Good morning, everyone. I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 31 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. I am in Treaty 1 territory and also the homeland of the Métis people. Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, June 23, 2022, the committee is commencing its study of allegations of political interference in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass murder investigation.
With us today on the first panel is the Honourable Bill Blair, Minister of Emergency Preparedness, and Mr. Rob Stewart, deputy minister of the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. Up to five minutes will be given for opening remarks, after which we will proceed with rounds of questions.
Welcome to all.
I now invite to make an opening statement of up to five minutes.
Minister, whenever you're ready, the floor is yours.
Colleagues, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I'd also like to acknowledge that I'm speaking to you today from the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
On April 18 and 19 of 2020, an unthinkable tragedy unfolded in Nova Scotia. All Canadians were shaken by these horrific deaths and mourned alongside the affected communities. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my support for and condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in these violent attacks and our commitment to ensure that they get the answers they need.
We know that Canadians deserve a full accounting of what happened over those 13 hours on April 18 and 19 in 2020. That is why we established an independent inquiry, the Mass Casualty Commission, which is mandated to look into some of the most pressing questions that were raised into how this occurred and how future tragedies can be prevented. We are all looking forward to the inquiry's fact-based findings, which I understand are due to be released later this year.
As the commission conducts its work, I remain committed to the fundamental principle of operational independence for law enforcement in this country. I want to make it very clear: At no point did I direct the RCMP in any operational matter, including on public communications. I did not ask them to release any specific information, nor did I receive a promise for them to do so. As you will find in all of my public statements from that time, I confirmed that identifying the weapons used was a decision wholly within the purview of the RCMP.
What I would like to emphasize for you all today, however, is that during the years I've had the honour to serve as Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, one of my top priorities has been addressing gun violence in Canada. This was a key item in my mandate letter, which directed me to keep our communities safe by implementing new gun control measures, including a ban on assault-style firearms. Work on this issue had been under way for quite some time. We first made a commitment to get assault-style weapons off our streets in the very first Speech from the Throne in 2015. We repeated that commitment in both our platform and our throne speech in 2019. As part of that work, while I was Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, I supported in public consultations on reducing violent crime that involved both handguns and assault-style weapons.
Just within these few years, we have seen far too many examples of the kinds of harms these firearms can cause, such as at the shooting at the Quebec City mosque. Another gunman killed two police officers and two civilians in Fredericton. Within our neighbour to the south, the AR-15 alone has been used in mass shootings at the Pulse nightclub; in Sutherland Springs; at Stoneman Douglas High School; and, perhaps most tragically, at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
From the outset, we understood the importance of preventing assault-style firearms from getting into the hands of people who do Canadians harm. The tragedy that occurred in Nova Scotia only deepened our resolve to move forward with this critically important work. That is why on May 1, 2020, we announced an OIC prohibiting over 1,500 models of assault-style firearms and their variants. Firearms affected by this order in council cannot be legally used, sold or imported into Canada. We created a time-limited amnesty order to give law-abiding gun owners time to come into compliance.
The OIC on May 1 was the result of many years of hard work on the part of government, including public servants, and was developed based on public consultations that were open to all Canadians. Let me be very clear: These are weapons designed for the battlefield, intended to kill the maximum number of people in the least amount of time. They have no place in Canada.
The measure is, and continues to be, an incredibly important part of our overall approach to combatting gun violence, but it is not the only step we have taken. We have introduced expanded background checks and enhanced screening for those seeking a firearms licence, and we've made significant investments in helping provinces and territories tackle gang violence. Earlier this year, my colleague tabled further relevant legislation that I believe will be coming before this committee in short order. Combatting gun violence is a complex and continual process, an issue that requires a multi-faceted approach, and we will continue to keep Canadians safe by implementing stronger gun controls.
Mr. Chair, I would conclude, if I may, by reiterating that at no time have I ever interfered operationally or given operational direction to the RCMP in my role as the Minister of Public Safety.
I thank you all. I look forward to the questions that you may have.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
To the Minister of Emergency Preparedness and Deputy Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, thank you for being with us today.
I want to extend my condolences to the loved ones and families of the victims. Although the mass shooting took place in 2020, I think that hearing about it again, given the Mass Casualty Commission and everything that is published daily in the media, reopens wounds that weren't quite closed. So I think a lot about these people, and out of respect for them, I think it's important to be transparent, to give them as much information as possible and to answer their questions to the greatest extent possible. The fact that there are allegations of political interference is quite serious. These people therefore deserve to have their questions answered.
I'll get right to the point.
Minister, you said some interesting things earlier in response to questions from my Conservative colleagues. According to the report on the mass shooting and to the account by Superintendent Darren Campbell, at a meeting on April 28, 2020, RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki allegedly said she promised you and the that she would release information about the weapons used in the mass shooting, even if it could compromise the investigation. As Mr. Campbell stated, she knew that you would issue a regulation two days later and revealing the weapons used would help your government.
Did you actually have these conversations with Ms. Lucki, during which you would have asked her to publicly disclose the type of weapons used?
