It is with some reluctance that I approached the possibility of revisiting the “Mass Casualty Commission” hearings. After all, I have written about it a couple of times already.
It certainly was not because of some sadistic desire to listen to Commissioner Lucki as she reiterated several times over, why she was asking for information about the guns used by Wortman. She clearly has been practising her evidence and she is clearly willing to stick it out. Her cover and well rehearsed story is of course that she was merely “disappointed”– in only that she gave the Minister’s office the wrong information. And it is for that reason, and that reason only why she was “frustrated” and chose to vent on April 28th in a meeting with the H Division Senior personnel, all while Supt. Campbell scribbled notes.
Judging by social media, many of you continue to follow and are watching the proceedings so there is no need to go over this well worn ground– you can decide who is telling the truth, even though at this point it seems obvious. Ms. Lucki even seems to have convinced herself of “her truth”, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Her oft repeated denials encased in characterizations: “I am a collaborative person”…”I am a glass half full person”…”I am not an angry person”…”I wouldn’t call anyone a liar, I just don’t think that way”…”I am not a hurtful person”. All good to know for a Tinder bio, but not of much substance.
What struck this writer besides the overwhelming sadness of the event itself, which permeates the hearings with unimaginable visions but that there is another sadness to all of this exercise. It is that we seem to be watching the grindingly slow disintegration of the RCMP as a viable and once formidable renowned operational police force. The fact that the Commissioner and other police officers were asked to dress in civilian clothes so that the very uniform of the Mounted Police would not re-traumatize the victim families was both ridiculous and telling at the same time. What is the overall message when the very sight of the uniform was decided by these three Commissioners as off-putting to the participants.
Commissioner Lucki’s evidence as expected and was for the most part banal and of little value; but it was illustrative in an un-intended way. It put on full display both the internal problems of the RCMP and the chasm which has been for years separating and pulling apart the fabric of operational policing. We, as members of the public, were given an albeit brief glimpse into the dark corridors (they are dark of course partly because everyone is still working from home) and the inner-workings of the RCMP in HQ Ottawa. No one in the management ranks, is usually willing to be forthright and honest in describing the day to day issues. Lucki was not the exception, but in trying to distance herself from “interference” charges, she inadvertently had to put her system on display.
First and foremost was the Strategic Communications group, who appeared to be on first flush not very good with communications and not very strategic. They were talked about often in the hearings and clearly form the centre core for the daily life of the Commissioner. It was patently obvious that Ottawa HQ is far from the land of operations and that “communications” is the God in front of which they all kneel. The transferring and movement of information is their primary product. In how and when they deliver this product of learned information is where they are awarded or chastised for the accuracy and flow of that information. They were and are constantly worried of the “media tracking negatively”. They worry about their “reputational risk” and they talk about “pro-active communications versus reactive” as if written on stone tablets. In this case and in particular with the reference to the media release of the gun information, the communication “experts” in Ottawa did not trust the H Division communication “experts”.
This whole story of Supt Campbell and his evidence of the meeting was butting up against the version of Commissioner Lucki and it completely originates from the Ottawa types being frustrated in their abilities to keep the “higher ups” in the loop about this headline dominating investigation. There was only one portion of the briefing which was needed by Mr. Blair and his office –their only interest was in using the the tragedy to politically further their gun legislation. There could be no other reason. Ms. Lucki was dismayed and expressed “frustration” that there were only three briefing notes in eight days. She went further and said by way of explanation that in her mind: “communications is as important as operational…”. She has said previously, she is just a “messenger”, she is not a “holder of information”. The vital and central question is who is she a messenger for?
What was also illustrated is that Ottawa HQ, just like the Federal government at large is the land of deflection. It is practised amongst layers and layers of bureaucrats, making it difficult if not impossible to pinpoint any culprit and serving to obscure any politically sensitive information. Ms. Lucki in her testimony continually deferred to others, maybe legitimately, as the layers of Ottawa are infinite and confounding even to those living in this rarefied environment.
She was apparently unaware that her chief media person Tessier who continually reported to her, had sent an email to H Division Lia Scanlon saying prior to the press conference: “Please tell me Darren is going to talk about the guns…my phone is blowing up here”. Ms. Lucki denied knowledge of any interest in this subject on the part of her press officer.
She could also not remember making a phone call, her one and only call ever to Chief Supt Chris Leather about the guns. “I don’t recall that conversation” she said simply.
Deputy Commissioner Brennan had previously testified that he “likely” told Ms. Lucki some of the details about the guns as their offices were close, and he would have just have walked down the hallway to her office. Commissioner Lucki said that couldn’t have happened because she was “working from home” on that day, as she was most days.
