After spending over half the day yesterday on the stand, national RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was back to give further testimony today. She was questioned yesterday by MCC lawyer Rachel Young, and Patterson Law’s Michael Scott, who was selected to be first to cross examine Comm. Lucki. Today, that cross examination continued.
In my piece yesterday, I noted how Comm. Lucki was able to answer questions at length, and with reference to specific details, in contrast to the answers of the RCMP’s NS Commanding Officer Lee Bergerman. Today we saw a different version of that kind of answer from Comm. Lucki. She was still answering at length, but was more often unable to provide details on elements of the RCMP operations, which are all ultimately under her command.
Many of the questions were relating to operational details of the RCMP response to the events of the mass casualty, as well as the RCMP’s ability to adopt recommendations made by previous outside reviews from third parties. Comm. Lucki seemed less aware than one might expect from the leader of the RCMP about the progress of recommendations from the review of the death of Colten Boushie, and the MacNeil Report from the Justin Bourque shootings in Moncton.
This is all important for two reasons. One is simply that the MCC is going to be making a series of recommendations, and the RCMP will no doubt be the subject of many of those. So, it is helpful for the Commissioners to know whether the RCMP has a good or bad track record of incorporating recommendations, and if the track record is bad, what oversight protections must be in place to ensure that the forthcoming recommendations will be implemented in a timely fashion.
The second reason is to examine the culture of the RCMP itself to determine whether it is an organization that is capable of contrition and change, and thus can be trusted to regain the trust of Nova Scotians and remain as the de facto provincial police force.
There was a mixed bag of examples from Comm. Lucki’s testimony today that leave the answers to those questions unclear.
Josh Bryson asked Comm. Lucki about scene management training, which was the subject of several recommendations in the MacNeil Report, given the long delay in the RCMP canvassing the Cobequid Court area of Portapique. While she agreed that such a delay was unacceptable, and heartbreaking for the families, Comm. Lucki did not appear to be aware of or engaged in any training recommendations or reviews of scene management as a result of what happened.
On the question of IARD (Immediate Action Rapid Deployment), where one team of three officers left their vehicles and went into Portapique on foot (ultimately accumulating over 10km according to one officer’s fitness tracker) and a second team was told not to enter the community, Comm. Lucki did not have any thoughts on whether that training needed to be adjusted for a rural context in order to be more dynamic.
Later, in questions from Linda Hupman, Comm. Lucki said that she expects the IARD team members and the Emergency Response Team to have GPS tracking on their person in 2023. This should have been in place in April 2020, and would have enabled more officers to enter Portapique in search of the killer.
She was asked about GC Surplus, the section of the federal government which handles the disposal and sale of decommissioned RCMP vehicles, along with other government surplus. Comm. Lucki was not able to say whether the RCMP had any particular oversight or investigative connection to GC Surplus. She was not asked this question specifically, but I take from these answers that there is no criminal intelligence analysis conducted with respect to anyone purchasing surplus police equipment. It would not be unreasonable to have expected, I think, for the RCMP to at least check in with GC Surplus from time to time to see if any suspicious purchasing activity is taking place.
The MacNeil Report recommended that a Threat Assessment Coordinator be in place in each area to assess whether there are individuals in the region who should be the subject of some investigation or tracking.
On note taking, which was the subject of recommendations arising from the Boushie death review, Comm. Lucki testified that she actually taught note taking at RCMP Depot. The question was asked because retired Cst. Troy Maxwell had to look for relevant notes about Brenda Forbes’ report about Lisa Banfield at home, and Cst. Wiley is still looking for notes about his many interactions with Wortman. There seems to be a weak system in place to ensure notes are consistently taken and retained.
On the question of emergency alerts, Comm. Lucki gave a different answer than Chief Superintendent Leather about whether Alert Ready would be used today should there be a similar incident. Comm. Lucki said that yes, the Alert Ready system would be used. She said this without hesitation or qualification, and noted that there has been a national policy developed on the use of emergency alerts.
In questions from Jane Lenahan, who represents the family of Gina Goulet, Comm. Lucki expressed remorse, and apologized for both the poor crime scene management, and for the lack of appropriate communication with the family after the fact. Ms. Lenehan thanked the Commissioner for the apology.
My overall impression from Comm. Lucki’s evidence today was that she was trying to do two things. First, she was trying to present herself as a modern agent of change within a large public organization. In other words, she was trying to show that she is the right person to still be leading the RCMP. Secondly, however, she seemed to want to distance herself personally from the mistakes made, operationally and with the public communications, from the Nova Scotia RCMP leadership team.
The problem I see is for the overall RCMP brand in Nova Scotia. When she was asked about rebuilding trust in the province, Comm. Lucki noted that most of the senior officers are being (or have been) replaced, but could not say whether any other changes have been directed by her or others in leadership positions to change the perception of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, or Colchester specifically.
At the end of her testimony, Comm. Lucki did apologize on behalf of the RCMP, for the force not being all that the public expected and needed. This was not an emotional apology from the Commissioner, but (in part because it was not emotionally driven) struck me as sincere.
The MCC Commissioners had a few questions for Comm. Lucki. Commissioner Fitch asked about how it was possible to change the RCMP without changing the culture, to which Comm. Lucki said that the culture is changing, and that change is being measured in detail through such things as detailed annual member surveys, code of conduct case analysis, and exit interviews with departing members.
Commissioner Stanton asked about the structure of contract policing, and noted that there have been reports, such as the 2007 Brown Report, as well as more recent efforts in BC and Alberta to reassess their contract relationship with the RCMP. Comm. Lucki was quite interested in this area of questioning, and was naturally determined to persuade us that contract policing was sustainable, with some reform.
The biggest news of the day may have come in the final moments, when Chief Commissioner MacDonald implored Commissioner Lucki to be a courageous champion for whatever recommendations emerge from the MCC process. One might see this as a sign that the MCC is not going to recommend that the province form their own police force and end the contract with the RCMP. That may be reading too much into the remarks, but that is how they sounded to me.
The MCC will be back tomorrow with Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella. He will be testifying starting at 2pm.