The Liberal government decided to set the date to announce the ban of 1,500 “assault-style” firearms shortly after the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting that left 22 dead, Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said on Monday.
Blair, who was overseeing the entire public safety portfolio at the time, was testifying before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety regarding allegations of political interference in the RCMP investigation into the tragedy.
Information surfaced in June suggesting that RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki had been under pressure to release information to the public on the firearms used by the perpetrator.
Conservative MP and public safety critic Raquel Dancho asked Blair at which point Lucki was made aware that the government would make the ban announcement on May 1, 2020.
“When was the May 1 date determined for that announcement? Was it before or after the Nova Scotia attacks?” asked Dancho.
“The date of release was determined after the Nova Scotia shooting,” Blair answered. The attacks occurred on April 18 and 19.
Blair repeated in his testimony what he had previously stated about not putting pressure on Lucki to reveal information on the firearms.
“At no point did I direct the RCMP in any operational matter, including on public communications, I did not ask them to release any specific information nor did I receive a promise for them to do so,” Blair said.
“And as you will find in all of my public statements from that time, I confirm that identifying the weapons used was a decision wholly within the purview of the RCMP.”
Accounts from RCMP employees released last month by the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC), an inquiry looking into the Nova Scotia tragedy, suggested that Lucki had promised Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office the information on firearms would be released, with Lucki reportedly tying it to impending gun control legislation.
Nova Scotia RCMP had pushed back on releasing the information to not jeopardize the investigation.
The firearms used in the crimes were later revealed to have been obtained illegally, with three being sourced from the United States.
Dancho held a press conference earlier Monday to address the information revealed by the MCC and discuss the upcoming testimonies at committee later that day.
The MP asked why Lucki told Blair’s chief of staff and deputy minister in an email dated April 23, 2020, that information about the firearms used by the perpetrator should be kept close-hold, yet five days later she reprimanded her Nova Scotia subordinates for not sharing the information with the public.
“We cannot have political interference and we certainly cannot have this type of political pressure or any political pressure from the Liberal government on the RCMP or the RCMP commissioner. That is the issue that we’re looking into today,” she said.
The evidence about Lucki allegedly citing requests from the federal government on releasing information about firearms were contained in notes released by the MCC in June. The evidence includes handwritten notes of Nova Scotia RCMP Superintendent Darren Campbell and an email letter to Lucki sent by then strategic communications director Lia Scanlan.
Both documents related to an April 28, 2020, teleconference between Lucki and RCMP H Division in Nova Scotia.
Campbell and Scanlan both mentioned that Lucki appeared to be under some pressure to release information about the firearms used to commit the crimes, and Lucki was reportedly tying it to pending gun legislation.
Lucki also testified at the committee on Monday and said she had not been under any pressure or influence to release the information, but she revealed that Blair’s chief of staff had indeed asked her if she would release the information.
“Asking questions is not interference,” she said.
Lucki said she had been told by the RCMP communications director the information about the firearms would be provided in a press conference and relayed that information to Blair’s chief of staff and deputy minister.
After the information was not released, she felt she had “misinformed the minister and by extension, the prime minister.”