“The police do not disclose information”: why the RCMP hid details after the massacre in the National Assembly

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HALIFAX — At the center of the political storm over the RCMP’s response to the worst mass shooting in Canadian history is a phrase used by police to justify covering up the case.

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Weeks after a gunman killed 22 people in a 13-hour rampage on April 18-19, 2020, Nova Scotia RCMP officers insisted that revealing key facts, including details about the weapons used, could “jeopardize the integrity of » their investigations. .

But what does this phrase really mean? And were there justifiable reasons why the Mounties withheld these details from the public?

Internal RCMP documents released Tuesday show that on April 28, 2020, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Luckey, said at a meeting of senior officers that she was disappointed that details about the firearms were not made public at previous press conferences in Halifax.

According to notes made by Supt. Darren Campbell, Lucky, said she promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the Mounties would release the descriptions, adding that the information would be “linked to pending gun control legislation that will make officers and the public safer.”

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In response, Campbell wrote that he told Lucky that revealing these details could “jeopardize ongoing efforts” to establish how the killer illegally obtained two rifles and two pistols.

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When Campbell’s tapes were released Tuesday in a report prepared for a public inquiry into the tragedy, opposition federal conservatives and New Democrats accused the ruling Liberals of meddling in the police investigation for political gain.

Liberals denied this accusation, stating that Lucky was told to do nothing.

Lost in partisan disputes was any discussion of the public’s right to know about the firearms in question.

There can be no doubt that most Mounties, such as Campbell, were opposed to talking about weapons. They believed that the information, if made public, could lead to those involved in the illegal supply of weapons to the killer.

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“It is reasonable to believe that (the RCMP) is conducting an ongoing investigation into the source of the weapons,” said the pensioner, who asked not to be named to protect his relationship with the RCMP. “The American partners could have been involved in this, which would make them less likely to provide any information that could threaten the investigation.”

In November 2020, seven months after the shooting, the National Post received a list of the killer’s weapons, which was included in an information note prepared for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Three firearms were illegally obtained from the United States: a .40 caliber Glock 23 semi-automatic pistol, a 9 mm Ruger P89 semi-automatic pistol, and a 5.56 mm Colt Law Enforcement semi-automatic carbine. The Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle came from a gun store in Winnipeg, but investigators determined that it was also illegally acquired.

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AJ Somerset, author of the 2015 book Guns: The Culture and Creed of Guns, said releasing these details was unlikely to interfere with the RCMP investigation.

“Once the identity of the shooter is established, anyone with any information about how this weapon was obtained will immediately want to avoid contact with the police,” Somerset said in an interview.

“I don’t understand how identifying a weapon actually results in that person learning about something they didn’t already know about.”

Somerset said the real problem is that Canadian law enforcement is accustomed to using the argument that an investigation is jeopardized as a prop.

“In Canada, the police do not release information,” he said. “We’re kind of used to it, compared to the US, where within an hour of a mass shooting, we know everything about what weapons were used.”

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Somerset said a former Toronto cop once told him that, as a police officer, he believed the public had no right to know what a police investigation uncovered before a trial.

“In Canada, there are cultural differences in the idea of ​​who the police work for,” the author said. “Police Canada generally does not consider themselves accountable to the public…. We saw this in (the Nova Scotia mass shooting case). No public warnings were issued and the police appeared to be acting in their own interests.”

A public inquiry into the killings, known as the Commission on Mass Victims, learned that the police knew about the active shooter on the night of April 18, 2020, but no public warnings stating this fact were issued until the next day – 10 hours after the murder. the murder began.

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August 12, 2020 RCMP Sgt. Angela Gavrilyuk told the court that the search warrants used by the Mounties had to remain heavily redacted to ensure that the mass murder investigation was not compromised.

Search warrants are expected to be released to the public after they have been executed, with a few exceptions. But in this case, Crown submitted edited versions that were challenged in court by several media outlets, including The Canadian Press.

These documents also contained information about firearms and much of what the RCMP learned during the investigation.

At one point, Gavrilyuk told the court, “I had no intention of making any of the (search warrants) public.”

This tough approach is different from how things used to be in Canada, said Blake Brown, professor of history at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.

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On December 6, 1989, shortly after a man fatally shot 14 women at the Polytechnic School of Montreal, the public was told about the gun he was using: another Ruger Mini-14.

“But at some point the police stopped doing that,” said Brown, author of Arms and Disarmament: A History of Gun Control in Canada.

“I do not understand why this information cannot be released by the police more quickly. One of the themes of the Commission on Mass Accidents was highlighting the RCMP’s tendency to give out very little information and treat the public as if they didn’t need to know much.”

Both Lucky and Campbell are expected to testify ahead of the investigation this summer.

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