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Justice

RCMP officer, communications official stand by political-interference allegation

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OTTAWA — The two people who made allegations of political meddling in the investigation into a shooting spree in Nova Scotia are standing by their recollections.

Chief Supt. Darren Campbell and former RCMP strategic communications director Lia Scanlan were among the witnesses called to testify at the House of Commons public safety committee Tuesday.

The committee is sorting through conflicting reports about whether RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was under pressure from the federal government to ensure the Mounties released details about the weapons used in the 13-hour-long shooting spree, which left 23 people dead, including the gunman.

A number of Nova Scotia RCMP officials say Lucki scolded them nine days after the killings.

Campbell’s handwritten notes about a meeting on April 28, 2020, say Lucki told them she made a promise to then-public safety minister Bill Blair that information about the firearms would be released in a news conference that day, and that it was connected to upcoming gun legislation.

Lucki has said she did not interfere in the investigation, but was frustrated with the Nova Scotia division over its communication with the public because media were reporting facts before the RCMP released them.

“I called the meeting to express my frustration and disappointment,” she told the committee in July.

Campbell told MPs on the committee Tuesday that Lucki “made me feel as if I was stupid” and as though he didn’t understand the importance of releasing the information.

The RCMP has been under intense scrutiny over its communication with the public and the families of victims during and after the killing spree. A public inquiry underway in Nova Scotia has been tasked with examining that issue, among others related to the shootings and the police response.

Campbell said he couldn’t release the makes and models of the weapons because it would “have a negative impact on the ongoing investigation.”

“There were investigative objectives, which included the investigation of any other individuals who may have assisted (gunman) Gabriel Wortman in any way,” Campbell said.

At the time, the RCMP was working with the FBI and other agencies to figure out how Wortman was able to smuggle weapons from the United States.

Scanlan said she felt Lucki did not care about the risk to the investigation.

No one has ever been charged, in Canada or in the U.S., with helping Wortman obtain or smuggle those firearms.

The committee has also focused attention on whether Lucki ought to have given that weapons inventory to federal government officials in late April.

Documents released through the public inquiry show she shared that inventory with Blair’s office on April 23, explaining that it shouldn’t be shared beyond the minister and prime minister.

But Campbell said he did not think it was appropriate for her to do so.

“From my understanding the direction was fairly clear that (the weapons information) could not be shared outside of the RCMP,” he said.

That direction, according to Campbell and Chief Supt. Chris Leather, who also testified before the committee in July, came from Nova Scotia’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team, known as SIRT.

SIRT was investigating the police killing of the gunman. Campbell and Leather say the SIRT director told them the weapons inventory could only be released internally due to that probe.

But Pat Curran, who was director of SIRT in April 2020, told The Canadian Press in an email that the gunman’s weapons were not part of the watchdog’s investigation and he did not give direction to the RCMP.

“I did not consider controlling disclosure of the weapon information to be a SIRT issue. Disclosing or not disclosing that information had no bearing on the matters SIRT was investigating,” Curran said.

In their testimony, Blair and Lucki adamantly denied there was any pressure from the federal government on the RCMP commissioner. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia RCMP officials including former assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman have been steadfast in saying Lucki was under pressure and that she expressed that in the meeting on April 28.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Ludicrous’: Prosecutor questions testimony of teen in Calgary hit-and-run cop death

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

A prosecutor suggested Wednesday a teen charged with first-degree murder in the hit-and-run death of a Calgary Police Service officer had no reason to believe he was in danger.

Sgt. Andrew Harnett died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.

The alleged driver, who cannot be identified because he was 17 at the time, has testified he was scared when Harnett and another officer approached the vehicle during a traffic stop and he saw Harnett put his hand on his gun.

But during cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Mike Ewenson played the body-camera footage of the stop. He asked the accused, who is now 19, if there was any proof Harnett was being threatening or insulting during the routine traffic stop.

“You brought up George Floyd in your direct examination. Do you remember what happened to George Floyd?” Ewenson asked.

The accused replied: “He got pulled out of the vehicle and I think they stepped on his neck … and he said he couldn’t breathe.”

Floyd was a Black man who was killed during an arrest by Minnesota police on May 25, 2020.

During testimony Tuesday, the teen testified he and his friends had discussed the Floyd case on social media.

