJ lawyers Lori Ward and Patricia MacPhee not to proactively disclose the fact that he had given that interview, but only mention it if he was asked about it.

It was highly unlikely that he would be asked about it, as the MCC had no notice that such an interview had been set up, so it amounts to the DOJ telling C/Sup. Leather to withhold the information. This is indicative of the DOJ approach to disclosure, which I also saw in action at times during the Desmond Inquiry.

Ms. Ward objected, and started to give an explanation of the advice she felt she had given to C/Sup. Leather, but Bond family lawyer Josh Bryson rightly objected to that, and asked that the witness be asked to leave the room while the matter was being discussed. The Commissioners allowed the questions and answers, and did not permit Ms. Ward to continue her attempt to explain the situation. I suspect the DOJ will provide an explanation to the MCC of these matters in the coming days.

C/Sup. Leather spoke on many issues, often but not always admitting that the RCMP fell short, and accepting a share of that blame personally. He said he is not happy with the investigation into Wortman’s access to firearms from people in the United States, where people who assisted Wortman have been identified but the FBI has not charged them.

He said that Truro Police Chief MacNeil should have known to contact someone other than him within the RCMP to offer help or get information. Leather said the proper person to contact would have been at the district level.

C/Sup. Leather testified that he referred Joey Webber’s death to the Serious Incident Response Team, as he was unsure at first as to whether Cst. Stevenson’s firearm may have somehow been involved, and was notifying SIRT out of an abundance of caution. No report has come from SIRT on Mr. Webber’s death, so we can presume it was quickly dismissed once more information came out from witnesses.

I noticed that during an exchange with Mr. Scott on questions about the potential for the Big Stop videos to be leaked, he made an interesting comment about Wortman’s visit to the Brinks location in Burnside. There was originally a suspicion that the video of Wortman picking up $475,000 in cash was consistent with the payment of a police agent, but later evidence seems to confirm the funds were Wortman’s own from his own accounts. C/Sup. Leather however described the Brinks video as being that of a “cash payment”. Perhaps (and most likely) it was just a casual choice of words, but it still stood out.

In discussing his press conferences, C/Sup. Leather accepted that he should not have said “in excess of ten” had been killed when the known number was 17, and that the deceased were “all adults” when 17-year-old Emily Tuck was among the known victims. Leather said that was on him as he did not properly recall the information from the earlier briefing he had received. When Leather said in the press conference that Wortman was not “known to police” he now says he meant that he did not have a criminal record.

Perhaps most striking from C/Sup. Leather’s testimony was his refusal to agree that, if the same circumstances happened today, an emergency alert would be issued. Leather vacillated on his answer, and would only go so far as to say that it would be something for the Critical Incident Commander to consider. I suspect C/Sup. Leather was conscious of the civil case against the RCMP when he gave this answer. If he were to explicitly say that an alert would definitely be issued, that would be used against the RCMP in the class action by the families to show that the RCMP’s response to the mass casualty events fell below the expected standard.