There's only one set of facts. I did not ask the commissioner to reveal that information. She did not promise me that she would.
You're also referring to a conversation that the commissioner had with her subordinates in Nova Scotia, and there's some information that's come forward with that. I was not a party to that discussion and have no knowledge of that discussion. Those questions about that discussion are better put to the participants.
However, I can say unequivocally and with absolute certainty that I did not direct the RCMP commissioner to reveal that information, nor did she promise me that she would do so. In fact, every time I was asked in every media event.... There are many recorded media interviews with me when questions were put to me, including the day we announced the order in council. I was very explicit that day that we were not going to release that information. The decision on when it should be released is entirely up to the RCMP. Subsequently, in the House—and if you go through Hansard you'll see it—many times members of the Conservative Party asked me about information related to that. I said the RCMP is conducting their investigation, and when they're concluded they'll release the information as they see fit.
As I was doing then, I continue to strongly defend the operational independence of the RCMP in making operational decisions regarding their investigations.
Thank you, Minister. I'm sorry, but my time is running out shortly and I do want to change tack here. I don't want to repeat many of the questions that were asked.
Mr. Noormohamed asked you to carefully explain the relationship between the and the RCMP. You gave a very clear answer. The problem is, Minister, that other governments—previous governments, both Conservative and Liberal—have had ministers who have given operational direction to the RCMP. We saw it with the Chrétien government back in the 1990s with the APEC summit. Direction was also given back in the 1950s by the Diefenbaker government with an incident in Newfoundland.
I think the problem, Minister, lies with the interpretation of the RCMP Act, specifically subsection 5(1), which provides basically for the appointment of the commissioner, “who, under the direction of the Minister, has control and management of the Force”.
I'm paraphrasing that, but it basically leaves it quite vague. Would you agree that's quite a vague statement in the act that governs the RCMP?
Yes, sir. We understand that. Thank you.
I know that we're tight on time, so let's get to the matter. You wanted a review, not an inquiry. Then when the inquiry came around, you took the opportunity, sir, to actually appoint some very interesting commissioners—oddly enough, Mr. MacDonald, first cousin to one of the individuals who was shot, and a well-known Liberal, who stayed charges against Gerry Regan; Ms. Fitch, whose father was a Mountie, a five-year chief of police who was on a board of the RCMP; and Ms. Stanton, who actually wrote a book in 2021, released before the commission's start, to change the way public inquiries are held.
Is that not political interference from the very beginning, sir?
It's almost impossible to get your mind around what happened in Nova Scotia and the impact on the families and on the force.
I spent a short time as the director of communication for the Vancouver police department, and I know full well that the police quite often have seconds—milliseconds—to make a decision, and everybody else has the rest of time to second-guess what they decided to do.
In your case, Minister Blair, you had a mandate letter from December 13, 2019, directing you to implement the government's firearms policy. First on the list was to deal with military-style assault weapons. Does this item in your mandate reflect the will of Canadians, do you think, as expressed in the 2019 election?
Minister, the director of strategic communications in Halifax, Lia Scanlan, said that government officials, including you, when you were the Minister of Public Safety, and Trudeau, were evaluating what they could and could not say. Now, this is a mass shooting, a tragedy where—I think you'll agree with me—the police are in the best position to determine what to say.
One of the things you talked about was transparency and independence of the national police force, and as Mr. Hardie was saying earlier, police officers often only have a few minutes, a few seconds, before they make a decision. Obviously, they are in the best position to explain the decisions they made.
Hearing that the government wanted to control the message gives the impression that, instead of thinking about the victims, they were thinking about their political agenda.
I wonder if you are aware of the public's perception.
First of all, I have never ever met or had a conversation with that individual. At no time have I ever given her, nor did my government give her, any direction on what she could or could not say. I have no understanding of that and no facts upon which to make a determination as to why that would be said, because it's simply not true.
As well, I think it's important to understand the context that the deputy minister referred to. There was, in the immediate days following this shooting, a tremendous amount of public concern about what had taken place and a great need, among the families, the community, Nova Scotians and people right across Canada, to understand what had happened and why it had happened. It was very important for information that could be shared to be shared with the public.
I had a number of conversations with my counterpart in Nova Scotia, and we were hearing from the families. I was hearing from a number of my counterparts too. In fact, the member for rose in the House, and another member, , rose in the House, expressing very real concern that the RCMP was not being forthcoming with information and urging us to make information public. In response to those questions in the House, I answered that it is the decision of the RCMP and that only the RCMP could determine what information would be released. I understood, as I understand now, their very sincere concern that more information needed to be shared.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Minister Blair, I want to return to the subject of what I view as the vagueness of the RCMP Act, specifically subsection 5(1). Now, in my previous exchange with you, I cited two examples: the Diefenbaker government with the situation in Newfoundland, and the Chrétien government in the 1990s with the APEC summit. While I appreciate that for you this subsection is crystal clear, those are two very clear and demonstrated cases where the government of the day did give operational directives to the RCMP.
