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RCMP officer, communications official stand by political-interference allegation

OTTAWA — The two people who made allegations of political meddling in the investigation into a shooting spree in Nova Scotia are standing by their recollections. Chief Supt.
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RCMP Chief Supt. Darren Campbell speaks with Director Strategic Communications Unit Lia Scanlan as they wait to appear before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, Tuesday, August 16, 2022 in Ottawa. The committee is looking into allegations of political interference in the 2020 Nova Scotia Mass murder investigation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The two people who made allegations of political meddling in the investigation into a shooting spree in Nova Scotia are standing by their recollections.

Chief Supt. Darren Campbell and former RCMP strategic communications director Lia Scanlan were among the witnesses called to testify at the House of Commons public safety committee Tuesday.

The committee is sorting through conflicting reports about whether RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was under pressure from the federal government to ensure the Mounties released details about the weapons used in the 13-hour-long shooting spree, which left 23 people dead, including the gunman.

A number of Nova Scotia RCMP officials say Lucki scolded them nine days after the killings. 

Campbell's handwritten notes about a meeting on April 28, 2020, say Lucki told them she made a promise to then-public safety minister Bill Blair that information about the firearms would be released in a news conference that day, and that it was connected to upcoming gun legislation.

Lucki has said she did not interfere in the investigation, but was frustrated with the Nova Scotia division over its communication with the public because media were reporting facts before the RCMP released them. 

"I called the meeting to express my frustration and disappointment," she told the committee in July.

Campbell told MPs on the committee Tuesday that Lucki "made me feel as if I was stupid" and as though he didn't understand the importance of releasing the information.

The RCMP has been under intense scrutiny over its communication with the public and the families of victims during and after the killing spree. A public inquiry underway in Nova Scotia has been tasked with examining that issue, among others related to the shootings and the police response. 

Campbell said he couldn't release the makes and models of the weapons because it would "have a negative impact on the ongoing investigation."

"There were investigative objectives, which included the investigation of any other individuals who may have assisted (gunman) Gabriel Wortman in any way," Campbell said. 

At the time, the RCMP was working with the FBI and other agencies to figure out how Wortman was able to smuggle weapons from the United States.

Scanlan said she felt Lucki did not care about the risk to the investigation.

No one has ever been charged, in Canada or in the U.S., with helping Wortman obtain or smuggle those firearms.

The committee has also focused attention on whether Lucki ought to have given that weapons inventory to federal government officials in late April. 

Documents released through the public inquiry show she shared that inventory with Blair's office on April 23, explaining that it shouldn't be shared beyond the minister and prime minister. 

But Campbell said he did not think it was appropriate for her to do so.

"From my understanding the direction was fairly clear that (the weapons information) could not be shared outside of the RCMP," he said.

That direction, according to Campbell and Chief Supt. Chris Leather, who also testified before the committee in July, came from Nova Scotia's police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team, known as SIRT. 

SIRT was investigating the police killing of the gunman. Campbell and Leather say the SIRT director told them the weapons inventory could only be released internally due to that probe. 

But Pat Curran, who was director of SIRT in April 2020, told The Canadian Press in an email that the gunman's weapons were not part of the watchdog's investigation and he did not give direction to the RCMP.

"I did not consider controlling disclosure of the weapon information to be a SIRT issue. Disclosing or not disclosing that information had no bearing on the matters SIRT was investigating," Curran said.

In their testimony, Blair and Lucki adamantly denied there was any pressure from the federal government on the RCMP commissioner. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia RCMP officials including former assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman have been steadfast in saying Lucki was under pressure and that she expressed that in the meeting on April 28. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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