In the days after the mass shooting that left 22 dead in Nova Scotia, the RCMP’s public statements were riddled with errors, confusion and omissions, a newly released report reveals.
The document, released Tuesday by the Inquiry into the 2020 Tragedy, also claims that key information about the case, including the names of the victims and the types of weapons the killer used, was withheld from the public for the longest time. of what is necessary.
The commission of inquiry is not mandated to assign blame, but the 126-page document lists a long list of mistakes and delays, some of which have angered senior RCMP officials in Ottawa.
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The evidence summary confirms that on the evening of April 19, 2020, when the RCMP held its first press conference on the killer rampage at 1 p.m., the RCMP initially chose to underestimate the number of people known to be victims.
The top agent who led the first RCMP press conferences, the superintendent. Chris Leather said after being pressed by reporters that “more than 10 people were killed.” However, before his 6 p.m. news conference in Halifax, Leather knew that victims were still being found and that the official count was 17, according to the document.
In media interviews later that night, RCMP Chief Commissioner Brenda Lucki told the CBC that 13 people had been killed. And just before 8 p.m. that night, Lucki told The Canadian Press that the death toll was 17.
The resulting confusion sparked a flurry of emails among senior RCMP officials. Jolene Bradley, director of strategic communications at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa, messaged her counterpart in Nova Scotia and said: “It doesn’t help that the (Commissioner) gives the number! I’m really trying to put that back in the box for you.
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Lia Scanlan, Director of Strategic Communications in Halifax, responded: “Thank you. It looks horrible and I had to ask my whole team to turn off their phones…God help me!!”
At 10:21 p.m., Scanlan sent another email to HQ, saying, “Can I make a request to stop changing the number of victims? Let us lead the spread of information. It seems fragmented and incoherent.
In a follow-up interview with investigators in the inquiry, Scanlan said government officials, including Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were “assessing what we could and couldn’t say. ” during press conferences. She did not elaborate.
Scanlan told the inquiry that 10 was the number first used by the Nova Scotia RCMP “because at some point you have to call your final information”.
As of 11:00 pm on April 19, 2020, the RCMP had concluded that up to 22 people had died. The next day, Leather said the death toll had risen to at least 19. RCMP did not release the final number until a statement was issued on April 21, 2020.
At another point in the first press conference, Leather was asked if the police knew the killer. Leather said, “No, it wasn’t.” But that was not the case.
On the morning of April 19, 2020, RCMP learned from police records that the killer had threatened to kill his parents in 2010 and had access to long guns. The records also confirmed that he told a police source in 2011 that he “wanted to kill a police officer.” And in early 2020, he had a strange but non-violent interaction with police officers who had parked his vehicle in the parking lot next to his denture manufacturing business in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
As for the identities of the victims, Leather said on April 20, 2020 that names would not be released until certain individuals’ identities were confirmed by the Nova Scotia medical examiner. However, the RCMP’s own records show that by 5:25 p.m. that day, all of the victims’ immediate relatives had been notified of their deaths, and RCMP headquarters had confirmed its support for the release of the deaths. nouns.
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On April 25, the media confirmed the names of the 22 victims, but the RCMP had not yet provided a list.
The RCMP’s operating manual states that the names of deceased persons may be released once next of kin have been notified, but only if disclosure will further the investigation, or if there is a public safety issue, or if the identities are already known. have been made public by other means.
On another front, Leather was asked at subsequent news conferences about what weapons the shooter had. He declined to provide details, saying he could not comment because the province’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT), was investigating.
But the investigative document makes it clear that the RCMP knew a great deal about the killer’s firearms early in their investigation.
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RCMP had recovered multiple firearms from the stolen car the shooter was driving when he was shot by two officers at a gas station north of Halifax on April 19, 2020. A forensic identification officer had compiled a list of five weapons, including two automatic rifles, by April 21
However, the types of weapons used by the shooter were not shared at the five news conferences that took place in the week after the mass shooting.
Internal RCMP documents show that on April 28, 2020, Lucki called a meeting of senior RCMP officers, during which he expressed disappointment that details about the firearms had been left out. According to notes taken by the RCMP Superintendent. Darren Campbell, Lucki said she felt “disobeyed” when those details were not shared.
Campbell’s notes say that Lucki had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would release the descriptions, adding that the information “related to ongoing gun control legislation that would make officers and the public more insurance. “.
In response, Campbell told Lucki that he was the one who asked the strategic communications team not to reveal the details of the firearms because it could jeopardize the RCMP’s investigation into how the shooter had obtained them.
The investigative document also disputes Leather’s April 20, 2020 statement that police did not learn of the killer’s replica police vehicle until the morning of April 19, the second day of the killer’s rampage.
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The investigation heard that the Mounties were first notified that the shooter was driving a fully marked replica shortly after 10 p.m. on April 18, 2020, when 911 calls began coming in from Portapique, Nova Scotia, where 13 people were killed. Other witnesses appeared at 10:25 p.m. and the next morning at 5:16 a.m.
The document also reveals that Const. Wayne Tingley had seen the fully marked RCMP replica in Elmsdale, NS on April 17, 2020, the day before the shooting began.
He noticed that the car had a pushrod, a rare thing for real RCMP cruisers, and no license plate, but he didn’t see the driver. Tingley provided a statement to the RCMP regarding her sighting on April 23, 2020.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 21, 2021.
— With files from Lyndsay Armstrong and Keith Doucette
© 2022 The Canadian Press