Mass Casualty Commission confirms 'no political interference' into RCMP investigation of Nova Scotia mass shooting

On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino commented he would only pursue the changes stated in his ministerial mandate letter, not the Inquiry.

Mass Casualty Commission confirms 'no political interference' into RCMP investigation of Nova Scotia mass shooting
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The Mass Casualty Commission into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting wants the federal public safety minister to define its relationship with the RCMP Commissioner better after allegations of political interference in the police investigation became public.

On Thursday, Ottawa stopped short of accepting the commission's 130 recommendations, with 75 about policing.

The Inquiry into the tragedy that left 22 dead included 76 days of public hearings, more than 7,000 exhibits and source materials, and 230 witnesses.

The 3,000-page report touched on the police response to the mass casualty incident, the killer's access to firearms, the role of gender-based violence and reinventing the national alert system after numerous RCMP failures to prevent, respond, and react in the aftermath of the tragedy. 

The report highlighted the perpetrator's violence and missed opportunities by police to intervene in the years before the mass casualty, as well as critical gaps and errors in the RCMP response to the mass shooting.

From April 18-19, 2020, a gunman — dressed like an RCMP officer and driving a replica RCMP vehicle — killed 22 people spanning over 13 hours across three Nova Scotia counties, becoming the deadliest mass shooting in modern Canadian history.

Since the tragedy, the national police force has provided updates exclusively through Twitter.

"This failure to consider issuing an emergency broadcast reflects a systemic failure…over several years, to recognize the utility of Alert Ready for its emergency public communications," said the report.

The Nova Scotia RCMP tweeted at 11:32 p.m. on April 18, stating officers responded to a "firearms complaint." At the time, an active shooter gunned down multiple people in Portapique, N.S. — information that only became public at 8 a.m. the following day.

The gunman's reign of terror ended on April 19 when two RCMP officers fatally shot the perpetrator at a gas station in Enfield, north of Halifax.

The Inquiry explicitly said the force needs to respond to public complaints quicker and that of the independent Civilian Review and Complaints Commission.

On April 19, 2020, Nova Scotia RCMP failed to inform a Portapique resident, Leon Joudrey, of the ongoing rampage. Joudrey claimed police officers pointed a gun at him after he filed a complaint after the gunman's common-law partner, Lisa Banfield, knocked on his door, injured and distraught after spending hours hiding in the woods.

The chair of the complaints commission asked for an external investigation of his file. However, the Inquiry learned that a Nova Scotia RCMP supervisor received the file, prompting calls to ensure complaints are not assigned to direct supervisors or people in the same program as the complaint(s).

According to the Inquiry, Joudrey died in October 2022, and his file remains under investigation.

"On several occasions, individuals reported [the gunman] to the police and other authorities," adding that "only one report resulted in a criminal charge — it was for assaulting a teenage boy."

"The perpetrator also threatened to commit violence using firearms against his parents in 2010 and against the police in 2011," said the report. "Both these threats were reported to the police."

Neighbours also reported the shooter's possession of illegal firearms and repeated abuse towards Banfield to police. The report states that the abuse escalated in the years following 2013.

Moreover, the Inquiry concluded the RCMP Act should remove the line stating the RCMP Commissioner holds office "under the direction of the minister."

"On its face, this section appears to provide the responsible minister with unlimited power to direct the commissioner of the RCMP. However, the act has not been interpreted so broadly," said the report. 

According to a 1999 Supreme Court decision, the minister cannot issue political directions to the commissioner concerning investigations.

Last fall, questions about alleged political pressure on the national police force emulated concerns from the Nova Scotia RCMP, who claimed then-commissioner Brenda Lucki and former Public Safety Minister Bill Blair interfered in the investigation.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Lucki condemned how local RCMP communicated with the public about the weapons used in the mass shooting and proposed gun confiscation legislation.

In May 2020, Ottawa banned over 1,500 models of previously legal firearms. Last October, it froze the purchase, sale, transfer, and import of handguns, which effectively prohibited handgun ownership in the country.

In November 2022, the Liberals, backed by their arrangement with the NDP, tabled sweeping amendments to Bill C-21 to ban semi-automatic shotguns and rifles purchased legally for hunting purposes. It earned widespread opposition from NDP and Liberal MPs alike.

According to a memo issued in late December, Ottawa planned to start its firearms buyback program on Prince Edward Island. However, Public Safety quickly cancelled the pilot project on January 12.

Last fall, Lucki said she requested information from Blair's office because they did not release information on the weapons used at the time.

While the Inquiry concluded no interference occurred, Lucki's remarks about firearms legislation were "ill-timed" and "poorly expressed" but not indicative of attempted political interference, according to the report.

However, the commissioners want the RCMP Act changed "to ensure these principles become firmly entrenched and widely understood."

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Ottawa would "look very closely at" the recommendations but stressed he respected the police operating independently of the government.

"[As a minister, my job is] not to meddle in operational responses but to set policy direction and priorities and make sure the police have the [necessary] resources," he said.

The commission also wants a change to RCMP oversight. 

It made a blunt call to re-examine the role of the federal police force in maintaining community safety moving forward, calling on Mendicino to commission an in-depth, external and independent review of the RCMP.

The Inquiry recommended "modernizing" police by ending the RCMP's current training model by 2032 and establishing a three-year degree-based model of police education for all police services nationwide.

The Mass Casualty Commission recommended that Public Safety Canada and the federal public safety minister establish "clear priorities" for the RCMP and potentially reassign select responsibilities to other agencies, "including, potentially, to new policing agencies."

"This may entail a reconfiguration of policing in Canada and a new approach to federal financial support for provincial and municipal policing services," it said.

The report identified a "long history of efforts" to reform the RCMP's contract policing services model. They have "largely failed to resolve long-standing criticisms."

On Thursday, Mendicino commented he would only pursue the changes stated in his ministerial mandate letter.

"We're committed to strengthening oversight, accountability, and transparency so Canadians can have trust and confidence in the RCMP and all of their law enforcement institutions," he said.

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