August 23, 2022

MCC Day 59 – Commissioner Brenda Lucki and RCMP Leadership Conflicts

The MCC proceedings continued to focus today on the leadership of the RCMP, featuring continuing testimony from the now-retired former Commanding Officer for the RCMP in Nova Scotia, Lee Bergerman, and the current national Commissioner of the RCMP, Brenda Lucki. The contrast in leadership style and competence between the two was on stark display, and it was not a contrast that favoured Ms. Bergerman.

Before getting to the questions, it was revealed by MCC lawyer Rachel Young that new disclosure was provided late last night from the federal Department of Justice to the MCC. These were the notes from Ms. Bergerman dating from October, 2020 until her retirement in October, 2021. The notes being provided at this late hour meant there was no practical ability for anyone to use them to question Ms. Bergerman.

The Commissioners were clearly upset by this latest disclosure issue involving the Federal Government, but acknowledged that there was little that could be done except “roll with it”.

Some of the same questions that were asked of Ms. Bergerman yesterday about RCMP culture, ability to change, and her knowledge and understanding of the events of the mass casualty were also asked of Comm. Lucki. Where Ms. Bergerman gave short, vaguely worded answers, and claimed time and time again not to have asked questions or been informed about the RCMP’s operational response to the active shooter, Comm. Lucki gave long, detailed, and specific answers, and appeared to be engaged in the details of operational and policy shortcomings within the RCMP.

Ms. Bergerman was on the stand all day yesterday, answering questions from one of the MCC lawyers, and then lawyers for the participants. She was questioned this morning by the three MCC Commissioners, who usually have just a few minutes worth of questions at the end for witnesses, when they have any at all. With Ms. Bergerman, however, the Commissioners went for nearly two hours with questions, which was almost as long as MCC lawyer Ms. Young had spent in her direct examination of Ms. Bergerman yesterday.

The Commissioners seemed puzzled by the lack of after-action reports, analysis, or even curiosity emanating from Ms. Bergerman following the mass casualty events. Commissioner Stanton asked Ms. Bergerman whether she has ever considered “re-imagining” policing within existing budget levels, and Ms. Bergerman’s response that more funding would be required amounted to an effective answer of ‘no’ to that suggestion.

At the end of her testimony, Ms. Bergerman thanked the Commissioners for “allowing her to speak her truth”, which seemed like an odd way to put her testimony. She then tried to squeeze in an expression of condolence to the families, and she even had a brief moment of emotion as she did so. If she had more to say, however, Commissioner MacDonald was not about to give her the space to do so. As soon as she paused to take a breath, he recessed proceedings.

All of that was a prelude to the more high-profile witness, Commissioner Lucki. Comm. Lucki was not wearing a police uniform, contrary to her appearance before the Parliamentary committee looking into the allegations of political interference in the mass casualty investigation. She was a high energy witness, who seemed eager to answer each question, and had evidently put considerable thought into each aspect of her responsibilities.

Comm. Lucki spoke about “Vision 150”, which is an effort she is spearheading within the RCMP aimed at modernizing the force. She spoke about how you need to measure and track changes, and how bringing the public into that process can help enhance accountability. Otherwise, reports and recommendations can generate energy for a few months and then tail off as the next thing comes along.

Yesterday, it was put to Ms. Bergerman that up to eight versions of internal reviews had been started, but none have been completed, to which she simply said that things take time and resources. Comm. Lucki was more specific, saying that there were some concerns about witnesses being interviewed multiple times, and that some of the reviews may preclude the need for some others. She also said that some clear recommendations, such as the adoption of policies on Alert Ready, are already done or well underway. Nevertheless, she agreed that it is taking too long.

On the key question of political interference, Comm. Lucki has not changed her testimony from her earlier appearance before the Parliamentary committee, but she was given the time today to expand on what was happening.

According to Comm. Lucki, the national RCMP communications people were very frustrated with the performance of the NS RCMP communications response, which was generating considerable criticism in the public. The public narrative was becoming increasingly negative towards the RCMP, and she felt that being more forthcoming with investigative details would help counter that growing narrative.

In her view, then, the pressure she was exerting on the NS RCMP was broader than simply identifying the makes and models of the firearms seized from Gabriel Wortman. She wanted them to proactively release as many details about the investigation as possible without jeopardizing any ongoing work. Given that the perpetrator had been killed, the need to hold back information was greatly diminished.

She denied that she promised Public Safety Minister Blair that the specific makes and models would be disclosed, but had understood that they would be, and so had told him so. Her concern after that was not done during the press conference was that she had misinformed the Minister, not that the NS RCMP had broken any kind of promise she had made to the Minister.

To the extent that the MCC Commissioners care one way or the other about the political interference angle, I expect the Commissioners will prefer Comm. Lucki’s version of events to that of the NS RCMP leadership team. She was consistent throughout her testimony that she favoured transparency, and I believe the Commissioners will accept that, rather than the vague assertions of the NS RCMP that they were protecting the integrity of an investigation by holding back details from the public.

Thinking back, Comm. Lucki wishes that she had sent down the national RCMP communications staff to assist the NS RCMP. She had been worried at the time about the potential for spreading Covid (which did later happen when RCMP officers from out of province were brought in to relieve the many NS RCMP officers who took periods of leave after the mass casualty events). She felt that this could have helped the NS group handle the high volume of media and internal government requests.

As to the conference call of April 28, 2020 when Comm. Lucki was reported to have told the NS team to have been more transparent about the firearms (which the NS team felt reflected political pressure that was being exerted on Comm. Lucki) the Commissioner did not waver. While she accepted that she could have done better in communicating, and perhaps should have mixed in some positive messaging or else waited a day or two, but said she had a difficult message to convey and felt she would not be doing her job if she did not convey that message.

Lia Scanlan was the head of strategic communications in Nova Scotia for the RCMP, and wrote to Comm. Lucki a year after the call to express, in very strong language, her disappointment with the Commissioner’s conduct. Comm. Lucki rejected some of the factual elements of Ms. Scanlan’s letter, and says that the others on the call on her team in Ottawa support her perspective. Comm. Lucki attributes the letter from Ms. Scanlan to her mental health status at the time. Ms. Scanlan was off work when she wrote the letter, and it was written close to a year after the mass casualty events. Comm. Lucki did not respond to Ms. Scanlan in writing, though did try to reach out to her so that they could speak in person.

Commissioner Lucki will be back on the stand tomorrow to continue her testimony. She will be cross examined by lawyers for the other participants.