The threat of COVID clearly played a bigger role in the Ottawa environment than in the policing provinces where one always had to go to work. COVID was oft mentioned by Lucki. A ready-made excuse for her ” not having sent her “Tiger Team” spin doctors to the scene in H Division which could have clearly helped to avoid the back and forth. She was “afraid we would bring COVID to Nova Scotia” was her reasoned decision.
This land of rehearsed un-accountability clearly was the reason for not taking notes at executive meetings. They are continually trying to avoid a detailed and therefore accessible written record of account. I have witnessed this in the corporate world and clearly it has enveloped the Ottawa mandarins. The meeting of April 28th was a glaring example. No one holding to the Lucki version of truth, all the Ottawa people took notes at this meeting. In H Division, C/Supt Campbell who comes from a background of operations took notes; the two fellow officers, Leather and Bergerman did not. Let’s face it, the only reason that Chief Supt. Campbell has been allowed free rein in this instance is that he took those notes.
Ottawa is also the land of “subject matter experts”. (Ms. Lucki confirmed she isn’t one–she is just a messenger remember). Most of these experts are short of operational or hands on experience. This is a world full of courses, “hundreds” according to Ms. Lucki, and it is where “table top” exercises are their reality. In this testimony and in others one heard an awful lot about the “Critical Incident Response” training, courses and command centres all designed to fill in for and ameliorate experience and geographical knowledge. In this vein, Ms. Lucki who is head of the Firearms Program admits that she actually knows “nothing about firearms”. Ottawa mandarins are the only ones who would understand this logic.
Lucki commended her employees and described them as “second to none in service delivery”. Then we had to listen to the fact that the Goulay family, was never notified of their mother being killed, that the crime scene of her death went unattended and unsecured, and then the family went into the house after it was eventually searched, they found evidence that had been missed–a bullet casing no less. Lucki’s response “I’m sorry that happened”.
When asked as to why she didn’t pick up the phone and call Lia Scanlon who had written the damaging letter calling her out on the April 28th meeting, she said that “I didn’t want to effect her wellness plan”.
When Lucki was asked about whether the police needed more education, higher academic standards such as the previous recommendation from another Commission, she said that she did not want to deter diverse applicants. “I’m trying to get people from Nunavut to join the RCMP” and better education “is a barrier”. She then pointed out that they have changed the entrance exam in order to facilitate entry and allow for “life experience”.
She talked about the lack of resources, an issue which has been around for decades, as if she had no control, but agreed that hiring for overtime was unsustainable and had a negative effect on the “work life balance”.
The level of the resourcing in H Division at the time of the incident was only spoken about briefly, but there were some startling revelations. Only two dog officers in the Province. That they already had borrowed 30-50 officers from out of the Province to attend to the fishing dispute were a couple of the examples.
She was asked about the fact that contrary to Section 6 of the Code of Conduct and Section 9.2 of the Conflict of Interest guidelines it is pretty clear that you are not allowed to hire “immediate family members”. When Chief Supt Janis Grey hired her husband retired Chief Supt John Robin or when CO Bergerman hired her husband Mike Butcher, also a retired Mountie, for the Issues Management Team for the Portapique commission she was asked if there were any consequences? No was the answer. Clearly Code of Conduct issues only apply to the low ranking members. It was often mentioned that Lucki is flying at 10,000 feet, above the details, therefore above reproach for any minutiae, so one would presume that the other high ranking officers are above the clouds as well, and they too are beyond reproach.
When asked if she thought that there should be some guidelines made up in terms of political interference, she felt that this was a good idea. Maybe a “mandate letter” she suggested which would explain the line in the sand to the incoming Commissioner and other officers. Are we to interpret this to mean that she could have had some needed guidance upon becoming Commissioner?
As she neared the end of her testimony she was asked about what recommendations she would be looking forward to from the Commission? Her profound response: “anything that will keep Canadians safe.” This scholarly response is coming from the woman who is heading a 32,000 person agency; overseeing 169 policing contracts; and the criminal and Federal responsibilities for the vast majority of this country. One lawyer described the management structure of the RCMP now as an “incomprehensible web”, “this big clump in the middle” of a very “dense management system”.
This agency is crumbling in plain view and by any measurement, weighed down by indifference to its central and core goals, consumed by appearance and an adherence to political survival. Everyone in Ottawa holding hands like Thelma and Louise, somehow indifferent to the consequences. One should also not hold out hope that this socially sensitive victim centred Commission will be the guiding light to significant change. One can expect many references to “community policing”, “counselling” and “coordination”.
It is all very sad.
Photo courtesy of Flickr Commons – Nick Fewings- Some rights reserved