A woman in a white blouse making a hand gesture
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki testifies at the Mass Casualty Commission on August 24, 2020

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki began her second day of testimony before the Mass Casualty Commission with the stark acknowledgement that she has no understanding of the police response to the events unfolding in Portapique the night of April 18, 2020, as a mass murderer began a killing spree that left 22 people dead.

Lawyer Josh Bryson represents the family of victims Joy and Peter Bond, who were killed on Cobequid Court in Portapique. The Bonds’ bodies weren’t discovered until late in the day on April 19, about 18 hours after the first 911 call.

During his questioning of Lucki, Bryson listed various policing failures — the failure to contain the crime scene in Portapique, the problems with communication, the lack of a clear command structure — and asked what changes in policy had been implemented in the 28 months since the murders.

His exchange with Lucki continued:

Bryson: You don’t know why Cobequid Court was unattended for 18 hours. Can you tell me why?

Lucki: Well, first I think, in my role as commissioner, I generally — and it’s not downplaying anything or making something sound less important — with 32,000 employees and over 750 locations, it’s a big organization, and I can’t be the one that goes down and makes sure everything happens. So I have people to do that.

Bryson: You didn’t investigate any matter related to Portapique.

Lucki: No…

Bryson: You haven’t analyzed the situation first.

Lucki: There are people looking at all of this. Any of the gaps that are resulting from these testimonies, the things that you are pointing out, or that we have known ourselves, all of these people are being tasked to do things. Where it’s at, who’s specifically being tasked, I can’t give you those details, I don’t know them. I just know that we’re not sitting back saying, “OK, lets” — even though some of the things we are, in fact, respecting the commission’s [process of] putting recommendations forward, we are slowly dissecting, analyzing the issues, and seeing what were the issues, and then we’re going to go into our own sort of plotted plan in conjunction with the recomendations that come from the commission…

Bryson: So you’re analyzing the information, and that’s the members you have present at the proceeding, but you haven’t instituted any changes with regard to general scene security, information flow during a mass casualty.

Lucki: Not me personally, no.

Bryson: Or that you’re aware of?

Lucki: Not specifically, no. I don’t know who’s been tasked to do what. But I know that our H-STRONG [Nova Scotia division] team is looking at everything that comes in, and they’re bringing it to the attention — much of this will go through our contracted National and Indigenous Policing. If it is strictly a local issue that has no national nexus, we would probably just allow it to happen at that local level.

Bryson: I’m going to suggest to you that another risk in waiting 28 and continuing months that you now have cadets who have gone through basic training, depot, and you have missed valuable learning opportunities for those cadets who are now members. You could have been teaching them your findings based on your reviews, best practices, from what came out of Portapique.

Lucki: I’m not sure if any of these have been transmitted through our learning and development group or not. I’m guessing not on a holistic scale, but if anything, like for example, we have national policy on [Ready Alert], that gets fed back through the machine, and we have a group training program and support team at our training academy who deal with the curriculum, and so then they analyze and decide where in the curriculum something like that may be added.

Bryson: Can you speak to any changes that have been made at depot to training since this mass casualty event? Under your mandate, you’re in charge of training, you can set training regimens, you can amend the curriculum.

Lucki: I think I should just take a step back. My role as commissioner, like I said, I’m looking at things from the 10,000-foot level. The questions you’re asking, I’m not looking at it at that level. There are people who look at it at that level. And I think, if I had the benefit of knowing some of the things you’re asking, I can certainly ask the questions. My people right now are writing it down, and they’re going to be asking the questions. But for me to do that, there is — at my level, I don’t go down in the weeds. I feel bad, because I would love to be able to answer your questions with greater detail, and I’d love to be able to give you accurate information, but I don’t have that accurate information, I only have it in general senses. For that, I’m sorry.

Such exchanges characterized Lucki’s entire testimony: She’s in charge of a big and complex organization so can’t possibly know the details of what happened in Portapique and after. She has “people” attending to those details, but she can’t say who those people are or what they’ve done. She promises reform, but vaguely.

