Senior RCMP officer admits he didn't brief Commissioner Lucki about guns or fallout

Brian Brennan, former commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, speaks to reporters in Halifax on Jan. 23, 2018. Now RCMP deputy commissioner, Brennan is testifying Friday before the Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry.  (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Brian Brennan, former commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia, speaks to reporters in Halifax on Jan. 23, 2018. Now RCMP deputy commissioner, Brennan is testifying Friday before the Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

One of the top Mounties in Canada, who was part of a controversial phone call that sparked concerns of political interference, is testifying Friday before the Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry.

Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan, who is in charge of contract and Indigenous policing with the RCMP, is appearing before the Mass Casualty Commission leading the inquiry into the April 2020 massacre, in which a gunman killed 22 people across the province.

The webcast of Brennan's testimony can be seen here.

The commission already interviewed Brennan in August, when he talked about his impression of the April 28, 2020, phone call with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and high-ranking Nova Scotia Mounties and civilian members.

Chief Supt. Darren Campbell's notes from that day said Lucki was angry the Nova Scotia team did not share details of the gunman's firearms at a news conference. Campbell said Lucki had "promised the minister of public safety and the Prime Minister's Office" the RCMP would release the details ahead of the Liberal government's pending gun legislation, though Brennan told the commission he didn't remember legislation being mentioned during the call.

Lucki has told the commission and a House of Commons committee that Bill Blair, then public safety minister, never directed or ordered her to disclose the makes and models of the guns. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the government did not put any "undue" pressure on the RCMP.

Other senior leaders within the RCMP in Nova Scotia have testified that they found Lucki's tone during that meeting disrespectful and that they were insulted by Lucki bringing up gun legislation.

Brennan testified Friday that Lucki told him she wanted to meet with leaders in Nova Scotia, that she was not happy with how the press conference had gone and had been frustrated by the flow of communication from Nova Scotia RCMP.

Mass Casualty Commission
Mass Casualty Commission

Brennan said he told Lucki it probably wasn't the best time for such a meeting, as it was late in the day in Nova Scotia and the team had just finished a press conference they likely felt was successful. But Lucki pressed on and the meeting began just 15 minutes later, according to Brennan.

After the meeting, Lee Bergerman, the assistant commissioner and commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, called Brennan on her drive home to tell him she was angered and disappointed by the meeting, that it was not received well by the other senior leaders in the room and that the timing was inappropriate.

Brennan said he did not brief Lucki about the impact of the meeting, saying he "didn't have an appreciation at the time for how deeply affected individuals were."

"It was one of those unfortunate things where when you cannot see the people you're interacting with, you can't read the body language, you can't see how upset people are."

Brennan said in hindsight, if he'd known how the meeting affected leadership on the ground in Nova Scotia, he would have briefed Lucki.

Lucki has testified there was a miscommunication with one of her national RCMP communications staff who gave her the wrong impression that gun information would be released through the April 28 press conference, and Lucki passed that on to Blair and the prime minister.

When the gun details weren't released, Lucki told the House of Commons committee she was upset because, "I felt I had misinformed the minister and, by extension, the prime minister."

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

But two hours before the April 28 press conference, Brennan learned from Lia Scanlan, the head of strategic communications for the Nova Scotia RCMP at the time of the shootings, that Campbell was "not comfortable" releasing the make and models publicly during the press conference.

Brennan told the commission in his interview in August that he would have told Lucki about this piece of information because they worked down the hall from one another, but Lucki testified she doesn't recall that happening — and if it had, she wouldn't have brought up the issue in the call at all.

On Friday, Brennan said hearing Lucki's testimony on that question refreshed his memory, and he agreed that Lucki was working from home at the time in the early days of COVID-19 and he did not inform her.

Brennan opposed publicly releasing bulletin

Brennan also testified Friday he did not want to release a 2011 bulletin warning police agencies that the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, had a stash of guns and wanted "to kill a cop."

"My question was, to what end? What are we trying to articulate to the public about a bulletin that existed?" Brennan said.

The bulletin came to light within the RCMP on April 19, 2020, when an Amherst Police officer recognized the gunman's name and dug the notice up in his email.

Truro Police Service
Truro Police Service

The RCMP did not address the bulletin until after CBC News published a story about it. CBC News received the document through a freedom-of-information request filed to the Truro Police Service in May 2020.

In fact, retired RCMP superintendent Costa Dimopoulos, who came from New Brunswick soon after the mass shooting, told the inquiry the RCMP wasn't aware the bulletin existed until that request was made. He said RCMP officials met with other police agencies, including Truro police and Halifax Regional Police, to discuss the contents and possible release.

Although he said the conversation morphed into a "sore point," he took the position that RCMP should have made the bulletin public.

"I had expressed concerns to Chief Supt. [Chris] Leather that, you know, if we don't go out with something as a policing community … that people might think we're covering something up down the road, which is, you know, furthest from the truth," said Dimopoulos.

He told the commission he ended up briefing Brennan and another senior officer about the bulletin and his view on making it public.

Brennan confirmed during his testimony Friday he was not in favour of releasing the information.

"We don't, as a practice in policing, provide intelligence or information bulletins like this to the general public or out in the public forum. They're for police use."

Brennan testified he also expected that an inquiry would eventually be called, and that the bulletin would be made public then.

RCMP relations with Halifax Regional Police

Jamie Van Wart, a lawyer for the Mass Casualty Commission, asked Brennan about a request in August 2021 from RCMP Chief Supt. Janis Gray to move her entire team of RCMP officers working on an integrated unit with the Halifax Regional Police out of the HRP building in downtown Halifax.

Brennan said he understood Gray's request to stem from challenging working relationships between RCMP and HRP.

The commission has heard about tensions between the two police forces following the mass shooting response. Issues of policing standards, special services, funding and the emergency alert system have also been contentious points.

"I remember taking the position that wasn't something that we were going to be entertaining," Brennan said. "Moving an entire district management team out of that environment is not productive to the expectations and the responsibility and the accountability that we have in that arrangement."

Brennan said he directed Bergerman to try to resolve the issues underlying the request.

Brennan also connected to wellness report

The inquiry has also heard that Brennan never told Lucki that a key wellness report on Nova Scotia RCMP senior officers and civilian staff had been finished.

The final report from Quintet Consulting was finished in September 2021 and outlined how people felt about underlying issues with national RCMP leadership and the mass shooting response.

Lucki said she didn't learn the report was completed until this June, when she was getting ready to visit Nova Scotia for the first time since the mass shooting to attend Const. Heidi Stevenson's memorial service and a town hall with local Mounties.

She testified it was "deeply concerning" that she only found out about the report so late, and asked Brennan why it hadn't been brought to her, but was told he had no idea how it fell through the cracks.