HALIFAX — The Mountie in charge of the investigation into the Nova Scotia mass shooting said Monday it was a "no-brainer" for him to withhold details of the killer's guns nine days after the rampage.
Chief Supt. Darren Campbell was testifying before the public inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020, murders of 22 people by a gunman driving a replica police vehicle.
According to notes from Campbell tabled earlier as evidence, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki criticized him for not providing the gun details during an April 28 press conference, saying she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office the information would be released in connection with "pending gun control legislation."
The superintendent's notes prompted opposition parties to accuse the federal Liberal government of meddling in an active investigation in order to advance a gun control law that was being prepared at the time.
Campbell told the inquiry that as a veteran investigator, he was firmly opposed to releasing information about the guns possessed by the killer, Gabriel Wortman.
Some gun control experts have argued the release wouldn't have had a significant impact on the investigation and would have allowed for public debate on the necessity of added gun control. But Campbell testified that releasing details about the semi-automatic weapons, such as their colour, type, serial numbers and calibre, would have closed down avenues for a criminal probe.
He said he spoke to the investigators involved and they agreed not to release the details. "It was a no-brainer," he said.
"We were nine days post the April 18 and 19 events. We were still involved in multi-agency investigations ... with the objectives of determining what role Gabriel Wortman played, as well as (the role of) any individual who may have assisted him in any way."
Campbell didn't reveal the weapon details at the time, which only emerged after the National Post obtained them through an access to information request that November.
It was Campbell who deployed a critical incident commander to the scene after the killings began in Portapique, N.S., late on April 18, 2020, and he stayed in contact with RCMP officers on-site as the killer continued his rampage the next morning before being shot dead by police.
The inquiry's lawyer, Rachel Young, asked Campbell about the failure of the RCMP to interview two eyewitnesses to the shooting until about seven hours after it started, and about incorrect assumptions that the killer's vehicle was unmarked — despite an initial witness describing it as a marked RCMP vehicle.
According to inquiry documents, staff at an RCMP operations centre relied on members' general knowledge that the killer collected unmarked, decommissioned police cars, and proceeded with that description.
"If they (staff at the operations centre) had ... communicated we are looking for a marked police car, whether that was real or not ... certainly that would have made a difference," Campbell said. It was only after the killer's spouse emerged from hiding the next morning that responding officers were told the killer's car was an exact replica RCMP cruiser.
He said in future major incidents there should be dedicated officers who could review and re-listen to witness statements to avoid losing track of key information.
Campbell said the delay in interviewing two people who were fired upon by the killer until the next morning may have been due to concern for the health of one of them, who had been wounded.
The superintendent led the RCMP's investigation into the incident, and was the public face of the RCMP during news conferences in the weeks after the rampage. He has since been promoted and transferred to New Brunswick.
He said steps have been taken to improve the RCMP's capacity to respond to similar incidents, including completion of a new operational communications centre in Halifax with an adjacent room where critical incident commanders can set up and more quickly deploy personnel.
The RCMP has established more full-time positions for emergency response teams and has struck an agreement with the province to be able to rapidly deploy the officers to scenes of major incidents by helicopter, he said.
However, Campbell also testified that he believes the number of officers available to respond in rural Nova Scotia is too low, when you take into account that some will often be off duty due to training, sickness or injury.
“I have concerns about staffing levels all the time, every single day,” he said.
Campbell's testimony is scheduled to continue on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2022.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press