I think what's being alleged here, if we look at Superintendent Campbell's notes, is not so much operational directives but more a communication directive. You've been very clear in saying that the line for what a minister can say to the RCMP when it comes to operational matters is very clear. I think there's a bit of wiggle room here, a bit of a different interpretation.
My interest going forward is how we prevent this from happening again. Law professor Kent Roach has suggested in the media that there should be a legislative requirement for ministerial directives to be made public and openly available so that any kind of directive given by the minister to the RCMP is there, it's open and people can read into it what they will. It would help satisfy the public's need to know whenever a minister is giving a directive under subsection 5(1).
Minister, would you support such a requirement, and if not, can you explain why?
I can't imagine what Nova Scotians went through during that 12-hour rampage and I recognize that there is a lot of healing required to move forward.
Each and every day, my employees do the best they can with the circumstances they are faced with, but, of course, we can always do better. That's why the Mass Casualty Commission was created: “to provide meaningful recommendations to keep communities safe in the future.”
Thanks for the opportunity to speak on some of these important issues that were raised by this incident.
Let me begin and let me be clear: I did not interfere in the investigation around this tragedy; nor did I experience political interference. Specifically, I was not directed to publicly release information about weapons used by the perpetrator to help advance pending gun control legislation.
Was there pressure for information from the federal government about this incident? Yes. This wasn't surprising, as we were dealing with the biggest mass shooting incident in our country. It was my responsibility to keep relevant officials apprised of the evolving situation while maintaining the integrity of the operation.
Were the requests for information and updates political interference? No. In my dealings with , he was very conscious of this and has never sought to interfere in the investigation.
I understand that some RCMP employees may have different perspectives based on the meeting of April 28. However, I was the only RCMP official dealing with the , other senior government officials and occasionally with the . I am the only one who can speak to the nature of these requests, exchanges of information and my intentions during that meeting.
The integrity of a police investigation is critical. As someone with over 35 years in policing, that's something I would never seek to influence or jeopardize, nor would I allow RCMP investigations to be dictated or influenced by government officials.
I am accountable to the from an administrative perspective, but the RCMP is operationally independent. The basis for this principle is to prevent direct and specific political control of police operational activity, with the sole responsibility for operational decision-making resting in the hands of police officers.
Keeping the government informed through timely and accurate information sharing is not interference. It's standard procedure, and these situational updates are provided without compromising the operational integrity of an investigation.
I did provide information on April 23 about the types of weapons found in the perpetrator's possession—information that was to be shared with the and the —noting that it wasn't to be disseminated any further as there was an active investigation. Additional information was shared as well, but government officials were advised that any information received couldn't be shared with the media until first released by RCMP. This included such information as the number and names of the deceased, replica police uniforms and vehicle information, the incident at the fire hall, the background of the perpetrator and the weapons used and seized.
In the lead-up to the Nova Scotia press conference scheduled for April 28, I provided information to the government on what would be released. At that time, I was asked if the information about the weapons would be included. When my communications team told me that it would be, I relayed this information back to chief of staff and the deputy minister of public safety.
Regarding my use of the word “promise” during the meeting I had with my team following that press conference, at that time and in that context, I was trying to convey that I had confirmed to the that the information about the weapons would be released during the press conference—a confirmation that was made based on information that I had been provided.
Due to a miscommunication, this was not the case, and I felt I had misinformed the and, by extension, the . These were difficult, dynamic and demanding circumstances, and everybody was doing their best to provide as much information to the government, the public and the media about this appalling event.
This all took place just over a month after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. The pandemic fundamentally changed how we managed this incident.
The unfortunate reality is that the information flow from Nova Scotia colleagues into my office in the hours and days following the shooting wasn't what it should have been. It was for this reason that I called the meeting to express my disappointment and frustration and to outline expectations. Once I was informed during that meeting of the miscommunication and that releasing the information would jeopardize the ongoing investigation, I considered the matter closed and did not pursue it further. This was clearly articulated back to the minister. In fact, to support my assertion on non-interference, this information was not released until several months later.
On the matter of the April 28 meeting itself, it needed to happen. It was essential that I had more timely and accurate information, and it was important that my team understood my expectations going forward. It wasn't helped by the fact that it was a teleconference. I had no visual cues for how my words affected those on the call. In the early days of the pandemic, we didn't have access to the on-screen platforms we do now.
The timing of the meeting itself was not ideal, and I should have been more sensitive to those in attendance—people who had been operating in a high-stress and very emotionally charged environment and had just completed a significant press conference. Given this context, I regret the timing and how I framed the conversation, but the discussion was still necessary.
It wasn't brought to my attention until a year later that there were concerns of political interference stemming from that meeting and that my approach and interactions with my team were in question. Had I known my words and approach had such an effect, I would have definitely made things right sooner. This is who I am.
Let me be clear. I did not interfere in the investigation, I did not receive direction and I was not influenced by government officials regarding the public release of information and, more importantly, on the direction of the investigation. I ensured that operational independence was maintained in all my interactions with government, as I do today.