To be sure, the RCMP is an enormous organization. But Portapique was not a obscure detail that doesn’t need her attention. Twenty-two people were killed, including an RCMP constable. As a result of the policing failures, there is a crisis in confidence in the RCMP. And most importantly, it is of utmost importance that the policing failures be addressed forthwith so that they not be repeated come the next terrible event. Lives are at stake.

If anything deserves Lucki’s attention, it’s Portapique.

The leader of any large organization can’t be fully involved in all details of an organizational failure, but they most certainly can have more than passing knowledge of the event.

You can bet that President Joe Biden spends his evenings reading intelligence briefings, and we should expect nothing less from Lucki. The Mass Casualty Commission has published 31 “foundational” documents outlining the facts of the tragedy and the policing failures. Many journalists and regular people in Nova Scotia have read them all, but it’s apparent from her testimony that Lucki has not: she doesn’t even know the basic facts of the tragedy.

And because she doesn’t know the facts, she can offer no intelligent or thoughtful response as to how to proceed. Pick your word to describe her testimony yesterday: blather, bafflegab, gobbledygook. Just don’t use words like reasoned or considered.

Lucki’s strategy for testifying before the commission was to toss out a bunch of bureaucratic details — oh, there’s a learning and development group, we have a contracted National and Indigenous Policing board, there are “people” and processes — anything to take the responsibility off herself.

Lucki presented herself as just a hapless person atop a giant bureaucracy. She wants good things to happen, she wants reform, she has all the good intentions, but she’s failed by the stagnant institution.

In Medieval times, people knew not to voice displeasure at the king himself. The hardships the peasantry suffered, the injustices, lost wars, poor response to plague, weren’t the fault of the king, who after all is God’s anointed one, but rather the people around the king — the sycophants, the court, the bureaucrats. So, one didn’t fault the king himself, but rather said “the king’s advisors are failing him.” The king was just as much a victim as the people.

And that’s the attitude Lucki brought to the commission: Hey, I’ve assigned “people” to attend to this or that, I don’t dirty myself with such details. And if change isn’t happening swiftly enough, or you’re not otherwise satisfied, well, my advisors are failing me. I’m just as much a victim as you are.

There are three possible responses to this: There can be a peasants’ revolt against the RCMP, or Lucki can resign, or the prime minister can remove her.

In any case, Lucki must go.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Breathtakingly good work, Tim. It will be fascinating to see if this woman manages to keep her job with her blazing ineptitude. She did even more to erode trust in the RCMP in Nova Scotia.

  2. Brenda “I am not in the weeds” Lucki.

    I’ll bet you the CEO’s of most of Canada’s largest public companies would know more about their own operations than she does of the RCMP.

    I read about her career on Wikipedia. Assuming it is right, she has peace keeping experience and she ran an RCMP educational institution. Not a whole lot of experience with the kind of thing that went on in Nova Scotia.

    This tragedy happened on her watch. She must accept accountability.

    She should also insist on mandatory carbine training for all field officers as a part of their INITIAL training.

  3. Maybe it’s more than Lucki who has to go – could be that the RCMP as a police force serving rural Nova Scotia has to be reconsidered.

  4. This was the biggest mass murder in Canada. Period. This commissioner one would think would be conversant in all the details and most critically what is being done within her organization to accept, recognize and correct failures. This is disappointing that this Commissioner doesn’t see her role to be responsible for the organization for which in fact she is responsible.

  5. Yea, and yes, and yes. Excellent column, Tim. Her testimony was appallingly, cavalierly ignorant.

    I see there’s some attempt online to paint her as a victim of misogyny. As a feminist who worked in politics, I say: Horseshit.

    Attempting to make institutional change and being stymied by a sexist old guard is one thing. Deliberately disavowing or ignoring knowledge of critical issues in the *public* organization you lead? That’s *your* abject failure.

  6. Not just Medieval times. I’ve found over and over again that modern leaders cannot fail; they are only failed. Thus, efforts to arrive at accountability invariably result in an account of the ways leadership has been failed by others.