Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government had questions about the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting but remained adamant his government did not intervene in the investigation.
His comments come as a law firm representing the families of more than a dozen victims is pushing for Trudeau’s cabinet member to testify after accusations of political pressure over what to say after the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
“We did not exert any influence or pressure. It is extremely important to emphasize that only the RCMP, only the police, determines what information is released and when,” Trudeau said during a clash with reporters in Kigali on Thursday. Rwanda, where he attends a Commonwealth summit.
“However, I will emphasize that when the worst mass shooting in Canadian history took place, we had many questions. The Canadians had a lot of questions.”
Rob Pineo, a partner at Patterson Law, said they would be asking Emergency Preparedness Secretary Bill Blair, who was Minister of Public Safety at the time of the shooting, and former Nova Scotia Attorney General Mark Fury to appear before the Mass Casualty Commission. about possible interference.
WATCH | Trudeau responds to allegations of government interference in Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation
The investigation is investigating the riots on April 18-19, 2020, which resulted in the death of 22 people, including a pregnant woman, several people were injured and several houses were destroyed.
“Of course we want to get to the bottom of it, and we think this investigation is the perfect forum for that,” said Pineo of Truro, New Carolina.
“It is very disturbing, if in fact it turns out to be true. Indeed, from our client’s point of view, we see this tragedy being used to advance a political agenda and a political career, and frankly, this is very frustrating for us. clients.”
Trudeau said he still “very” trusts Lucky, whom he appointed in 2018, as she battles a new scandal following handwritten notes from Nova Scotia’s Supt. Darren Campbell was released earlier this week as part of the investigation.
In Campbell’s notes, which were written following a conference call between headquarters and the unit on April 28, 2020, he claims that Lucky was upset that the RCMP in Nova Scotia did not release more information about the weapons used because she had promised the federal government – which in was considering gun control law at the time – that they would raise it.
“The Commissioner said she promised the Minister of Public Security and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP would make this information public,” he wrote.
Campbell said he believes the disclosure of firearms could harm the investigation.
“I tried to explain that I had no intention of disrespecting anyone, however, we could not release this information at this time. The commissioner then said that we do not understand that this is due to the expected gun control law that will make officers and public safety,” he wrote.
Gun ban announced a few days later
Just days after the April 28 meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on the sale of approximately 1,500 makes and models of firearms, including two weapons used in the Nova Scotia mass shootings – the Colt law enforcement carbine, semi-automatic weapons and revolver. Ruger Mini-14.
At the time, the police had not yet reported on the specific makes and models used in the attacks. This information was not made public until fall 2020, when National Post gave details weapons after receiving a background note prepared for the prime minister after the shooting.
Investigators said they believe shooter Gabriel Wortman, who did not have a firearms license, obtained three handguns used in the Maine massacre and smuggled them into Canada.
Lucky released a statement on Tuesday evening in which she wrote that briefings with the Minister of Public Safety were necessary, especially during the mass shooting, but said there was no interference.
“I would never take any action or decision that could jeopardize an investigation,” she wrote. “I take the principle of police independence very seriously and it has been and will be fully respected in all interactions.”
Trudeau said he received regular briefings about what police knew and didn’t know about the shooter and the case.
“These responses keep coming,” he said. “We will continue to take responsible action.”
On Wednesday, Blair destroyed Campbell’s written record of the call.
“The superintendent obviously came to his own conclusions and his notes reflect that,” he said.
WATCH | The government denies interfering with the investigation into the NA mass shooting:
“But I tell you, and I would tell the superintendent if I spoke to him, I was not trying to pressure the RCMP to interfere in their investigation in any way. I did not give instructions as to what information they should transmit.”
In a statement to CBC News Thursday, Campbell declined to respond, saying he was waiting for an interview with the Mass Accident Commission.
“I also expect to be called to the MCC as a witness sometime towards the end of July and I look forward to both opportunities,” he wrote.
“Thus, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comment prior to my deposition under oath. I hope you understand”.
Former PR chief says there was ‘political pressure’
Campbell isn’t the only Nova Scotian citizen who has noticed the influence coming from Ottawa since the riots.
In an interview with a commission of inquiry earlier this year, Leah Scanlan, former RCMP civilian director of provincial strategic communications, said Blair and the prime minister were “weighing what we could and couldn’t say.”
She said that Lucky was advised not to be interviewed by the media, but she did so anyway, and gave incorrect information in the process.
Lucky initially reported that 17 people had died, information that the RCMP confirmed domestically when local commanders said only “more than 10” people had died at a press briefing on the evening of 19 April.
“She went and did it and knew damn well – and it was all political pressure,” Scanlan said.
“It’s 100% Minister Blair and the Prime Minister, and we have a commissioner who doesn’t fight back.”
“Not necessarily illegal,” says the criminology professor.
Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology, said it is not illegal for a minister or mayor to request information, but not necessarily appropriate.
“I was not surprised, but I was dismayed in the sense that such political interference in RCMP operations was all too common. whether it is reasonable or not, it damages the reputation of the RCMP,” he said.
“It’s a shame for the RCMP that things like this keep happening.”
While the RCMP commissioner is accountable to the minister, they must act independently.
The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that “the commissioner shall not be considered a servant or agent of the government during a criminal investigation”.
Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino stated that “there was an exchange of information” after the shooting, but stated that there was no interference.
“I think it’s incredibly important that Canadians trust their institutions, including the RCMP and all law enforcement,” said Mendicino, who was tasked with reforming the RCMP.
“What’s important to Canadians is that there is a line of respect that is shown with respect to the principle of operational independence.”
Kempa said there was a cloud of doubt hanging over the country’s national police that Blair should testify under oath.
“Unfortunately, given that we are where we are now, Minister Blair must testify under oath, if only for some other reason, to assure watching Canadians that there was nothing wrong,” he said.
Calls for House Committee investigation
On Wednesday evening, Mendicino said he had not spoken to Lucky.
The minister said he would allow the commission to consider the facts.
“We look forward to eventually seeing the report and working closely with the commissioners on any recommendations they may have,” he said.
Lucky is expected to be called as a witness in the investigation next month.
The claims caused a stir on Parliament Hill, including calls for an emergency debate and a House of Commons committee investigation to get to the bottom of the allegations.
“It is disgusting to know that the Prime Minister and his office are using the death of Canadians for their own political gain,” Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen said Wednesday.
On Thursday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called allegations of federal interference “deeply disturbing.”