After a three-week summer break, the Mass Casualty Commission resumed proceedings today, with testimony from retired Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman. Asst. Comm. Bergerman was the head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia at the time of the events of the mass casualty. She retired from the RCMP just before the MCC proceedings were set to start last October.
The timing of Asst. Comm. Bergerman’s retirement naturally raised suspicions. Leaving an organization just before a major review of that organization’s performance is something close to the opposite of leadership, like a head coach quitting before the playoffs. It may ultimately benefit the team, but does the coach little credit.
Asst. Comm. Bergerman was only interviewed by MCC lawyers on August 2nd of this year. In other words, she had the benefit of knowing the testimony of every other senior officer before having to answer questions herself. This is harmful in that it allows her to tailor her answers to fit with what has already been said in testimony, rather than giving a statement in a vacuum so that it can be compared and contrasted with those of other officers. (The statement has not yet been posted to the MCC website.)
In her initial questions, Rachel Young from the MCC asked very soft questions of Asst. Comm. Bergerman about the culture of the RCMP. The way Ms. Young asked whether the RCMP could change, and whether they were capable of learning and improving, and the way Asst. Comm. Bergerman said yes, was as superficial as a parent asking a small child whether they would “do better next time”.
One sign that the RCMP in fact has not taken the initiative to improve was outlined in some later questions Ms. Young asked about internal RCMP reviews. There are 6-7 versions of internal reviews (within the RCMP, as well as the federal government employment/safety departments) of the RCMP’s reaction to the events of the mass casualty which can be (technically, at least) considered “underway”, yet none have been completed. These include reviews of the overall operation, and the specific performance of the Emergency Response Team.
Given that over two years have passed since the events of the mass casualty, one might expect that all (or at least most) of these reviews would be complete. None are. Asst. Comm. Bergerman denied an obvious point, that they are being delayed because these reviews would each potentially be disclosed in the ongoing civil action, and any admissions contained in the reports might expose the RCMP to civil liability.
Asst. Comm. Bergerman also denied that she was involved, in any way, with the hiring of her husband, retired Staff Sergeant Mike Butcher, as a part of the NS RCMP issues management (later the MCC liason) team. She says that Chief Superintendent Chris Leather independently hired her husband (who Asst. Comm. Bergerman referred to as “Mike Butcher”) and that he was not under her command, despite her being the Commanding Officer for all RCMP officers in NS.
The MCC lawyer only examined Asst. Comm. Bergerman, the head of the RCMP in Nova Scotia in April 2020, for two hours. Curiously, she was not asked, in her direct evidence, about her role in the press conferences after the events, her awareness of any operational details during the events, or the RCMP’s failure to issue an emergency alert. Viewing news reports from this morning (from reporters who have been given access to Asst. Comm. Bergerman’s statement transcript) it seems that those topics were covered in her interview with the MCC.
Some of the tensions between the NS RCMP leadership team and the national commanders was discussed. Many of those questions focused on a CBC Fifth Estate interview that had been arranged with Superintendent Darren Campbell by the NS RCMP in the months following the mass casualty events. This interview was vetoed by the national leadership team, under the direction of Commissioner Brenda Lucki.
We will hear from Comm. Lucki tomorrow with her version of events, but I would not be surprised to hear her question whether the NS RCMP’s poor performance in the press conferences following the killings meant they should be limiting their contact with the media.
Asst. Comm. Bergerman also noted that relations among the various police forces in NS were tense after the events of April 18-19, 2020. She said it had become ‘popular’ to distance yourself from the RCMP, given the criticism of the RCMP response to the active shooter scenario. There were also financial and policing standards issues. Asst. Comm. Bergerman said the RCMP had higher standards than municipal police forces, and that for the first time the RCMP had started tracking the expenses of specialized units that were being used in municipalities not covered by the RCMP.
In cross examination, Asst. Comm. Bergerman was asked whether she has been following the MCC proceedings. She says she has not been, and cited poor internet service wherever she has been spending her time, which she says was somewhere out of the country. She also refused to answer questions about operational command leadership decisions, saying that she did not review the file materials in the aftermath of the shootings.
All of this is very unsatisfactory for the families, and, I suspect, the public. Here is the Commanding Officer for the police force under scrutiny of a public inquiry, and she has diligently avoided learning anything detailed about the events under review.
The MCC is back on tomorrow. The Commissioners have some questions for Ms. Bergerman, and then we will hear from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. Comm. Lucki was originally expected to start testifying in the afternoon, so we will see if that still holds. The other scheduling news we were given today was that Halifax Regional Police Chief, Dan Kinsella, will be testifying on Thursday.