The head of the RCMP says she wasn’t aware for several months that a report documenting morale problems among officers in Nova Scotia had been completed.
Commissioner Brenda Lucki took the witness stand on Tuesday at the inquiry that is examining how a gunman driving a replica police car carried out 22 murders over 13 hours on April 18-19, 2020.
Lucki said it was only in June of this year that she saw the “wellness report” that had been prepared for the RCMP about its Nova Scotia division. The report by Ottawa-based consultant group Quintet Consulting Corp. was completed in September 2021.
”I was surprised that it had been out for months, like six to eight months, and I wasn’t aware of it,” Lucki testified.
The report included comments by staff members who said that there were “dysfunctions” at H-Division before the mass shootings and that they felt abandoned by their superiors in the aftermath of the murders. The redacted summary released this week by the inquiry also included confidential interviews describing top regional leaders as “a small clique of officers in a mutually supportive group … with others treated as outsiders.”
Commission counsel Rachel Young asked Lucki why the report hadn’t been shared with commanding officers in Nova Scotia and hadn’t been acted upon by national headquarters in Ottawa.
“I just think someone dropped the ball or it fell through the cracks among 100 other things,” she said. “How are you going to fix something if you don’t follow through? That needed to be done better.”
Lucki said that as of July, an action plan has been in the works to address the findings in the report.
Also on Tuesday, the inquiry released a transcript of an Aug. 4 interview Lucki gave to inquiry lawyers. During the interview, the RCMP commissioner said the force must become a more transparent organization.
The 131-page transcript included her discussing her regrets about an April 28, 2020, meeting with regional staff, nine days after the murders. Lucki scolded staff over their decision to withhold detailed information about the semi-automatic guns that the killer used.
She has repeatedly denied allegations she wanted those details released because of political pressure from the federal Liberals, who were working on gun-control legislation. Lucki said that her push to release the information about the killer’s weapons was linked to her desire to be more open with the public.
“When you talk about culture, our culture is to be less transparent … we hold things in because we can,” she told the inquiry lawyers.
She said in the Aug. 4 interview that she went too far in criticizing her exhausted subordinates during the April 28, 2020, call. “When I think about it before I go to bed, I honestly can’t sleep.
“We’ve always felt that because things are under investigation, that we can’t release things. That’s not the case anymore. There are things that can be released even within an investigation. We just have to make sure what is being released does not compromise (the investigation).”
The RCMP’s difficulties in swiftly and forthrightly communicating with the public and media have been revealed in testimony from officers and civilian employees during the inquiry.
On the night the mass shooting began in Portapique, N.S., the police force didn’t directly contact media to tell them an active shooting was underway. Instead, the force used a single tweet on April 18, 2020, at 11:32 p.m., which referred to the incident as a “firearms complaint” — even though the Mountie overseeing the response knew an active shooter had killed people and was on the loose.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Steve Halliday — who was helping oversee the response the next morning — confirmed in testimony that at 8 a.m. on April 19, 2020, he decided a photo of the replica car driven by the killer should be released, and he testified he expected this to occur in “the immediate future.” However, the photo wasn’t distributed publicly until 10:17 a.m., and during that delay at least six deaths occurred.
Lucki told the commission, “we have been doing a lot of work to be more transparent, giving our commanding officers more media training, giving them training so that they can be more forthright in the information instead of saying, ‘No comment,’ or ‘I can’t speak about that.’”
“We need to be more transparent with the Canadian public,” Lucki told the commission lawyers in her Aug. 4 interview.
The commissioner said in her interview that she has regarded modernizing the RCMP as central to her mandate since she was appointed in 2018. She cited initiatives such as introducing courses on systemic racism and allowing rank-and-file members to send her critical emails, as part of a “change” process.
However, Lucki was also questioned by inquiry lawyers about why some prior recommendations from earlier public studies of the force haven’t been implemented, including a 2021 recommendation by retired Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache that officers have at least two years of post-secondary training.
Lucki said the force was “looking at” that recommendation, adding that police didn’t want to exclude recruits coming from trades backgrounds and from diverse populations who might not have had the opportunity to attend university.
She said purchasing new equipment, such as body-worn cameras, has proven to be a slower process than expected. “The body-worn cameras, we haven’t deployed them yet. There’s so many steps,” she told the inquiry in her interview.