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MPs to hear more testimony about alleged political meddling in N.S. shooting probe

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By Sarah Ritchie in Ottawa

Two of the people behind an accusation of political interference in the investigation of the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia will be before a House of Commons committee Tuesday.

RCMP Chief Supt. Darren Campbell and Lia Scanlan, a strategic communications director, each accused Commissioner Brenda Lucki of saying she faced pressure from the federal government to ensure information about the gunman’s weapons was released at a news conference.

Campbell’s handwritten notes about a phone call with Lucki, Scanlan and others hours after the news conference on April 28, 2020, say Lucki mentioned she’d made a promise to the minister, and that the weapons information was connected to upcoming gun legislation.

Then-public safety minister Bill Blair was accused of applying that pressure, but he and Lucki have repeatedly denied that he interfered in the investigation.

The 13-hour rampage by a gunman took 22 lives and is now the subject of a public inquiry.

Scanlan wrote a letter to the commissioner more than a year after the shootings, echoing Campbell’s concerns and telling Lucki the meeting was “appalling, inappropriate, unprofessional and extremely belittling.”

The public safety committee looking into the allegations has heard conflicting reports — from Lucki and other RCMP officials — about what happened during that meeting.

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

Nova Scotia officials said Lucki was angry and upset for a different reason: she was feeling political pressure to connect the killings to the Liberals’ promise to ban assault-style weapons, which they announced on May 1, 2020.

Chief Supt. Chris Leather and retired assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman told the committee last month that they recall Lucki saying she made a promise to the minister, as Campbell’s notes reflect.

Those notes were published as supporting evidence for a scathing document released by the ongoing public inquiry. That document  outlines dozens of instances in which the RCMP concealed or obfuscated basic information about the case in the three months following the horrific events.

That includes the number of victims, their relationship to the gunman, the fact that one victim was a child, the number of crime scenes, the reason for the first 911 call the night the killings began, and when police learned the gunman was disguised as an RCMP officer, among other things.

The public inquiry has also released documents showing that Lucki sent an inventory of the weapons to federal officials on April 23, saying it shouldn’t be circulated any further than the prime minister and the public safety minister.

But after she “confirmed” to Blair that the information was to be released on April 28, and it was not released, Lucki told the committee she was frustrated that there had been yet another miscommunication.

Leather said the release of the information was not allowed because Nova Scotia’s police watchdog was in charge of the investigation into the gunman’s death and said the inventory could only be shared internally. The former director of the Serious Incident Response Team, Pat Curran, told The Canadian Press that giving the RCMP direction about its investigation would not have been part of his job, and that the weapons were not part of his investigation.

The public safety committee will also hear from senior officials in the federal Justice Department as it probes why four pages of Campbell’s notes — the pages containing details about the meeting with Lucki — were held back from the public inquiry investigators for months.

Initially, the Mass Casualty Commission was handed a package of notes that did not contain those four pages. They were eventually handed over, with Justice saying the pages were reviewed for privilege.

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

— With files from Michael Tutton and Lyndsay Armstrong

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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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