OTTAWA — As opposition MPs demand accountability over reports that the Liberal government interfered with a police probe of Canada’s deadliest shooting, experts say the allegations are the latest sign that legislative change is needed in policing.
The warnings come after recently released documents suggested RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki promised Bill Blair – who was public safety minister at the time of the 2020 shooting in Nova Scotia that took the lives of 22 people – and other officials that she would publicly share information about the specific firearms used in the massacre.
The accusations, which have been denied by Lucki and Blair, stem from documents released from the commission tasked with reviewing the tragedy.
According to handwritten notes from Nova Scotia RCMP Supt. Darren Campbell, Lucki’s alleged pledge to release the firearms information “was tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and (the) public safer.”
On Wednesday, the Conservatives pushed for an emergency debate on the allegations.
“We need to find out the truth. We need to find out what they’re hiding, vis-a-vis the Prime Minister’s Office and the public safety minister’s office, ”Conservative House Leader John Brassard said.
The notion that political interference in policing matters is rare is “an absolute fallacy,” said Michael Kempa, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.
“There is regular political influence of policing operations at various levels,” he said.
Other examples of potential interference have been found among other documents, including a recorded interview with Lia Scanlan, the director of strategic communications for the Nova Scotia RCMP. That interview suggests Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pressured Lucki to share other information that did not align with what provincial RCMP had already publicly released.
In a statement, Lucki said she had met with Nova Scotia RCMP colleagues to discuss “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,” the statement read.
On Wednesday, Blair told reporters that he was “very, very comfortable” that there was no political interference in the case.
“There was no pressure placed upon the RCMP and no interference with their operational decisions. This is actually an important line between government and the operations of the police commissioner in the RCMP. It’s a line that has always been respected, ”Blair said.
Despite the denials of any wrongdoing, Kempa said claims of a strict firewall between governments and police in all cases are simply untrue.
“I was unsurprised, but dismayed, by what has developed,” he said.
“Unsurprised, because even assuming that what is alleged to have happened is true, it is nothing unusual across Canada for federal ministers to make operational information requests of the RCMP.”
It’s an issue, Kempa said, that has “bedevilled Canadian policing” for decades, because “nowhere have we properly codified in any of our laws” exactly what operational independence means.
“Properly, operational independence only means that never, ever shall any politician ever direct a police operation on the question of who the police will go after, investigate, charge, et cetera,” he said. “On how police undertake operations, there’s nothing illegal about a politician asking for information about an operation or even providing suggestions or direction to the police about an operation.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said that while operational independence is not carved out in legislation, it is “codified in the jurisprudence of this country.”
That rationale is not good enough, said Kent Roach, an expert on police-government relations at the University of Toronto.
“The mere fact that we have continued controversy means that Parliament should spell it out,” he said, adding that he would define the concept more narrowly as “investigative independence.”
While Blair and Mendicino said they maintain confidence in Lucki as RCMP commissioner, the Conservatives continued to push for a fuller investigation into the matter, including having it studied before a parliamentary committee.
But their request for an emergency debate on the issue was not granted Wednesday afternoon, after Deputy Speaker Chris D’Entremont said it failed to meet the bar for allowing such a debate to take place.
Earlier Wednesday, D’Entremont, a Conservative MP from Nova Scotia, said Liberal ministers must “come clean” about their reported involvement in the probe.
“We as Nova Scotians mourn the loss of those people as if they were our neighbors,” he said. “And to hear that they used that as a political piece to advance their gun legislation makes me sick.”