Senior Mountie's controversial notes about commissioner held back for months, inquiry says

·7 min read
Senior Mountie's controversial notes about commissioner held back for months, inquiry says

Four crucial pages of a senior Mountie's notes were missing the first time the federal Department of Justice sent them to the public inquiry looking into the Nova Scotia mass shooting.

The key section included allegations the head of the RCMP promised politicians the force would release information about guns used during the April 2020 rampage.

The Mass Casualty Commission said the federal government sent 132 pages of Supt. Darren Campbell's handwritten notes in mid-February 2022, but that the file had no references to a meeting with Commissioner Brenda Lucki on April 28, 2020.

Three weeks ago, the inquiry received a second file of Campbell's notes for the same time period. The package included the pages Campbell wrote about a conference call he and other senior officers in Nova Scotia had with Lucki.

It happened just over a week after a gunman disguised as a Mountie killed 22 people, including a pregnant woman, injured others and destroyed several homes by fire.

CBC
CBC

In the previously undisclosed pages, Campbell wrote that Lucki was displeased with the local commanders for not releasing information about the makes and models of guns used in the attacks, details that he felt could risk jeopardizing the investigation into how the shooter obtained his weapons.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

On May 4, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on some 1,500 makes and models of guns, including the two of the guns used in the Nova Scotia mass shooting. At that time, police had not released the specific makes and models used in the attacks.

Campbell's allegation that Lucki had made commitments to Trudeau and then-public safety minister Bill Blair in advance of new gun control legislation ignited a political firestorm in Ottawa this week, with opposition MPs demanding an investigation into the possibility of political interference.

Both Blair and Trudeau have denied doing so and stated the RCMP makes its own decisions about releasing information.

Lucki has also denied she would interfere with a police investigation, but did not address the claim she wanted to release more information in advance of the Liberals' plan to introduce new gun control legislation in May 2020.

Campbell and Lucki are expected to be called as witnesses at the inquiry late next month. They've also been summoned to appear before a parliamentary hearing in Ottawa at the end of July to address allegations of potential political interference.

Barbara McLean, investigations director with the commission, said in a statement to CBC News that the commission is seeking an explanation from the Department of Justice about why four pages were missing from the original disclosure.

She added that it is "demanding an explanation for any further material that has been held back" in cases where the commission was not aware it was happening.

"The commission is seeking assurance that nothing else has been held back as per direction from subpoenas," McLean said.

Files subpoenaed last June

The commission said it first asked for all the RCMP's investigative files related to the probe into the April 2020 massacre through a subpoena on June 15, 2021.

In response, it has received thousands of pages of documents and files have come in "on a rolling basis" and staff "followed up regularly on items that had not yet been received."

"These documents have often been provided in a disjointed manner that has required extensive commission team review," McLean said, adding that staff review everything "carefully for any gaps or additional information."

CBC News learned of the discrepancy because the joint federal and provincial inquiry initially posted 132 pages of Campbell's notes on its website last week and that file had no mention of the Lucki meeting.

But the commission quoted Campbell's comments about Lucki in a document released Tuesday summarizing how the RCMP communicated with the public in the months after the shootings. A 136-page file containing Campbell's additional notes — including that April meeting — was shared with journalists under an embargo in advance. They have since been posted on the commission's website.

Mass Casualty Commission
Mass Casualty Commission

Justice Department statement

In a statement issued Friday evening, the Justice Department said that it sent more than 2,000 pages of notes from senior officers on Feb. 11, 2022, and March 2, 2022. Some pages, including the four pages of Campbell's notes in question, required assessment for whether they were privileged.

The statement said the review determined the pages were not privileged, and they were provided to the commission without redactions on May 30, 2022.

"While it is a usual practice to review documents for privilege before disclosure, the Commission was not advised that some pages of the notes of senior officers were being reviewed for privilege," said the statement.

"Department of Justice counsel should have done so and will work with the Commission to establish a process for review."

Campbell hasn't been interviewed

The Mass Casualty Commission has yet to speak to Campbell directly about his allegations.

As the officer in charge of support services overseeing units including the tactical team and major crimes unit, Campbell was the Nova Scotia RCMP's main spokesperson in three press conferences held in late April and June 2020. He also met with many of the families of people killed.

Campbell said in a statement Thursday to CBC News that he has "been waiting for some time to be interviewed by the Mass Casualty Commission" and that it'll happen soon. He also said he looks forward to testifying.

"As such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comments prior to giving evidence under oath," Campbell said.

Months ago, the commissioners overseeing the joint federal and provincial inquiry said they expected to ask Campbell to testify, along with former Asst. Commissioner Lee Bergerman, who has since retired from the role she held as the commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, and Chief Supt. Chris Leather, who was the second in command in April 2020.

'Monumental task' of combing through documents

Rob Pineo, a lawyer who represents families of 14 people killed in the mass shooting as well as others who have been affected by it, said the discrepancy in Campbell's notes is "definitely concerning but certainly not surprising given how information has rolled out during this inquiry process."

The Mass Casualty Commission typically shares its documents with participants, including the lawyers representing families, prior to releasing the information to the public. But Pineo said some witnesses who have testified before the commission have shared their background interviews and relevant records.

He attributes this to an unrealistic timeline set when the two levels of government established the commission in the fall of 2020 and set a deadline of November of this year for the inquiry's final report.

CBC
CBC

"We feel that the timeframe, the goalposts that were set for this inquiry, didn't allow enough time for the information and evidence to be properly vetted and disclosed," he said.

Going through the thousands of pages of records has been a "monumental task" even for the large team involved at his firm, Pineo said.

"In a regular court setting we would have months, maybe years, to digest evidence and work through legal theories. Here we usually have a matter of days or weeks," he said.

The commission said in its interim report that by late March it had issued 70 subpoenas, including many to the RCMP, for both documents and for witnesses to appear.

Campbell, Leather leaving N.S.

Campbell and Leather are both leaving Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia RCMP confirmed Friday.

Campbell was promoted to chief superintendent and will be working in New Brunswick in the coming weeks. He'll be the interim core policing criminal operations officer for J Division.

Leather is joining the federal policing modernization team at RCMP National Headquarters in Ottawa in the coming months.

Neither Campbell or Leather have begun their new roles.

WATCH | In June 2020, Supt. Darren Campbell shared details about what investigators had learned about gunman's motivations and mindset: 

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