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Liberals say faith in RCMP commissioner remains strong, deny political interference

OTTAWA — The public safety minister and emergency preparedness minister both said Wednesday their confidence in RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki hasn't waned as allegations swirl about political interference in the investigation into the tragic 2020 ma
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President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair speaks with reporters as he arrives for a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA — The public safety minister and emergency preparedness minister both said Wednesday their confidence in RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki hasn't waned as allegations swirl about political interference in the investigation into the tragic 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

Bill Blair was the minister of public safety at the time of the shooting spree that terrorized communities and killed 22 people over 13 hours on April 18 and 19, 2020.

A report published Tuesday by the inquiry investigating the tragedy includes notes from an RCMP superintendent alleging Lucki said she had promised Blair and the Prime Minister's Office that information on the guns used by the shooter would be released as it affected pending gun control legislation.

The same report quotes an RCMP communications director as saying Blair and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were "weighing in on what we could and couldn't say" during media briefings.

Blair, now emergency preparedness minister, categorically denied that Lucki had ever made such a promise or that he had asked for the information. Nor, he said, did he tell anybody what the RCMP should communicate about their own investigation.

"I'm telling you, and I would tell the superintendent, if I spoke to him, that I made no effort to pressure the RCMP to interfere in any way with their investigation," he said. "I gave no direction as to what information they should communicate. Those are operational decisions of the RCMP, and I respect that and I have respected that."

He also pointed out that at a news conference a day after the mass shooting, both he and Lucki said the investigation had to play out and that it would be inappropriate for the RCMP to release information on the guns until the investigation had verified the details.

Lucki issued a statement Tuesday night saying she did not interfere in the investigation and briefed Blair on what was happening as is standard procedure. But she acknowledged she could have handled a meeting with Nova Scotia RCMP about the "flow of information" better.

"It was a tense discussion, and I regret the way I approached the meeting and the impact it had on those in attendance," she said. "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."

Blair and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino both said Wednesday their faith in Lucki's leadership of Canada's national police force remains strong.

"I think it’s important to say that on the easiest of days, it’s a very challenging and demanding job to be the RCMP commissioner and certainly the worst mass shooting in the history of the country was probably one of the most difficult days, not only for law enforcement but for all Canadians," Mendicino said.

Federal Conservatives dismissed the explanations provided by Blair and said Lucki herself must also answer the allegations. 

Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen called it "disgusting" that Trudeau and his government would leverage the massacre to advance their political agenda on gun control.

She also said a deeper investigation into the matter is warranted.

Mendicino said the inquiry is doing just that.

"I think we absolutely should continue to be totally forthright with Canadians, which is why the mass casualty commission has within their remit an independent way to look into the circumstances around all of this," he said.

The Conservatives requested an emergency debate on the situation Wednesday afternoon but Deputy Speaker Chris D'Entremont, who is from Nova Scotia, said the request didn't satisfy the policy for what necessitates an emergency debate in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives intend to push for a committee investigation as well.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh also called for a full investigation into the allegations, calling them "very very serious" and "deeply problematic."

“It should never be the case … that a mass shooting should in any way be used as a political wedge," he said. "That is the allegation we are dealing with and that is deeply troubling."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.

— With files from Marie Woolf

Mia Rabson and Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press