RCMP chief superintendents Darren Campbell and Chris Leather each spent two full days this week on the witness stand in connection with the 2020 Portapique, N.S., attacks — a moment families had been waiting for.
Both senior Mounties spent two full days on the witness stand, and shared numerous ways the force’s response to the horrific events of April 2020 could be improved.
“It’s been an interesting week,” says Scott McLeod, whose brother Sean was a victim of the killings. “Darren Campbell was certainly surprising to a lot of people that he opened up the way he did.”
On Tuesday, Campbell said things would be different.
“I’m truly sorry that we failed you,” he said. “I promise that we’ll do better.”
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Both Campbell and Leather were pressed further on the lack of an emergency alert during the 13-hour killing rampage.
“We simply didn’t know that the technology existed at the time of Portapique, and that’s why it wasn’t deployed,” Leather said Thursday.
“That wasn’t a tool in our toolbox,” Campbell testified Tuesday.
Campbell said he was aware of weather alerting and the COVID public health alert that went out more than a week before, but wasn’t aware of the Alert Ready system, especially as it pertained to police-related emergencies.
Leather says policies dealing with alerting have since been implemented at both the national and divisional levels.
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Campbell testified that more officers now have the authority to approve an alert beyond the critical incident commander [CIC], which was the person who had that authority in 2020.
“The risk manager, the criminal operations officer [Leather], the support services officer [Campbell, at the time] can,” he said. “If you’ve received the training, you have that ability to issue the alert.”
On Thursday, a couple family lawyers pushed Leather about a recorded interview he did with Mass Casualty Commission lawyers earlier this month, when he was asked if an emergency alert would be used if the same situation unfolded today.
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Leather told the lawyers then, “it’s a very difficult question to answer.”
“Knowing what I do peripherally, it may have made sense at that juncture, but at the beginning, I’m not so sure,” he said in the July 6th interview.
On Thursday, he elaborated — and responded to a question about why the answer wasn’t simply ‘yes.’
“Deploying that technology under the circumstances that we had with in Portapique, with a perpetrator driving a police vehicle dressed as a police officer, there are significant public and officer safety risks associated to that.”
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The answer didn’t sit well with victims’ families and lawyers.
“[It’s] frustrating to hear that, to be candid,” says Tara Miller, who represents family members of Kristen Beaton and her unborn child. “I think all of Nova Scotia can accept — and wrap their head around the fact that — an alert then, and an alert now, is a no-brainer.”
“To me, there shouldn’t be any question,” says Scott McLeod, whose brother Sean was killed in Wentworth, about 40 km from where the rampage began. “If you’ve got a mobile shooter or a stationary shooter, whatever the case is, let the people know what’s going on.”
“If a chief superintendent with the RCMP can say to us today that if that happened again today, it’s unclear whether or not an [Alert Ready message] would be sent, I think everyone in Nova Scotia should be extremely concerned,” says Michael Scott, whose firm represents families of 14 victims.
A class action lawsuit was proposed against the RCMP and the province.
Both Leather and Campbell said they wanted an intendent review of the force’s response, but that was ultimately shut down by Ottawa.
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Leather specifically said a study should be done on that specific decision, but said it would be “irresponsible” for him to provide more input because he wasn’t at the command post.
Any CICs who would study the decision from April 18 and 19 “would have to satisfy themselves that the need to inform the public using an alert was not recklessly going to put members of the public or police officers responding in harm’s way by the issuance of the alert,” Leather said.
He did agree with a question from family lawyer Tom Macdonald that, should similar circumstances arise, a CIC could issue an alert without barriers.
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