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N.S. shooting inquiry: Senior RCMP member says police need more resources

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HALIFAX -

The former RCMP commanding officer in Nova Scotia told the inquiry into the April 2020 mass shooting on Monday that the officers who responded to the rampage did the best they could, but she admitted not everything went smoothly.

The first officers on the scene in Portapique, N.S. -- including members of the emergency response team -- were "heroic," Lee Bergerman testified.

"I think the response and the members that were there did the best that they could with what they had at the time," Bergerman said. "It was an extraordinary event." But Bergerman, the former assistant commissioner who retired in October 2021, admitted under cross-examination that the public inquiry has revealed parts of the police operation didn't go well.

On April 18, 2020, a gunman murdered 13 people in Portapique and then escaped in a replica police cruiser. The killer went on to murder another nine people the following day before he was shot dead by police at a gas station.

Bergerman said radio communications between the RCMP command post and members in the field can be improved. She also said the force should communicate better with the public and learn more about the communities it is policing.

"These are all things we can learn from," she said.

But when asked about her main recommendation to the inquiry, Bergerman said more resources should be given to the RCMP, which has long complained of not having enough staff or equipment to adequately police the province.

"Under the circumstances it would have been helpful to have more resources that we could draw from during the event," Bergerman said about the killings. She added there needs to be a conversation with the provincial government and the public about expectations for policing.

"I would imagine that it comes down to dollars and cents within the province, and a big priority for this province is health care. So I'm wondering if there's a discussion -- do we want five doctors or 10 police?"

In a transcript released publicly on Monday of Bergerman's Aug. 2 interview with inquiry lawyers, she said she only had scant details early on April 19, 2020, of what had transpired the night before in Portapique. Bergerman said she was first notified something was happening in the community at around 11 p.m. on April 18, before she went to bed.

She confirmed she learned the next morning about killer Gabriel Wortman's replica car but was "stunned" when she saw it on the news, shortly before she left home to head to her office around 9:30 a.m. "I do recall being, I would describe, stunned at the, when I saw the police car that they had," said Bergerman.

She added she was convinced one of the RCMP cruisers had been stolen, so she called Chief Superintendent Chris Leather to ask whether that was the case. "He confirmed that all of our police cars had been accounted for," Bergerman said.

Bergerman said it was only after she made it to her office that she was informed the photo had been provided to the RCMP by a witness.

In fact, the photo had been obtained from a relative of Lisa Banfield -- the killer's spouse -- by Halifax Regional Police, who had sent it to the RCMP around 7:30 a.m. The photo wasn't shared publicly by police until the RCMP issued a tweet around three hours later.

During her public testimony, Bergerman said she was aware some senior officers in H-Division had made complaints about her performance following the shooting rampage. She said her immediate supervisor in Ottawa, Deputy Commissioner Brian Brennan, told her in the fall of 2020 about the criticism.

"I completely disagreed with them (the complaints) and suggested he come to the division," Bergerman said she told Brennan. She added that he did not tell her who made the complaints. She said Brennan did visit her division, and she said she encouraged her officers to talk to him and to be "open and honest about what they thought and how they felt."

Bergerman said she later learned that Brennan's visit had not been well received by H-Division members. "He was just trying to do kind of a fact-based exploratory visit, but I later learned that people were upset," she testified.

Bergerman's public testimony is to be followed Tuesday by an appearance on the stand by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. Both senior Mounties have given testimony before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa that is investigating alleged political interference in the RCMP's handling of the case.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2022.

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