In closing, I will note that the RCMP is committed to supporting the important work of the Mass Casualty Commission. Any time we have a mechanism to review and improve how we operate is critical.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon.
I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today.
As stated, my name is Brian Brennan and I am the deputy commissioner of contract and indigenous policing. In this capacity, I am responsible for the RCMP's contract and indigenous policing program, which includes overseeing delivery of local policing services in Canada's three territories and in all provinces except for Ontario and Quebec. I am posted here in Ottawa.
For context, prior to starting this position as deputy commissioner, I was the commanding officer in Nova Scotia, which we refer to as H Division. As deputy commissioner, it is my responsibility to keep abreast of, and when appropriate provide guidance related to, serious or significant situations occurring on the ground across our divisions to ensure a uniform level of service and consistent responses to operational issues that arise as a result of our frontline policing responsibilities. Across the RCMP, six divisional commanding officers are direct reports to me, including the four commanding officers in the Atlantic provinces.
In the context of the mass casualty event in 2020, this meant I was supporting H Division by working with national headquarters business lines to ensure that operational requests in support of the division were actioned, and by providing briefing updates to the senior executive committee and other commanding officers. I was in regular contact with the commissioner, the commanding officer of Nova Scotia and her team to gather information and to support their response, including efforts to provide support and resources to the division from other parts of the RCMP across the country.
My focus was on policing operations rather than public communications. Understandably, there were many questions about what was happening on the ground and what information was available to share from the division. The commissioner required timely and regular updates on the evolving situation to support her work and exercise her responsibilities as commissioner. This was appropriate and expected.
With that, I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have on this matter.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I, too, would like to follow up on the comments made by a number of my colleagues recognizing how triggering this meeting can be, not only to those from Nova Scotia but also to all Canadians who have lived through gun violence. I want to recognize that. In particular, to our colleague across the way, MP Ellis, and those in Nova Scotia, my condolences.
Commissioner, I recall after that shooting—and you mentioned this in your remarks—the pressure from the media. I recall pressure from Canadians. Opposition party MP asked a question during question period about when this information was going to come out.
It sounds like you had a number of conversations with about what would be said in that press conference. Was that a normal thing that would transpire between you and the minister, especially with a national tragedy such as what happened in Nova Scotia? Would it be normal to relay to him what he could expect to see at the press conference?
Ms. Lucki and Mr. Brennan, thank you for being with us today. We greatly appreciate it.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a sensitive topic for many, and I think that those who want answers to their questions deserve to have them, or at least get some clarification about what happened. Allegations of political interference are always a serious matter. This means that we are trying to truly understand what happened, based on different accounts.
There is a lot of talk about the notes that Mr. Campbell took. I will refer to those as well, because there are some things in there that raise important questions. And I would like to hear your comments on that, Ms. Lucki.
Ms. Lucki, in a statement you issued, you assured us that you would never take any action or make any decisions that would compromise an investigation.
Do you consider publicly disclosing the type of weapons used before the investigation is complete, such as in this case, to be the kind of thing that can compromise an investigation?
You say you are simply the messenger in this type of situation. However, as the commissioner of the RCMP, I assume you still give instructions to your employees.
I will quote from Mr. Campbell's notes to provide some context.
On the subject of that notable meeting, he said:
The commissioner was obviously upset. She did not raise her voice but her choice of words was indicative of her overall dissatisfaction with our work.
The Commissioner accused us (me) of disrespecting her by not following her instructions.
He also said:
The commissioner said she told Comms to tell us at H Division to include specific info about the firearms used by [the killer].
You had issued instructions, which presumably were not followed. You were angry or upset about it. You linked it to the conversation you had with the government regarding the promise, or not, to give information about the type of weapons used.
Do you confirm what is in the notes?
Perhaps you were upset about something else, like what you said earlier, or other things discussed at that meeting?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to the commissioner and deputy commissioner for joining our committee today and helping walk us through the series of events from April 2020.
Commissioner, you stated that in your mind it wasn't a promise but a confirmation and that the information would be released at the press conference.
I know that there was a lot of pressure. There was a lot of pressure from the public. There was a lot of pressure from the federal government in trying to get this kind of information.
I guess for some people, when they see the asking you, as commissioner of the RCMP, whether or not the information on the firearms would be released at a press conference, because of the very nature of the relationship that the minister has with the commissioner of the RCMP, some people might perceive that to be undue influence in the very posing of the question.
Do you see how that could be perceived by some members of the public?
I'll pick up where I left off earlier and come back to Mr. Campbell's notes. I'll quote him again.
The Commissioner then said that we didn’t understand, that this was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and the public safer. She was very upset and at one point Deputy Commissioner (Brian) Brennan tried to get things calmed down but that had little effect.
Commissioner, you said you weren't angry and that you are a relatively calm person. I don't want to contradict you, since I was not at that meeting. However, Mr. Campbell was there and, in light of his notes, he contradicts you. So I'll direct my question to Mr. Brennan.
