HALIFAX — A scathing letter from an RCMP communications manager released Tuesday says RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki referred to direct pressure from the federal public safety minister to release firearm details in the days after the Nova Scotia mass shooting.
It's the second such claim by an RCMP official who was on an April 28, 2020, conference call in which Lucki criticized Halifax staff, nine days after the rampage that resulted in 22 deaths.
The letter from Lia Scanlan dated April 14, 2021, claims the RCMP's leader focused on the Liberal government's agenda of passing firearms legislation during the hastily arranged meeting.
Hours earlier during a news conference, Supt. Darren Campbell hadn't provided full details about the two rifles and two pistols used by the killer. According to his handwritten notes, released to the public inquiry, the RCMP was concerned providing this information might jeopardize their investigation.
As the dressing down unfolded, Scanlan said Lucki "informed us of the pressures and conversation with (Public Safety) Minister (Bill) Blair, which we clearly understood was related to the upcoming passing of the gun legislation."
"I remember a feeling of disgust as I realized this was the catalyst for the conversation and perhaps a justification for what you were saying about us."
Scanlan's letter is part of the evidence provided to a public inquiry into the April 18-19, 2020, mass shooting.
According to Scanlan, who was the strategic communications director at the time of the shootings, Lucki had come on the line incensed that the Halifax staff hadn't released the gun details, suggesting they had let down surviving children whose parents were killed in Portapique, N.S.
"It was appalling, inappropriate, unprofessional and extremely belittling," Scanlan wrote.
"To have anyone in the RCMP say we let the boys down. There is nothing that makes that acceptable, especially that it was said by the person, who by rank, is at the top of our organization."
Handwritten notes from Campbell, released last Monday, also say Lucki told those present she had promised the federal Public Safety Department and the Prime Minister’s Office that information on the guns used by the shooter would be released because it was “tied to pending gun control legislation.”
Lucki confirmed Tuesday she had received a letter "from an RCMP employee" about the contentious meeting on April 28, 2020. "It was an extremely difficult time and I did express frustration with the flow of information," she said in an emailed statement.
But she denied there was political interference. "There was certainly a need for an exchange of timely and accurate information with the Government of Canada and I endeavoured to do that," she said. "However, I want to re-emphasize that I did in no way seek to interfere in the ongoing investigation, nor did I feel any political pressure to do so."
A spokeswoman for Blair, who is now minister of emergency preparedness, said Tuesday neither he nor his office directed the RCMP in any of their operational decisions, "including during and immediately following the tragic events in April 2020."
"Minister Blair was regularly briefed following the events in Nova Scotia, but was clear that the decision of what information to publicly disclose regarding any investigation, as with all operational matters, is taken solely at law enforcement’s discretion," Annie Cullinan said in an email.
The statement noted that Canadians "have expressed concerns about when and how the RCMP shared information with the public," and that is part of the public inquiry's mandate.
During question period last week, Blair repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, noting the Liberal promise to enact stiffer laws on guns long predated the tragedy.
"The vicious murder of 22 Canadians using firearms deepened our resolve to make Canadians safe and to keep our promise," he said.
However, Michael Scott, a lawyer with Patterson Law, which represents 14 of the victims’ families, said the allegations of political pressure from the top of the RCMP are concerning to his clients.
"In April 2020, that's not the time for trying to advance political agendas," Scott said in an interview Tuesday.
"It's just an improper role for the commissioner to be taking at any time, frankly," he added.
Scott said he has questions about why the letter from Scanlan, which was disclosed to him "very recently," was not made available much earlier.
The inquiry issued a subpoena June 15, 2021, to the RCMP for its entire investigative file and any related materials in reference to the mass shooting. It’s not clear at what point the inquiry received the letter.
Last week, the inquiry’s investigations director, Barbara McLean, said in an email the commission was seeking an explanation for why the federal Justice Department withheld the notes from Campbell for several months.
Scanlan, who recently testified before the public inquiry, has said she had to take leave after the mass shooting last year.
She has expressed varying views in her testimony and interviews on what role Lucki should have played in releasing information.
During her testimony on June 9, when she was asked by inquiry commissioner Leanne Fitch where "the buck stops" in terms of what could be said at news conferences, Scanlan replied, "I have to say the commissioner of the RCMP."
However, during an interview in February with the inquiry staff, Scanlan was critical of Lucki for providing media interviews with a more accurate body count on the second night of the mass shooting.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.
Michael Tutton and Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the statement from Blair's office was made Wednesday.