Editor’s note: after this article was published, the Mass Casualty Commission tabled the letter from Lia Scanlan to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, placing it on the commission website. You can read it here.
The ongoing public inquiry into the mass murders of April 2020 is supposed to help us understand what happened and make recommendations to prevent another tragedy.
Twenty-two people died. The weapons used to kill them were illegal, and the killer had an obsession with guns.
The inquiry into the murders wasn’t intended to look into the actions of the national leader of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, but new information has surfaced which may make it difficult not to.
The Halifax Examiner has obtained what purports to be a letter to Lucki that is a blistering rebuke for the actions Lucki took soon after the murders.
Lucki’s attempt to influence public messaging
First, the background. It was Lucki who one week after the murders wanted a senior RCMP officer conducting a media briefing to reveal more information about the guns to promote Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s efforts to introduce gun control legislation.
The senior officer, Supt. Darren Campbell, and Nova Scotia strategic communications director Lia Scanlan rejected Lucki’s request out of concern it could jeopardize an ongoing cross-border investigation into how the gunman obtained three out of his four illegal guns from people in Maine.
Immediately following that April 28,2020 media briefing, Lucki called a meeting to scold Campbell and Scanlan for not having followed her direction.
Campbell made notes right after the session, as follows:
The Commissioner said she told Comms to tell us at H Division to include specific info about the firearms used by [the killer]….However I said we couldn’t because to do so would jeopardize ongoing efforts to advance the U.S. side of the case as well as the Canadian components of the investigation…
The Commissioner said she had promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office that the RCMP (we) would release this information. I tried to explain there was no intent to disrespect anyone however we could not release this information at this time. The Commissioner then said that we didn’t understand, that this was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and the public safer. She was very upset.
In addition to these handwritten notes by Campbell, the Examiner has learned the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC) now has a letter written to Lucki from Lia Scanlan, the Nova Scotia communications director who organized the media briefing.
The letter could be political dynamite — Scanlan had previously told the MCC she was upset Lucki was releasing information to the press about the number of murder victims before the Mounties in Nova Scotia were able to provide the families and the public with a reliable figure.
“The Commissioner releases a body count that we (Communications) don’t even have,” Scanlan told the MCC interviewer. “She went out and did that. It was all political pressure. That is 100% Minister Blair and the Prime Minister. And we have a Commissioner that does not push back.”
At another point during the same interview, MCC Investigator Paul Thompson asked: “So it would be very prudent and important, first and foremost, is information that is released doesn’t compromise the integrity of the criminal investigation. So that must have been part of the discussions, I suppose, with the strategy behind the communication piece of the RCMP?”
“Yeah. One hundred percent,” replied Scanlan. “And I outlined that a lot, especially, in— I wrote a letter to the Commissioner, and I outlined what was at the forefront of everything. So, it’s always the integrity of the investigation. Not compromising it. I know that’s a buzzword, but that’s exactly what it is.”
The Examiner asked the Mass Casualty Commission to confirm it has a copy of that letter Scanlan wrote to Lucki. Here is the reply from Senior Commission lawyer Emily Hill:
In the coming days, we expect to mark as exhibits additional documents related to the topic of Public Communications from the RCMP and Governments after the Mass Casualty and hear more during upcoming testimony from RCMP witnesses. This will include additional information related to a meeting among RCMP members that took place on April 28, 2020.
That’s as close to a “yes” as you can get. The MCC had earlier stated it plans to call Lucki as a witness sometime this summer. Late last week, the Examiner received what we believe is a copy of that letter Scanlan wrote to Lucki.
Scanlan didn’t send it to us. We asked Scanlan about it, and she neither confirmed nor denied that she wrote the letter, and declined to comment — understandably, as she could lose her job, which is no longer in communications but as a strategic advisor to the incoming NS RCMP Commander, John Ferguson. Instead, Scanlan followed RCMP procedure and forwarded the excerpt from the letter sent to her by the Examiner to the RCMP Public Information Officer for comment.
“As your inquiry relates to materials before the Mass Casualty Commission, it would be inappropriate for the RCMP to comment on specific documents or testimony while the proceedings are ongoing,” replied Cst. Chris Marshall, Public Information Officer for “H” Division in Nova Scotia. “We fully support the MCC’s mandate and it must be given the space and time to fulfill that mandate fairly and impartially.”
Catch-22. We have a copy of a letter purportedly written by Lia Scanlan critical of the actions of the RCMP’s top cop which we cannot authenticate at this time. The RCMP says it cannot comment because the letter has been turned over to the Mass Casualty Commission. The commission isn’t prepared to release it just yet.
So we will let readers be the judge. Here is an excerpt from the letter the Examiner received which discusses the RCMP staff meeting with the Commissioner on April 28, 2020:
The reason for the meeting was unclear, although I suspected it may have had to do with ‘guns’, given I was asked if Darren could speak about the guns less than two hours before the press conference was scheduled to take place. Prior to this day, there were conversations between NHQ and the Division about the caliber of the guns and why, from an investigational standpoint, they could not be discussed publicly. I indicated in an email to the Deputy (Brian Brennan) and Sharon (Tessier, the national director for RCMP Communications) that the caliber of the guns would not be included in Darren’s remarks.
It is important for me to point out that within the Division, we made a commitment that guided all of our public releases of information; a commitment to the families of the victims prior to any public release, we would ensure they were first informed to prevent them from being re-victimized be hearing new information in the media. The families had not been provided with any information related to the guns.
The letter-writer continued:
Our friend and colleague was murdered, there were over twenty individual stories of unbelievable terror that will haunt us forever, and employees were falling apart physically and mentally. Our members were looking to their leaders for help and reassurance. Suffice it to say, what we were facing in Nova Scotia, day in and day out, likely looked and felt very different from the vantage point in Ottawa.
As much of it is of a personal nature, we are not publishing the entire letter.
Interestingly, a week ago today, Commissioner Lucki issued a written statement apologizing for her behaviour toward Campbell, Scanlan, and others present during that staff meeting more than two years ago. She wrote:
Several days after the mass shooting, I met with Nova Scotia RCMP colleagues to discuss a number of things. This included the flow of information to RCMP national headquarters on the investigation and the public release of information. It was a tense discussion, and I regret the way I approached the meeting and the impact it had on those in attendance. My need for information should have been better weighed against the seriousness of the circumstances they were experiencing. I should have been more sensitive in my approach. Had I led the meeting differently, these employees would have felt more supported during what I know was an extremely difficult time.
Better late than never. The apology followed this statement from Lucki: “I would never take actions or decisions that could jeopardize an investigation.”
It’s an open question as to whether releasing details about the exact model of guns would have jeopardized the police investigation into how they were acquired. Surely, since the murders were international news, the people in Maine who helped the killer obtain the weapons illegally knew investigators could trace the weapons back to them. But, just one week after the murders, investigators in Nova Scotia may have had concerns about how or even if U.S. officials would cooperate with the investigation. Would such concerns justify withholding the details about the guns from the public?
The commission will in coming weeks return to questions about police communication to the public and Lucki’s attempt to influence it.