Mr. Brennan, is it correct that you had to try to lower the tension? It is true that sometimes tempers flare during meetings.
As Mr. Campbell recalls it, you tried to calm things down a bit.
I would like to call this meeting back to order, everybody.
Our third panel of witnesses are, as individuals, Lee Bergerman, former assistant commissioner and commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, and Sharon Tessier, former director general, national communication services, RCMP. From the RCMP, we have Chris Leather, chief superintendent, criminal operations officer, Nova Scotia.
Up to five minutes will be given for opening remarks after which we will proceed with rounds of questions. Each witness in this panel has their own opening remarks to deliver, so that will be three times five minutes each.
Welcome to all.
I now invite each witness to make their opening statement. We will proceed in the order listed on the notice, beginning with Ms. Bergerman.
You have the floor for five minutes. Please go ahead.
My name is Lee Bergerman, and I retired at the rank of assistant commissioner earlier this year, having served 36 years in the RCMP.
On April 28, I was a serving member and was the commanding officer of H Division.
On April 18 and April 19, 2020, a gunman murdered 22 innocent people in Nova Scotia during a 13-hour rampage until he was shot and killed by RCMP members. This mass casualty shooting was the worst in Canadian history and has forever impacted many lives in a negative way.
On April 28, 2020, in my role as the CO of H Division, I was doing detachment visits to those most impacted by the casualty event. Those detachments are in the northeast part of Nova Scotia, where most of the murders occurred.
Many of our first responders were heavily impacted by this event, as you can well imagine. They were hurting for the loss of their fellow citizens who lived in the communities they policed. We were also mourning the loss of our own Heidi Stevenson, who was murdered by the gunman during the rampage. We also were very much concerned about Constable Chad Morrison, who was shot and wounded during the gunman's rampage. To say that many of our police officers and community members were traumatized would be an understatement.
It was my responsibility as the CO to do personal visits to support our members, assess the needs of the communities in the aftermath and develop action plans for the support of those affected. I was also pursuing the development of strategies for future resource needs.
On April 28, after finishing my detachment visits, I returned to H Division headquarters in Dartmouth. Soon after I got back to the office, I watched Chief Superintendent Campbell's press conference that he and our communications team had been working on for days. At that time, H Division was being heavily criticized for lack of information being shared about the mass casualty shooting.
This press conference was extremely important, not only for the RCMP but also for the public, to have a preliminary understanding of what occurred during the 13-hour rampage. Chief Superintendent Campbell did an excellent job presenting the facts and answering questions for the many press members who were there.
After the press conference, I spoke with Lia Scanlan, director of communications for H Division, and Chief Superintendent Campbell, and I congratulated them for the excellent job they had done presenting the facts. There were many details that could not be shared publicly due to the ongoing investigation.
Shortly thereafter, Ms. Scanlan came back to my office to advise me that Deputy Commissioner Brennan had called her and said that we were required to be on a conference call in five minutes with the commissioner. Ms. Scanlan was visibly upset and advised me that Deputy Commissioner Brennan was very mad and demanded that I, Chief Superintendent Leather and Chief Superintendent Campbell be on the call. We all assembled in my boardroom and were joined by the commissioner, Deputy Commissioner Brennan, Sharon Tessier from national headquarters and Dan Brien.
The commissioner started the conversation, and it was evident she was very angry at my team. The tone of her voice and what she said to all of us made it apparent that she was not happy and felt disrespected and disobeyed. It should be noted that I was confused from the start of the conversation, as I had not been privy to any conversations that I now know occurred the night before and during the day of April 28, 2020. During the conference call, at one point I asked Chief Superintendent Leather what this conversation was about. It was apparent Chief Superintendent Leather was as blindsided as I was at the tone and content of the conversation.
Near the end of the call, Chief Superintendent Campbell left the room obviously upset, and Ms. Scanlan was emotionally very upset. After the call, both chief superintendent and I had a brief conversation about what occurred, the negative impact on our employees and the inappropriateness of the content.
When I left the office shortly after this conversation, I called Deputy Commissioner Brennan and expressed my disappointment at how my team had been treated, the inappropriateness of the tone and the things that were said on the call. Knowing the impact this conference call had on my staff, I advised Deputy Commissioner Brennan that the conference call and the content were very big missteps by the commissioner and that I didn't think the commissioner realized the impact her words had on our staff.
I say all of this without any personal agenda or with any previous issues with Commissioner Lucki. I consider her a friend, and I can honestly say that this meeting was not at all reflective of her leadership style.
It is with regret that it has come to this, but as the commanding officer of H Division at the time, it is my duty and responsibility to speak up for our members based on the truth and my perspective of the situation. I wish to affirm that I am testifying to the best of my personal recollection and doing so in the interest of fairness and living up to the vision and values of the RCMP, which I hold dear.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to participate on this panel.
Over two years ago, family members, friends, communities, first responders and members of the RCMP endured a massive and devastating attack on their loved ones that deeply shook the people of Nova Scotia and Canadians across the country. Two years later, the gravity of the unprecedented tragedy still has a strong hold on me and my RCMP colleagues, and to this day, I hold the victims, their families and those who faced the danger in my heart.
