Emails reveal N.S. RCMP concerns about conflict of interest in hiring of spouses

HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting has released emails detailing conflict of interest concerns raised about two members assigned last year to an RCMP team providing information to the inquiry.

The emails focus on the husbands of Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, the commanding officer in Nova Scotia at the time, and Halifax RCMP Chief Supt. Janis Gray.

Gray's husband, Chief Supt. John Robin, was tasked with leading the information gathering team, where he was to work alongside retired RCMP staff sergeant Mike Butcher, who is Bergerman's husband.

After the two men were named to the inquiry liaison team, National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé told RCMP officials he was concerned about the hires due to public interest and scrutiny surrounding the public inquiry.

"It may be wise to reconsider on this one," Sauvé said in a May 31, 2021, email.

A few days later, Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan said in an email that he had requested an immediate review of the conflict of interest concerns by the RCMP’s professional ethics office.

Supt. Kerry Petryshyn, the officer tasked with assessing the concerns, said in an emailed report on June 4, 2021, that Bergerman “ought to have known” that hiring her husband on a contract was prohibited and would be viewed as a conflict of interest.

Petryshyn said the hiring "puts at risk the integrity of the commission and raises the distinct possibility that some might question whether documents and information that could be injurious to Butcher's spouse (Bergerman) will be, or have been withheld."

The report also said that someone in a position of significant authority in a policing service should not "be specifically seeking out and hiring their own spouse, especially when they stand to indirectly personally gain financially from that hiring."

The report concludes that there is "not only an apparent conflict of interest, but an actual conflict of interest" in the case of Butcher's hiring.

In the case of Robin's hiring, Petryshyn said "efforts do appear to have been made to try and mitigate the conflict" because he was hired by the contract and Indigenous policing department from RCMP headquarters and not by the Halifax detachment.

Still, Robin's hiring could appear to the public to be a conflict of interest, and the report recommends that senior RCMP management consider removing him from the role. For Butcher, the recommendation was that he be "terminated as soon as possible."

In July 2021, both men were removed from the RCMP's inquiry team. Bergerman retired from the RCMP in October 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press