N.S. refused to pay for RCMP team created to respond to mass shootings inquiry

·7 min read
N.S. refused to pay for RCMP team created to respond to mass shootings inquiry
Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer and Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman at Nova Scotia RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S., on April 22, 2020.   (Tim Krochak/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Nova Scotia RCMP Commanding Officer and Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman at Nova Scotia RCMP headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S., on April 22, 2020. (Tim Krochak/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government twice refused to pay for a special RCMP team established to respond to the public inquiry into the mass shootings that killed 22 people in April 2020, newly released documents show.

CBC News obtained correspondence between Mark Furey, who was the province's justice minister at the time, and Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman, the commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, through freedom of information laws.

The records show that in the summer and fall of 2020, Bergerman wrote to Furey asking for financial support to help pay for an "issues management team" being set up in the wake of the mass shootings.

"As you may appreciate, public perception of the province fully funding the RCMP to respond to inquiry demands would not be favourable," Furey wrote in a Dec. 11 letter to Bergerman.

In April 2020, a gunman disguised as a Mountie killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers, including a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer. He travelled nearly 200 kilometres through rural Nova Scotia before being shot and killed by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 13 hours after the violence started in Portapique, N.S.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck.
Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

Work on a joint federal and provincial inquiry is now underway. The mass casualty commission is examining the cause, context and circumstances of the massacre, including how police and various federal and provincial agencies responded.

The RCMP has set up a team of officers, headed by Chief Supt. John Robin, tasked with collecting and passing along information required by the commission, said Cpl. Chris Marshall in a statement. He said part of the team's role will involve supporting members of the RCMP who are called as witnesses.

"The third objective is to identify areas within the police response to this tragedy that may require further examination and possible action by the RCMP, whether from a training, policy, procedural, resourcing or equipment perspective. All of these objectives are a work in progress," Marshall said.

2 team members married to top Mounties

Robin is married to the head of the Halifax District RCMP, Janis Gray. Another member of the team is Bergerman's husband, Mike Butcher, a retired RCMP officer who is now contracted by the force. Both connections were first reported by Frank Magazine.

Butcher also spent 5½ years working for the provincial police in British Columbia, and has been contracted as a public servant by the RCMP since 2009, said Cpl. Lisa Croteau.

"He was seconded from the B.C. RCMP to the Nova Scotia RCMP project team in May 2021 because of his expertise in disclosure and policing," said Croteau in a statement.

The provincial Justice Department confirmed Thursday to CBC News that the province has not committed any funding for the team. The Mounties said it is paid for jointly by the Nova Scotia RCMP and RCMP headquarters.

Mark Furey, Nova Scotia's former justice minister, is shown on Jan 21, 2020. He announced the following month that he would not reoffer in the next provincial election.
Mark Furey, Nova Scotia's former justice minister, is shown on Jan 21, 2020. He announced the following month that he would not reoffer in the next provincial election.(Craig Paisley/CBC)

The records obtained by CBC News show that initially Bergerman hoped the province would help pay for the additional staff.

Over the summer, she sent a business case to Furey laying out the plans. But Furey felt the July 21 request veered too closely to asking for help paying for additional legal services.

After seeking his own legal advice, Furey wrote to Bergerman that he determined there was "no contractual obligation for the province to financially support this proposal" given it already contributes to such services, according to an Oct. 28 letter.

He advised Bergerman that should the team go ahead, "costs must be absorbed within your existing funding."

Collecting documents for inquiry

When Bergerman responded Dec. 1, the commanding officer disputed that the issues management team would be providing any legal services.

She said the plan was for it to be made up of three RCMP officers, including a senior commissioned officer, and two public servants who would help organize information on the mass shooting investigation and documentation for the public inquiry, and liaise with the federal Department of Justice.

This did not sway Furey. He declined, for a second time, to provide any funding in his Dec. 11 response.

Marshall said since Bergerman's requests, the name of the issues management team was changed to the "RCMP project team responsible for the response to the mass casualty commission" and that the number of people working with it in Ottawa and Nova Scotia will fluctuate depending on the workload.

Questions about independence

Robin, the leader of the new RCMP team, prompted the commission to reiterate in early May that it is independent and that no Mounties are working for the public inquiry itself.

The chief superintendent was handing business cards listing his role as being with the mass casualty commission to some people who were impacted by the mass shootings.

In response, Emily Hill, a lawyer who works for the commission, issued a public statement clarifying that its role included "reviewing the RCMP's activities with respect to the mass casualty events and their aftermath."

"We do not take any instructions from the RCMP. We are asking the RCMP to remove the card to avoid further confusion," Hill's statement said.

A memorial pays tribute to RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year member of the force and mother of two, along the highway in Shubenacadie, N.S., on April 21, 2020.
A memorial pays tribute to RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year member of the force and mother of two, along the highway in Shubenacadie, N.S., on April 21, 2020. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Marshall told CBC News at the time that Robin's business cards were being reprinted.

Croteau said Robin is also conducting an internal workplace safety investigation and was talking to community members as part of that.

Families calling for answers

Work on the commission examining the mass shootings started last fall and public hearings are expected to be held this coming fall, though no dates have been set.

The inquiry came about after family members of the victims called for answers about how such a tragedy could occur. Many families have been critical of the amount of information the RCMP has shared with them and with the public.

There was immense public outcry last July when the federal government announced it was launching an independent review. Within days, the public safety minister announced a public inquiry would go ahead after all.

Unlike a review, a public inquiry has the power to summon witnesses and require them to give evidence under oath.

Paid millions extra for RCMP in 2020

Bergerman's requests for funding for the team responding to the public inquiry were not the only letters she sent to the provincial government asking for financial help.

Nova Scotia contracts the RCMP for policing in many rural areas and under the provincial funding agreement, the minister of justice has the ability to approve additional spending in emergencies.

Shortly after the mass shootings and through the summer, Furey agreed to pay for out-of-province officers to fill in for the 70 Mounties who took leave. In all, he approved $3.7 million to cover costs associated with bringing in those officers, but he declined to continue to approve the extra spending beyond the end of August.

He also approved spending an additional $5.1 million on policing during the fisheries dispute in southwestern Nova Scotia between Oct. 14, 2020, and Dec. 19, 2020.

Furey, a former RCMP officer, left his post as justice minister in February after announcing he wouldn't be reoffering in the next election.

MORE TOP STORIES

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting