Bill Blair flip-flops: Public inquiry now coming into Nova Scotia mass killing

Last week, Nova Scotia’s justice minister Mark Furey and federal justice minister Bill Blair said there’d be no public inquiry into this spring’s mass killing in Nova Scotia. Now, they’ve flip-flopped. On Tuesday, June 28, the two politicos changed their tune and said the public will get “a full Public Inquiry.”

Some background. First, this is a response to the arson/shootings that killed 22 in Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020. The killing spree started around Portapique and spread north, then south, with police response to the crimes seemingly bungled. The rampage ended when police shot and killed their suspect at a gas station north of Halifax on April 19. You can read more about that incident, and the controversies coming to light since, here.

Second, gun owners have particular reason to be interested in the details of this incident being released, as many believe the Liberal government used the Nova Scotia killings as justification for this spring’s bans on tactical, target and hunting firearms. With victims’ families, the public and politicians calling for a public inquiry, Blair and Furey instead announced an “independent review” of the incident. This three-person panel had no legal grounds to compel witnesses to testify. Also, there was no legal requirement to share its findings.

That isn’t the case with the just-announced public iniquiry. As per Blair’s announcement, the authorities involved have the “power to summon witnesses, and require them to:

a) give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if they are persons entitled to affirm in civil matters on solemn affirmation; and

b) produce such documents and things as the commissioners deem requisite to the full investigation of the matters into which they are appointed to examine.”

See the full statement here. This is a big change from before, as those conducting the inquiry now have much more authority. Blair didn’t name everyone who would be involved, but did say the three members of the previous independent review will work on the proceedings.

Other new details

The timing is interesting. In the aftermath of the killings, several media organizations lawyered up and demanded greater access to information the police uncovered. The judge cleared the release of some previously-redacted information, and with shocking results. In one interview, a witness told police the Portapique killer “builds fires and burns bodies, is a sexual predator, and supplies drugs in Portapique and Economy.” Other accusations include an illegal firearms stockpile, and secret caches on the killer’s properties. For a good look at all the allegations, check out the Halifax Examiner’s piece here.