HALIFAX — As a public inquiry prepares for the release of its final report into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting, its findings are sure to refocus the spotlight on the RCMP’s problem-plagued response to the 13-hour rampage that claimed 22 lives.
Almost three years after a man disguised as a Mountie started murdering people in Portapique, N.S., on the night of April 18, 2020, the senior RCMP officers and staff involved in the tragic case have all either retired or moved into new jobs.
Christopher Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University in Manitoba, says there’s no guarantee the inquiry’s findings will have much impact on the RCMP’s senior ranks.
“Police accountability is not easily realized, even in the most grave of circumstances,” said Schneider, who has published extensively on policing issues.
“Given how grave it was and how many people lost their lives … the RCMP could have, at the very least, demoted or meted out some sort of punishment to show the public that they were taking it seriously.”
The commission of inquiry, which started public hearings in February 2022, is scheduled to release its final reports and recommendations on Thursday.
The following is a recounting of the roles played in April 2020 by senior RCMP officers and staff, and a look at where they have ended up.
Commissioner Brenda Lucki, RCMP commanding officer.
Then: As the head of the national police force, Lucki attracted national attention on April 19, 2020, when she upstaged junior officers in Nova Scotia by revealing that at least 17 people had been killed by the lone gunman — a number that was significantly higher than police had first confirmed. At the time, the Mounties in Nova Scotia had told the public that “in excess of 10” had been killed, even though senior officers knew the growing death toll stood at 17.
Lucki was back in the spotlight last June when the inquiry released notes from an internal RCMP meeting on April 28, 2020. The handwritten pages from RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell said Lucki had promised the prime minister that the RCMP would release descriptions of the weapons used by the killer because the information “was tied to pending gun control legislation.”
Critics accused Lucki of interfering in a police investigation, but the commissioner denied the allegation.
On Aug. 25, Lucki apologized for the RCMP’s failure to meet public expectations during and after the mass shooting.
“I don’t think we were what you wanted us to be or what you needed us to be,” Lucki said near the end of her second day of testimony before the inquiry.
Where is she now? Lucki retired on March 17.
Assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman, RCMP commanding officer in Nova Scotia.
Then: Bergerman was the first Mountie to speak to the public about the rampage during a televised news conference on April 19, 2020. During her two-minute statement, Bergerman said: “Today is a devastating day for Nova Scotia and it will remain etched in the minds of many for years to come. What has unfolded overnight and into this morning, is incomprehensible and many families are experiencing the loss of a loved one.”
In July 2021, Bergerman found herself under scrutiny for a potential conflict of interest after her husband, retired RCMP staff sergeant Mike Butcher, was forced to resign from an internal RCMP team tasked with providing information to the inquiry.
On Aug. 23, 2022, Bergerman told the inquiry the RCMP should communicate better with the public and learn more about the communities it is policing.
During her testimony, she said she was aware some senior officers in Nova Scotia complained about her performance following the shooting rampage.
Her response? “I completely disagreed with them.”
Where is she now? Bergerman retired from the RCMP in October 2021 after serving 35 years as a Mountie.
Chief Supt. Chris Leather, Nova Scotia RCMP criminal operations officer.
Then: Leather stood beside Bergerman when the Mounties held their first news conference after the massacre. He fielded questions from journalists that night and over the next few days. But the inquiry determined that the RCMP’s initial statements to the public were riddled with mistakes, confusion and omissions.
It was Leather who told Canadians that “in excess of 10” people had died at the hands of the gunman, even though the RCMP knew the actual number at that time was 17.
“There were a number of questions I wasn’t prepared for … having the limited experience I had in those types of scenarios,” he told the inquiry on July 27, 2022. “That’s what led to some of the incorrect accounting. I’ll say it right now: obviously I missed the mark on more than a couple occasions.”
For days, Leather and other senior Mounties withheld other key information from the public, including the victims’ names and basic details regarding the weapons used by the killer — information that senior Mounties in Ottawa had asked to be released.
Where is he now? Leather became interim commander of the Nova Scotia RCMP after Bergerman left, but he returned to his previous position in May 2022. Three months later, he joined a federal policing modernization team at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.
Supt. Darren Campbell, Nova Scotia RCMP officer in charge of support services.
Then: After Leather’s shaky performance before the cameras, Campbell was tasked with handling the RCMP’s news conferences.
As the public face of the RCMP, Campbell was less gaffe-prone, but he would eventually come under intense scrutiny over four pages of handwritten notes he wrote during the tense meeting on April 28, 2020 — nine days after the mass killing.
The notes sparked controversy in Ottawa, where the opposition Tories and New Democrats accused the governing Liberals of interfering in a police investigation for political gain — assertions denied by the government and Lucki.
As he concluded his testimony before the inquiry, Campbell addressed the victims’ families.
“I apologize for failing,” he said, drawing a deep breath and sobbing. “I haven’t cried for two and a half years, and I’m truly sorry that we failed you. And I promise that we’ll do better.”
Where is he now? Campbell was promoted to chief superintendent last year. He is now the criminal operations officer with the New Brunswick RCMP.
Lia Scanlan, Nova Scotia RCMP director of strategic communications.
Then: Scanlan was responsible for how the RCMP communicated with the public during and after the mass shooting.
During her testimony before the inquiry, she broke down in tears as she admitted that the unclear practices her team used to alert the public led to confusion and crucial delays.
She confirmed that the RCMP’s first tweet about the events in Portapique, N.S., on the night of April 18, 2020, was inaccurate, as it described what was happening as a “firearms complaint,” even though the Mounties were aware at least three people had been shot to death.
Scanlan also confirmed there were unacceptable delays in alerting the public to the fact that the killer was driving a car that looked exactly like a marked RCMP cruiser.
“Just know that, if I could go back and have those minutes disappear, I would do anything,” Scanlan said when asked if anything should be changed to prevent such delays. “I just need people to know that. And we’ll do better.”
Where is she now? Scanlan assumed the role of strategic adviser to the commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP in January 2022.
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