My husband is from Cape Breton, where we spend several months a year. My children are all students or graduates from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. I have seen in my family and friends the grief, devastation and bewilderment caused by the rampage in this province. The sense of loss is profound.
I've been invited here today to discuss allegations of political interference in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass murder investigation. On April 18 and 19, I was more than 1,000 kilometres away and had the benefit of not being in the eye of the storm. I was the director general of the RCMP's national communication services in Ottawa. While I worked very closely with the communication teams across the country, they ultimately reported to their commanding officers and worked in partnership with their colleagues on the front line, who briefed them on operational issues.
We provided advice and guidance. Communications, generally, does not have the authority to direct or dictate what our subject matter experts share. We were non-partisan and protected our operational independence while respecting the communications protocol of keeping our partners in Public Safety and the Privy Council Office updated. I also regularly briefed our senior leaders, including the commissioner.
While I have a profound respect for the work of the RCMP—my father was a regular member, as is my son—I know enough about the complexities of policing to know that I am by no means an expert. However, what I do know, after more than three decades working for several different departments, is how to communicate and how to manage a crisis.
As such, in the aftermath of the April 2020 massacre, my positioning was clear. I was strongly advocating for the timely release of information, knowing some would need to be withheld to preserve operational integrity. My goal was to uphold public confidence and trust in our organization and more specifically the Nova Scotia RCMP. The backbone of this was to be open and transparent, sharing what we could and explaining why some details could not be discussed at that time. My goal was to give clarity to the public without divulging any information that could impede an ongoing investigation. It was, to say the least, a delicate balance indeed.
This is why I was pushing to share more information and information constantly, quickly and openly to the media and the public. One such item was the weapons used. The public knew about the presence of guns and I advised that we provide as much detail as possible. In crisis communications, silence is not golden and can bring doubt, rumours and speculation. You cannot build trust in a vacuum.
I was present at the meeting convened on April 28, at the request of the commissioner, to discuss the ongoing communications. Now, two years later and having retired in November, I'm at a disadvantage, as I do not have access to all of the information from that time, such as emails or communications material, but I will share my recollection.
I remember it was an unpleasant meeting. Commissioner Lucki was controlled but clearly frustrated and dissatisfied with our overall communication efforts. I cannot speak to how others felt, but it was emotional for me. I don't know anyone who likes to hear that their boss is unhappy with their work, particularly after so much effort.
At the meeting, I shared that I had informed the commissioner that there would be more clarity on the weapons, albeit at a high level, during the news conference held earlier that morning. I briefed her that it would go one way; then it went another. To my recollection, this was the impetus for the conference call shortly after. With regard to political pressure, I cannot recall the commissioner's exact comments, but I do remember she was irritated that she had briefed the minister that we would be proactively discussing the weapons, based on my earlier update.
I'm not here to second-guess my actions or those of my colleagues. Our experiences, perspectives and views were different. They were under immense pressure in Nova Scotia. There had clearly been some miscommunication between us, as can happen when moving at an unrelenting pace, adjusting to remote work and having numerous versions and discussions circulating at once. I offer this for context, not as an excuse.
These are the perspectives from which I will be speaking today, and I look forward to answering your questions to the best of my knowledge.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and select members of Parliament on the SECU committee.
My name is Chief Superintendent Chris Leather. I am the criminal operations officer for the RCMP's H Division, Nova Scotia, as I was so assigned in April 2020. I've been a police officer for over 32 years and a commissioned officer since 2014. I'm honoured to be here in person today, along with my colleagues Ms. Bergerman and Ms. Tessier.
Before I offer my introductory remarks, I would like to take a minute to recognize the Portapique tragedy of April 18 and 19, 2020, one that so horrendously impacted the country, the province, its communities and of course the victims and their families in Nova Scotia. The impacts have been and continue to be felt by the public and our membership. The pain will be felt by all for many years to come. As Canada's worst ever mass murder, we are forever scarred by this senseless act of violence perpetrated by the lone gunman. In all of this, I am proud of our members' dedication, commitment and resilience then and now in the face of such horrendous events and criticism.
I'm returning to Nova Scotia tomorrow. I'm scheduled to testify for two days at the Mass Casualty Commission. Also, I recently provided a 10-hour recorded audio statement to MCC counsel pertaining to my roles and responsibilities during and after the Portapique tragedy. I will remain engaged to assist with policy change, law amendments, cultural change and whatever else is asked of me.
We look forward to receiving the final report from the Mass Casualty Commission in November this year and acting on the report's recommendations. We know that there are many areas we can improve on and gaps that we will address. I know that the “after action report” work will be crucial to bolstering public safety and confidence in the RCMP.
I want the committee to know that we recognized issues early on. Where we could, we already began addressing the gaps identified, working shoulder to shoulder with our provincial government counterparts, Nova Scotia municipal police chiefs, fellow criminal operations officers and commanding officers across Canada, and of course the communities we serve to improve and evolve as an organization.
