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 children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Three young Sylvan Lake residents are asking for lights to be added to the walking trail system to make them safer and less scary at night. Photo by @workinonmyfitness72
Young Sylvan Lake residents ask for lights to be added to walking trails

Three young Sylvan Lake residents appeared before Council recently to present their ask

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Town of Sylvan Lake recieves funding to help with COVID-19 related revenue losses

Minister Devin Dreeshen says the funding will help the Town pay staff and provide services

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read