“Let’s talk about what we just saw with Sgt. Harnett if we could, because you’re bringing this up at a trial that involves his death,” said Ewenson. “Any abusive language from him?”

“No,” the teen replied.

“Anything that was insulting to your age, your race, your ethnic background or religion,” Ewenson asked.

“Not necessarily, no. Actually, I felt like I was being racialized, right? Just the fact that the door opened and the fact that he asked for my phone number. I’ve never been asked for my phone number.”

Ewenson said any talk of the traffic stop being racist was just something the teen wanted the court to “take his word for” and there’s nothing that would be considered racist from Harnett’s behaviour.

“That’s how I felt,” the accused replied.

The teen repeatedly told Ewenson that he wasn’t sure how he ended up in the neighbourhood. He said he was following his GPS to get to a party. He also said he didn’t know who the third person in the back seat of the vehicle was, who had come with a friend.

Ewenson said it’s unlikely there would be memory lapses after an event that was the “most traumatic, powerful” and “consequential” night of the teen’s life.

“So looking back on it, you realize the story is ludicrous? The story doesn’t make sense, does it?” Ewenson asked. “Everything for you is a mindless reaction.”

The suspect said at the time he panicked and just decided to take off because he was afraid. The teen said looking back, he wishes his decision had been different.

“Look, to be frank to you, I’ve sat for two years in jail and I’ve thought about this over and over and over again,” he said. “It’s different when I think about it now and what I was going through at the moment.”

Ewenson suggested it was more likely something illegal was inside the suspect vehicle that made fleeing a simple traffic stop worth the risk.

Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

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Alberta

‘I’m not a monster’: Teen suspect in death of Calgary officer takes stand at trial

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A Calgary teen charged with first-degree murder in the death of a police officer in a hit and run testified Tuesday he feared for his life when he took off in his vehicle with Sgt. Andrew Harnett holding on.

Harnett of the Calgary Police Service died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.

The suspect vehicle’s alleged driver was 17 at the time. He turned 19 in January, but cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The accused took the witness stand in his own defence, describing an abusive childhood where his family moved 10 times over a decade between Montreal, Toronto and Calgary to get away from his birth father.

He said he, his mother and two older siblings lived mostly in homeless shelters during that time.

In his testimony, he described planning to go to a New Year’s Eve party on the day of Harnett’s death.

The vehicle was pulled over because it didn’t have its lights on, court heard.

As the traffic stop continued and a second police car arrived, the youth said his anxiety level began to rise. When another officer and Harnett approached the vehicle, the accused said he panicked.

“I observed Sgt. Harnett had his hand on his gun and as soon as I seen that, I took off. I was scared. My anxiety was through the roof at that time,” he said.

“I thought something bad was going to happen. I thought just the fact ‘why would he have his hand on his gun?’ I took off. I panicked. I was scared.”

The teen described how Harnett leaned inside the car, holding on to the steering wheel and punching him in the head all the while yelling to “stop the car.”

“The officer grabs onto my hair and starts punching. I’m getting punched and I’m getting punched. As I try to back away my foot hits the accelerator,” he testified.

“It was chaotic, honestly. People are screaming. I feel I have no control. I’m thinking ‘I’m done. I’m going to get dragged out and get killed or seriously injured.’ I was trying to protect myself at this point.”

The accused, wearing glasses with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, choked back tears several times during two hours of testimony.

He said he didn’t even notice when Harnett fell away from the car window and immediately drove home to his basement suite.

“I just kept on driving. Honestly, I was thinking about myself, quite frankly. I wasn’t thinking about the officer,” he testified.

“I didn’t think anything happened to him. I didn’t think about him.”

The teen said he decided to turn himself in after learning that Harnett had been killed. He said he regrets his actions and can only say he is sorry.

“I’m in jail for this. It’s not easy. I feel like people sometimes look at me as a monster. I’m not a monster. I’m sorry for the situation,” he said.

“For the rest of my life, I’m going to be known as someone who killed a police officer. No matter what happens. This is it.”

The Crown is expected to cross-examine the accused on Wednesday, with closing arguments scheduled for Thursday.

Amir Abdulrahman, 20, a passenger in the vehicle, pleaded guilty last December to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.

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