The former RCMP commanding officer in Nova Scotia has told the inquiry into the April 2020 mass shooting that she first saw the killer’s replica police cruiser in a news report before she went to work on the second day of the rampage.
In a transcript of Lee Bergerman’s Aug. 2 interview with inquiry lawyers, the former assistant commissioner, who retired in October 2021, said she only had scant details early on April 19 of what had initially transpired the night before in the small rural community of Portapique, N.S.
On April 18 of that year, a gunman murdered 13 people in the community 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.
In the document released by the public inquiry, Bergerman said she was first notified that something was happening before she went to bed around 11 p.m. on April 18. She confirmed that 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,” Bergerman said.
She added that she was convinced that 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,” said Bergerman.
She said it was only after she made it to her office that she was informed that 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.
Meanwhile, Bergerman confirmed that she never considered using the province’s Alert Ready system to advise the public, saying that she was told information was being released through Twitter — as was H-Division Nova Scotia’s practice.
“So I was satisfied with what they were trying to do at that point. I never … I’ve never considered Alert Ready,” she said.
Bergerman’s public testimony before the inquiry on Monday is to be followed Tuesday by an appearance on the stand by RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki. Both senior Mounties have each given previous testimony before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa that is investigating alleged political interference in the RCMPs handling of the case.
In the interview document, Bergerman’s testimony appears consistent with what she told the parliamentary committee. She again said that Nova Scotia RCMP only sent information about the killer’s weapons to Lucki and to the deputy commissioner in an April, 23, 2020, email after getting the go-ahead from the head of Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, Pat Curran.
Curran told the committee that he “gave no directives to the RCMP” about the five firearms the killer had in his possession when he was killed by police on April 19.
Bergerman said she disagrees with Curran’s assertion, adding that it wasn’t her understanding of the phone conversation the head of SiRT had with both she and Leather.
“Well that’s not what … that’s not what he said at the call,” she told the inquiry. “He said it was not to be shared outside … it could be shared within the RCMP.”
She also told inquiry lawyers that she felt that an April 28, 2020, phone call with Lucki was the first time she was aware that potential gun legislation to ban assault-style weapons was being considered by the federal Liberal government.
Bergerman characterized Lucki as angry that details about the gunman’s weapons had not been included in an RCMP news conference conducted prior to the call.
“(Lucki) felt disrespected and disobeyed,” Bergerman said. “Legislation, like there was gun legislation coming up … and that we didn’t understand the big picture as it related to that.”
Lucki has maintained that 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.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 22, 2022.