Bill Blair says he never connected gun control to N.S. mass shooting during talks with RCMP Commissioner

Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair speaks with reporters as he arrives for a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 22.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says he never linked government gun-control measures to the investigation into the mass killings in Nova Scotia during frequent conversations with RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.

Mr. Blair, who was public safety minister when a gunman killed 22 people in April, 2020, told reporters on Wednesday he “gave no directions” to Commissioner Lucki to bolster the Liberal government’s gun-control agenda by releasing details about the weapons used.

Two members of the RCMP have said Commissioner Lucki told a group of investigators in a conference call on April 28, 2020, that releasing the information would help advance the Liberals’ campaign promise to ban certain types of firearms.

Mr. Blair, a former Toronto police chief, said he had many discussions with the RCMP Commissioner in the days and weeks after the worst mass shooting in Canadian history.

He said those conversations were only about what happened in Nova Scotia and he never asked the Commissioner to push for the release of details on the weapons or connected the shooting rampage to stricter gun-control measures.

“There was no nexus between that very important work and promises we had made to Canadians and the investigation taking place,” he told reporters at an event in Waterloo, Ont. “We did not talk about releasing any of that information.”

Commissioner Lucki has issued two statements about the controversy in the past week. On Tuesday, she said she did not feel under “any political pressure” to interfere in the criminal investigation. In a statement last week, she said she regretted how she treated her officers in what she called “a tense discussion.”

But she has not denied telling RCMP commanders in Nova Scotia she was under political pressure to push for the release of the firearms used and tying it to planned gun-control measures.

The Mass Casualty Commission, an inquiry into the shootings, released notes from RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell last week that have triggered parliamentary hearings next month. His notes say Commissioner Lucki told her officers she “promised the Minister of Public Safety and the Prime Minister’s Office” the force would tell the public what were weapons used to advance the government’s “pending gun control legislation.”

The public probe also released a letter on Tuesday that was sent to Commissioner Lucki from Lia Scanlan, the former civilian director of strategic communications in Halifax, who was in the same meeting.

In her letter sent a year later, Ms. Scanlan said Commissioner Lucki spoke about “pressures” from Mr. Blair to release details on the firearms and rebuked the country’s top Mountie, saying she belittled officers who refused to go along with her directions.

Mr. Blair noted Commissioner Lucki acknowledged that she had tense and difficult discussions with her officers, but added that “I wasn’t privy to that conversation.”

Mr. Blair said the RCMP had been in discussions with the government about a list of 1,500 assault weapons the Liberals intended to ban as part of a 2019 election promise. That ban took place on May 31, 2020.

However, he maintained those conversations were not part of any discussions he had with Commissioner Lucki about the Nova Scotia investigation.

“I had a number of conversations and briefings from the RCMP and the RCMP Commissioner about the events that transpired, but we did not talk about releasing any of that information,” he said. “I know very clearly the line between government responsibility for governance and oversight of the RCMP and giving directions in any way. And at no time did I cross the line or any member of my government cross that line.”

Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said “someone is lying,” noting that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said “no undue influence or pressure” was put on Commissioner Lucki. “He didn’t say no pressure,” she said.

“It seems to me there was interference. We have testimony from Campbell and Scanlan about that,” Ms. Dancho added. “If the allegations are true and pressure did come from the Prime Minister’s Office and Bill Blair, I imagine they would go to any lengths to pin that on someone else – to lie and deflect.”

NDP public safety critic Alistair MacGregor said Canadians should be troubled by the conflicting stories.

“In this instance, especially when we are dealing with a mass shooting, the fact there is even a hint of political interference to push for a piece of legislation … those are very serious allegations,” he said.

In her letter, Ms. Scanlan said she objected to revealing the types of guns used in the shootings because the victims’ families had not yet been told and she wanted to “prevent them from being revictimized by hearing new information from the media.”

Supt. Campbell said in his notes that he did not want to release the details because the RCMP were working with U.S. authorities on the case and doing so might have jeopardized the investigation. Three of the weapons had been smuggled in from Maine.

Commissioner Lucki said in her statement on Tuesday that she would have no further comment on the controversy, but noted she will testify next month to the inquiry and the House of Commons committee on public safety and national security.

MPs plan to call Commissioner Lucki and some of those involved in the meeting on April 28, 2020, including Supt. Campbell and Ms. Scanlan. Mr. Blair will also be called. The opposition parties also want to hear from Justice Minister David Lametti after inquiry officials complained that his department did not inform the probe it had withheld 35 pages of documents, including four pages of notes from Supt. Campbell.

Those notes were turned over last week. The Justice Department said it is still reviewing three other pages to determine if they can be given to the commission.

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