The RCMP is the provincial police service in Nova Scotia. We serve at the behest of the Province of Nova Scotia, the public, and Public Safety Canada. We take this responsibility seriously. We look forward to serving Nova Scotians in this capacity for years to come.
My role as the criminal operations officer is as the de facto 2IC of the RCMP in Nova Scotia. All operational units and programs, except federal policing, roll up under me. This includes all general duty policing and specialized policing services for the RCMP, including but not limited to uniformed policing, specialized policing services, including our emergency response team and critical incident commanders, and operational communications managers and call-takers, all of whom played critical roles in our Portapique response.
I understand that the focus of this committee's work is to determine whether there was political interference with the RCMP as it related to the gun legislation passed by the federal government in May 2020. I was a participant in the April 28 teleconference hosted by Commissioner Lucki, which included Deputy Commissioner Brennan, Ms. Tessier, Mr. Dan Brien, Assistant Commissioner Bergerman, Chief Superintendent Campbell, Ms. Lia Scanlan and me. As I said in my MCC statement, I am available to answer questions concerning what I heard on the call and my related roles and responsibilities leading up to the call of April 28 and key after-discussions with my colleagues—namely, CO Lee Bergerman, Chief Superintendent Campbell, and the director of corporate communications, Lia Scanlan.
What I will say at this point is that the meeting was remarkable in its timing, only 10 days after the tragedy; the call contents, infused with emotion; and a reference to pending gun control legislation by the commissioner, just a few minutes after a key press conference given by Chief Superintendent Campbell, during which he effectively provided a comprehensive update on the criminal investigation known as H-Strong, including associated timelines.
What I will also say is that I was unaware of the key lead-up conversations that had occurred between Chief Superintendent Campbell, Ms. Scanlan, Ms. Tessier and Dan Brien of national corporate communications on the evening of April 27 and into the morning of April 28 surrounding the firearms used by the gunman specific to the talking points that were prepared for Chief Superintendent Campbell's April 28 televised news conference. I was truly taken aback by the discussion at the teleconference, and it would take several post-fact discussions for me to piece together and to better understand the context of the comments.
I thank the three witnesses for being with us today. We very much appreciate it.
I'd like to come back to some answers they gave to my colleague earlier.
I agree with my colleague that it is somewhat curious for the Nova Scotia RCMP to remember the meeting on April 28 differently from the national RCMP. I just want to come back to that.
I will address Ms. Bergerman first.
Ms. Bergerman, could you elaborate on how this meeting went? Earlier, you stated that the RCMP commissioner appeared to be under pressure from the government, the Minister of Public Safety, the or their respective offices to publicly disclose certain information about the weapons used. You specifically mentioned the calibre and model of these weapons.
What made you believe or think that the commissioner was under pressure from the government? Could you go into more detail about your thinking or your reaction at that point? Does it reflect anything in Mr. Campbell's notes?
Earlier, while listening to the interpretation, Commissioner Brenda Lucki thought I was talking about the commission, but I was also talking about the investigation.
Mr. Leather, can I ask you essentially the same questions on what you remember about the way that meeting went and your impression of the commissioner? Did it seem to you that she was under some political pressure?
Getting information and asking for information are not normally interference, unless it seems that there may be some pressure to get it faster. That may, indeed, be what happened.
Do you get that impression as well?
To the member, through the chair, I think it's important to provide some context in the lead up to the call of the 28th.
It was around April 22 that I got a phone call from the commissioner directly requesting the gun “inventory”, for lack of a better term—the list of guns, makes, models and serial numbers. Really, that's when it began for me in terms of this issue, and it was a request that, obviously, I took seriously, coming directly from the commissioner.
That would be out of the norm of communication to a criminal operations officer, but again, under the circumstances, and given the gravity of the situation, it didn't seem completely odd to me because that would be something that would make sense for the commissioner to share within her senior executive committee in Ottawa, the deputy commissioners and equivalents.
It was on April 23 that CO Bergerman and I actually had a conversation with SiRT. SiRT is the serious investigative team that oversees police activity, akin to the SIU here in Ontario for matters where there is a death in police custody or at the hands of police. It was quite clear from our conversation with the SiRT director that we would be allowed to provide a gun inventory to the commissioner so long as it was used within the RCMP—and that was it. That was the agreement and the commitment that we made to the director of SiRT, which I passed along to Ms. Bergerman, which presumably went up to Ottawa.
That's the background on the lead up, and then really for several days, until the 28th, and akin to what Ms. Bergerman said, there was no further discussion on the gun inventory or the speaking notes, or any sense of interest, from my perspective, in the inventory of guns being released publicly, internal to government or otherwise.
I would echo Ms. Bergerman's comments about the surprise that it came up the way it did on the 28th for an issue that I thought had essentially been resolved through obtaining this inventory and passing it along to be used for internal discussion and understanding.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
Ms. Tessier, if I can, maybe I'll start with you.
