Three months after saying she did not want to step aside, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki is leaving her post as head of the Mounties.
Her announcement caps a long period of uncertainty over her future. The Globe and Mail reported in November the federal cabinet was dissatisfied with her stewardship of the RCMP – in particular her poor communication skills and the mishandling of major files such as the Nova Scotia mass shooting, systemic racism within the force and the use of the Emergencies Act to end last year’s anti-vaccine mandate protests in Ottawa.
The announcement of her departure after less than five years on the job comes just before the expected release of the Public Order Emergency Commission’s report into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act.
In an e-mail distributed to members of the RCMP on Wednesday, Commissioner Lucki did not express regret about her tenure but acknowledged “of course there are things I could have done differently.” She continued: “I leave knowing I did my best and take comfort that the RCMP is well placed to shine in its 150th year.”
In a public statement, Commissioner Lucki said she has decided to retire. Her last day will be March 17.
In her message to fellow Mounties she told them the e-mail was “probably one of the hardest ones” she’s had to write to the force. She said she’d spent months pondering her career. “I love the RCMP and I’ve loved being your Commissioner. I’ve spent much time in recent months reflecting on what this opportunity has meant to me.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino thanked Commissioner Lucki for her service in a tweet and said Ottawa will begin the process of selecting and appointing the next commissioner of the RCMP. “We will be searching for an exceptional new leader who will keep our communities safe while advancing the reforms necessary to maintain the confidence of all Canadians.”
Commissioner Lucki, who has dealt with a series of controversies that has put the Trudeau government on the defensive, said in November she did not want to step aside. Her five-year term would have come up for renewal in March.
She told RCMP rank and file Wednesday in the e-mail that she had been uncertain about when to step down. “The decision to retire was not an easy one and I’ve been conflicted about the timing. I never wanted to be seen as running away and I know there’s so much more to do. But it’s my time.”
In her letter to the RCMP, Commissioner Lucki said the past few years have been hard for policing and she suggested she did not always speak her mind in the face of public criticism.
“To say the last several years have been hard on our profession and on you, is an understatement. I want you to know that I’ve always been on your side. I’ve praised you and your work to anyone and everyone. I’ve advocated for you and defended this organization with as much courage and heart I could muster,” she said.
“The ‘Brenda’ in me had to take quite a few hits on the chin at times when I needed to stay quiet and not engage in the noise. For those of you who know me well, staying quiet is not always my strong suit! But I swallowed the pride and tried to do what was best for the organization and all employees.”
Commissioner Lucki was called as a witness at both the Nova Scotia mass-shooting inquiry and the federal inquiry on the use of the Emergencies Act in Ottawa, where Justice Paul Rouleau reviewed Ottawa’s unprecedented decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to end a rash of protests and blockades against pandemic measures.
What Commissioner Lucki did and didn’t do during the convoy protests was a key point of contention during the Emergencies Act inquiry.
During testimony, Commissioner Lucki couldn’t recall key meetings during the protests; said she didn’t understand the role the Emergencies Act could play; and was unable to explain comments from meetings and text exchanges in which she participated.
Asked in November why she couldn’t recall many of the pivotal moments leading up to the act’s invocation, Commissioner Lucki told reporters that there were a lot of meetings and “it’s easy to confuse one meeting into another meeting.” One of the meetings that she misremembered was chaired by the Prime Minister on Feb. 13. Her prepared notes for that meeting included her assessment that police had “not yet exhausted all available tools” in existing legislation but she never relayed that at the meeting.
The Commissioner was also embroiled in controversy over her handling of the Nova Scotia mass shooting. After the massacre, she was accused by RCMP subordinates in the province of pressing them to release information about the type of weapons used to assist the Liberal government’s gun agenda. When the officers declined, they said she berated them and that Commissioner Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the information would be released.
Those allegations led to parliamentary hearings in which Commissioner Lucki and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair were called to testify about possible political interference. The Commissioner later denied she was under political direction to release firearms information. But, she acknowledged, she felt an imperative to get more information to the public as quickly as possible.
When the Prime Minister named Commissioner Lucki as the country’s first permanent female commissioner in 2018, she pledged to “challenge assumptions” and ensure that “no stone will be left unturned” in dealing with issues of discrimination, sexual harassment and misconduct within the force.
In her Wednesday address to Mounties, the Commissioner recognized the size of the task that she set for herself all those years ago.
“Change is a big word isn’t it? As Commissioner, I was asked to modernize and address the RCMP’s internal challenges. This was a significant mandate,” she said. “With the support of the senior executive team and all of you, we’ve accomplished a lot. I’m so proud of the steps we’ve taken to modernize – to increase accountability, address systemic racism, ensure a safe and equitable workplace, advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and ensuring that the front line has the necessary equipment and training.”
But the Commissioner floundered when she was forced to contend with systemic racism. As the Black Lives Matters protests forced a reckoning around the world in 2020, a series of videos appeared to show Mounties using excessive force against Indigenous people, and six Indigenous people were killed by police officers in Winnipeg, New Brunswick and Nunavut in just three months.
At first, she disputed the notion that systemic racism exists in her organization and said she was unsure what the expression meant. Days later, she abruptly changed course, acknowledging that “systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included” and vowed to “lead positive change on this critical issue.”
In 2020, an independent report by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache found a “toxic” culture within the force that tolerated misogynistic and homophobic attitudes.
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho reacted to news of Commissioner Lucki’s exit, calling on Mr. Blair to leave his post as well “for misleading Canadians about political interference and pressure he and his government placed” on the top Mountie in relation to the Nova Scotia mass killing.
“One of the responsible parties is stepping down, but that does not exonerate the other. Now is the time for Minister Blair to do the right thing and resign,” Ms. Dancho said.
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, February 15, 2023