N.S. mass shooting review format criticized as lacking powers, transparency

N.S. mass shooting review format criticized as lacking powers, transparency

N.S. mass shooting review format criticized as lacking powers, transparency

HALIFAX — Ottawa and Nova Scotia have announced a review of the April mass shooting that left 22 people and the gunman dead, but the process drew criticism from victims’ relatives as being too secretive and lacking the necessary legal powers.

Interim and final reports will be presented next year to federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey before being made public.

However, little — if any — of the review announced Thursday will be conducted in open hearings, and lawyers for interested parties won’t be able to cross-examine witnesses.

The review panel’s terms of reference don’t contain provisions to compel witnesses to speak under oath, and they specify that information collected in the preparation of its report “shall be kept confidential.”

Despite calls from victims’ relatives for the hearings to be transparent and under oath, Furey said the governments opted for a quicker process that he said will achieve a similar result.

“We heard loud and clear that people wanted early answers,” Furey said. Blair said the expertise of the three panel members will provide “extraordinary capacity” to find those answers.

The panel will be led by the former chief justice of Nova Scotia, Michael MacDonald, who will be joined by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of police in Fredericton.

Family members of victims have called for a public inquiry that would include a comprehensive look at how the RCMP handled the shootings of April 18-19 in central and northern Nova Scotia. On Wednesday, close to 300 relatives of victims and their supporters marched to the local RCMP headquarters in Bible Hill, N.S., to support their demand.

Robert Pineo, a lawyer whose firm is working with victims’ families in a legal action against the RCMP and the gunman’s estate, said the review is not sufficient to get to the bottom of the tragedy or bring closure for his clients.

He said the choice of commissioners was good, but “any decision-maker can only render decisions based on the information and evidence presented to them.”

In an email, he called the review “wholly insufficient to meet the objectives of providing full and transparent answers to the families, identifying deficiencies in responses, and providing meaningful lessons to be learned to avoid similar future tragedies.”

Pineo said his clients had envisioned a public inquiry like the one that followed the 1992 Westray coal mine disaster, where interested parties had the opportunity to question witnesses.

“Without proper and thorough questioning, the panel will be left with incomplete and untested evidence upon which to base its decision,” he wrote.

He said Furey and Blair have hidden behind their notion of a “trauma-free” process to exclude the full participation of the families under the guise of protecting them from further trauma.

“This is not how the families wish to be treated. I know that minister Furey has spoken with the families, so he must know that they want to participate, not to be protected by an incomplete process,” he said.

The families along with groups that support women facing domestic violence have expressed repeated frustrations with the RCMP’s handling of the shooting — and the secrecy in the months that followed.

Nick Beaton, the husband of a continuing care assistant who was killed on her way to work April 19, has questioned why emergency alerts weren’t issued after the shooter left the Portapique area — where 13 people were killed on the night of April 18.

Police have said the attacker, Gabriel Wortman, had access to a handgun and long guns that he didn’t have a licence for, including some weapons obtained in the United States, but they haven’t released full details of how Wortman gained access to them — citing an ongoing investigation.

It’s also unclear how the denturist managed to slip through a police perimeter around Portapique, or why further perimeters weren’t created.

The Mounties also have not provided full details of how the attacker came to own at least four replica police vehicles, including the one with a light-bar and precise RCMP paint job he drove on the days of the killings.

In addition, there are questions about why more wasn’t done to investigate previous reports of illegal gun ownership and domestic violence by Wortman. The RCMP has stated he began his massacre after a violent dispute with his girlfriend.

Archie Kaiser, a law professor at Dalhousie University, said the issues listed in the terms of reference allow the panel to explore these questions. Elaine Craig, a Dalhousie law professor who helped organize a petition calling for a public inquiry, called the issues list “appropriate,” though she said it should have included a mandate to see health agency reports of intimate partner violence involving Wortman.

But both legal scholars said in emails that overall, the proposed process is deeply flawed.

“I believe it will completely fail to satisfy the public’s expectations of there being a full, rigorous public inquiry,” wrote Kaiser. “The review will largely be conducted in private. Everything collected and considered is required to be kept confidential.”

Craig asked: “Why have the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia chosen a process that does not grant its commissioners the powers available in a public inquiry?”

In a statement, RCMP Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman said the force welcomes the review and will co-operate fully.

“We owe it to the memory of those we lost to learn as much as we can from this terrible tragedy,” she said.

MacDonald declined an interview, but the review panel provided a statement on behalf of the review panelists saying it will “conduct a thorough and independent review into these tragic events.”

The email says panelists will meet with families, survivors, first responders, law enforcement officials and others in the coming weeks.

“We are committed to examining the contexts that played a role in these acts of violence, including gender-based and intimate-partner violence,” they wrote.

The review panel is to complete its interim report by Feb. 28, 2021 and a final report by Aug. 31, 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

Mass shootings

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Boston Pizza is one of the Wetaskiwin restaurants currently setting up a patio for in-person dining. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin to wave permit fees for temporary patio applications

City of Wetaskiwin Council unanimously carried a motion at the regular April… Continue reading

Kevin Buffalo in his traditional chicken dance regalia. (Photo submitted)
3rd Inaugural Grouse Symposium goes online

Virtual symposium will be held April 24

Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and vacation bookings are being increased in B.C. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. announces signage along Alberta border to discourage non-essential travel

B.C. extends COVID-19 indoor dining, group fitness ban until May 25

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

Ryan Applegarth. (RCMP photo)
Preliminary hearing date set for Applegarth

Ryan Jake Applegarth appeared briefly before the Ponoka Provincial Court over CCTV… Continue reading

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read