The retired senior constable of N.S. describes “failures” in the response to mass shootings

The former senior Nova Scotia constable highlighted what she believes went wrong in the response to the 2020 mass shootings, including a ‘failure’ to properly search the small rural community where the massacre began.

Lee Bergerman, retired assistant commissioner and commanding officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, testified Monday in Halifax before the Mass Casualty Commission investigating the shooting on April 18-19, 2020, when a gunman killed 22 people in the province.

Bergerman said he believed there were “failures” and communication breakdowns during the response, later clarifying that this included radio communications between officers in the field and those in command posts.

She also said there were issues communicating with the public and there could have been better “streamlined” messages from the RCMP. Bergerman also saw gaps in the coordination of the location of officers and said it would have been helpful if community members were more involved in the command center to provide insight into “dark roads”.

“Those are all things that I think we can learn from, and hopefully a lot of that will come out of this commission,” said Bergerman, who retired from the RCMP in October 2021.

She was also asked what she thought about how the RCMP hadn’t completely cleared all crime scenes in Portapique, Nova Scotia until 7 p.m. after the shooting began, which means that some victims in Cobequid Court – a small road at the southern end of the community – were not discovered until the late afternoon of April 19.

Bergerman said she didn’t know why it happened and she wasn’t involved in those decisions on the ground, but it was an “extraordinary event” where people did their best.

“Obviously, if it takes 19 hours to find a crime scene, it’s a lack of proper resources to do so,” Bergerman said.

Asked if it would have been useful to call in nearby municipal forces to help search Portapique, Bergerman said it could certainly be a “lesson learned”.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (Radio Canada)

She also pointed out that some things were done very well, calling the efforts of the first RCMP officers on the ground in Portapique and the emergency response team “heroic”.

Commission counsel, the victims’ families’ attorney, the police union and the federal Department of Justice interviewed Bergerman on a variety of topics, including what morale was like in the upper ranks during the past year. tragedy followed.

“There was a lot of burnout…we had a number of our key senior staff who were on sick leave and a lot of our commissioned officers were doing three jobs,” Bergerman said.

Bergerman said officers come to her to put in place succession plans for their roles so they can be transferred out of the province. So she turned to the RCMP’s national headquarters in Ottawa for help.

Wellness report came from Ottawa: Bergerman

She said she spoke with Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan about senior officers’ mental health concerns and asked for strategies to better meet their needs.

Brennan then approached RCMP human resources chief Gail Johnson and they made the decision to commission an independent wellness assessment from Quintet Consulting, Bergerman said, which would examine the factors affecting the moral.

The consultants interviewed 24 officers or civilian equivalents over the summer of 2021, according to a summary of the report released by the commission, including Bergerman.

The final report was completed in September 2021, but Bergerman said it didn’t address the issues she initially raised.

Instead, the report outlined what attendees thought about the underlying issues with RCMP leadership, municipal force policing partners, the gunshot response and criticisms of Bergerman’s own performance.

Commissioners Leanne Fitch, Michael MacDonald, Chair, and Kim Stanton, left to right, watch testimony from Lee Bergerman, right, former Deputy Commissioner and recently retired Commanding Officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)

“I was looking, ‘What strategies can we put in place to help people heal?’ Do we do team building, do we do retreats, do we bring in psychologists, do we bring in additional members to support the officers…that’s what I was looking for,” Bergerman said.

She added that she had asked for details about the succession planning of senior executives which were not part of the report, but it was “eventually done”.

Although Bergerman said relations between the Nova Scotia RCMP and municipal forces were “good” before the mass shooting, things have since deteriorated. It has become “popular” for people to distance themselves from the RCMP and some police chiefs have publicly criticized the RCMP, Bergerman said, and the RCMP’s push for Nova Scotia-wide policing standards “caused a rift” between the RCMP, the provincial Department of Justice, and municipal forces.

While Bergerman said the commission should ask a city leader why this has created a problem for them, she suggested it could be because the standards come with specialized units like emergency response teams. emergencies – all of which are “prohibitively expensive for many municipalities.”

She added that city leaders were also upset with the RCMP’s decision to start tracking spending whenever police departments like Truro or Bridgewater bring in special RCMP units that they don’t have in place. their own strengths. But Bergerman said the RCMP doesn’t charge municipalities for those services, just tracking to show the province where their money is going when they run a deficit.

The policing funding model challenged

Bergerman suggested that the commission take a close look at the funding model for policing in Nova Scotia and its impact on Nova Scotia’s resources for the RCMP and municipal forces.

When asked if she agreed with the comments of senior officers in the welfare report that the province had underfunded the RCMP for years, Bergerman replied “in general, I would say yes”. Although Bergerman said the province often turns down requests for funding outside of the regular budget, she understands it comes down to “dollars and cents” and health care is more of a priority.

The understaffing worsened after the mass shooting, Bergerman said, when many constables were traumatized and on leave. Last year, she said the district where most of the shootings took place got six new officer positions, but that’s not enough.

“It’s a vicious cycle…you don’t have enough resources, you use the resources you have to work overtime and it’s not sustainable,” Bergerman said.

Prior to his testimony, the commission interviewed Bergerman in early August. At the time, Bergerman said she only heard about the shooter’s replica car when she saw it on the news the morning of April 19.

She said she was convinced one of the RCMP cruisers had been stolen, so she called the chief superintendent. Chris Leather to ask if that was the case. “He confirmed that all of our police cruisers had been found,” Bergerman said.

The photo had been sent to the RCMP by Halifax Regional Police around 7:30 a.m., but the photo was not shared publicly until the RCMP tweeted about three hours later.

Bergerman also said that with respect to the commission’s recommendations, she would like to see “robust follow-up mechanisms” that can be followed after the final report is delivered, perhaps handled by lawyers or others involved in the process. the Commission.

A lawyer for the family, Tara Miller, suggested a standing committee made up of street-level officers, RCMP senior management and the public to ensure the inquest’s recommendations don’t stay on the sidelines. shelf.

“I’m okay with that,” Bergerman said.

The commissioners leading the investigation will question Bergerman on Tuesday, before RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki speaks.

Lucki has been embroiled in political controversy for weeks following allegations that she was pressured to release specific information about the shooter’s firearms ahead of the Liberal government’s gun control legislation.

The commission has set aside Tuesday and Wednesday for Lucki’s testimony, while Thursday Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella will testify.

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