We now have a fairly well-established timeline of what happened between the commissioner and the minister. She has confirmed, in fact, that it was the minister's chief of staff who asked her if the makes and models of the firearms, the detailed information about the firearms, could be released, and she made the confirmation/promise that yes, it could.
Just to confirm, when she did confirm that with the minister's chief of staff, was she basing that on the information that you had provided her? Can you just confirm the process that lead her to be able to make that confirmation to the chief of staff?
In one of the emails that came to light recently, we saw that the RCMP commissioner told the chief of staff or the office of the Minister of Public Safety that information on the pistols and rifles used by the killer should go no further than the minister's office and the office of the .
However, what we understand from the meeting on April 28, a few days later, is that this position had completely changed. The commissioner seemed to be angry or upset that this information was not going to be made public.
I will address Ms. Bergerman first.
In your opinion, Ms. Bergerman, what caused the commissioner to change her mind in this way? Were there any conversations with you, perhaps, or with ministers' offices, that caused her to radically change her position?
I may cede some of my time to Ms. Damoff if there is a question I haven't quite gotten answered.
We're dealing with the fog of war here. Things are dynamic. Information is coming in in dribs and drabs, some of it unconfirmed.
Chief Superintendent Leather, at one point you were asked if the alleged gunman was known to the police, and you said no. Okay. That stuff happens, and it happens rather continuously.
I submit to you, Ms. Bergerman, that if the commissioner was not happy in that April 28 conference call that she had with you, it may not have been because the information on the firearms wasn't released but that what happened was yet another failure in the communication process, one of many, that of course was putting your department under a lot of stress and pressure and putting the commissioner under a lot of stress and pressure.
Is that not feasible here?
I will let others speak on the overall motion, but I do want to propose that we remove “Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and his officials”. We don't believe that it is relevant to what's being discussed today and the original motion that led to the meeting today.
The issue with respect to Justice is about documents. There were over 75,000 documents that have been disclosed to date through the process. The ministry has done that already. The review and disclosure of documents is a work undertaken by officials at the Department of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and does not involve the or his office in any way. In fact, any manner in which the minister directs these would be inappropriate, as you are aware, Mr. Chair. Reviewing documents for privilege, which includes cabinet confidences, solicitor-client privileges, other privileges and personal information is the usual process done in all litigation inquiry work by the department—not by the minister or his office.
In addition, document production that follows review is a labour-intensive technical process that happens on a rolling basis and needs to be triaged based on production deadlines and the immediate needs of the inquiry for upcoming hearings.
I can assure the members that all documents related to the April 28, 2020 meeting have been disclosed to the commission. The Department of Justice and government are working co-operatively with the MCC to ensure that all relevant documents are received by the commission in a timely manner.
I'm okay with keeping the 's name in there. It does make reference to his officials, who would probably be in a better place to respond to specific questions.
It's been well documented in the media that the most valuable four pages of Superintendent Campbell's notes, which of course have led to this committee meeting being held, were somehow delayed in getting out into the public, so I do think there is value in hearing from the Department of Justice.
My only other quibble with the motion—and it's a minor one—is just the wording “no later than Wednesday, August 31” of this year. We're all pretty busy in our constituencies these days, so I would just ask if maybe we, as a committee, could come down to some kind of specificity, so we can plan our weeks in August accordingly and not just leave it wide open up until the 31st.
That's my only point there, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The reason I think it is important to remove the name of the and the reference to officials from the motion is because our time is limited. Today, in fact, I would have preferred to continue to ask questions of the witnesses, because I know this committee will be sitting again.
The minister is just going to say what Mr. Anandasangaree already outlined: the decision was not his, but that of his officials. So we will waste five or seven minutes if we insist on asking him questions, because he will repeat the same thing.
As for the officials, considering the explanations they gave after Nova Scotia RCMP Superintendent Campbell's notes were released, I can think a number of other people who could give more interesting and enlightening explanations for Canadians and certainly for parliamentarians.
It is simply for the sake of efficiency that I propose to question only the witnesses on the rest of the list. That way we will get a lot of clarification about what happened between the two RCMP offices.
Chair, I just want to speak to Mr. MacGregor's concerns about broad timing by the end of August.
I appreciate Ms. Dancho's giving the chair flexibility here to get witnesses. We also know there's a time in August, particularly the first week of August and also towards the end of the month, when the House is doing its system maintenance, so we're trying to be respectful of that. Again, I commend Ms. Dancho for recognizing that.
I am a little hesitant to put in a specific date, just because we already know that two witnesses were unable to appear today, but I'll give you, Chair, the flexibility to work with the clerk to try to find a date that would work for these witnesses. This is with the caveat, though, that all of us are trying to make plans in our constituencies. Many of us have already made plans in our constituencies, and if we can get more than a couple of days' notice from the clerk as to when the date might be, it would make it a lot easier for us, rather than just leaving the rest of the summer open.
I'd like to hear from Mr. MacGregor on that, but I think we should leave it with the chair to find a date and notify us with good timing so that we can make plans accordingly.