Despite calls from public and victims’ families, Nova Scotia will have no public inquiry into the April 18-19 mass killing that left 22 dead. Instead, federal minister of justice Bill Blair and Nova Scotia’s minister of justice, Mark Furey, have announced a three-member panel that will conduct an independent review of the incident.
On July 23, 2020, Blair and Furey (both former police officers) said Anne McLellan, Michael MacDonald and Leanne Fitch would form the panel. McLellan is a former Liberal deputy prime minister, now practising law with Bennett Jones LLP; MacDonald is former chief justice of Nova Scotia, and Fitch is former police chief in Fredericton, NB.
According to the Canadian Press, “it appears little — if any — of the review will be conducted in open hearings.” CP also says “The panel’s terms of reference don’t contain provisions to compel witnesses to speak under oath, and they say information collected in the preparation of its report ‘shall be kept confidential.‘ ” In other words, the panel can’t actually make anybody talk, if they don’t want to, and the panel can hide its findings, if they choose to. Blair said he expects the report to come out in around a year.
The response to this? The Halifax Examiner, an independent news outlet, says the move “is a disservice to victims’ families, the public, and common sense.” The CBC quotes the daughter of one of the victims as calling it “a slap in the face.”
On April 18-19, 2020, a rampage through rural Nova Scotia saw 22 people killed through arson and gunfire. Early in the incident, the killer disguised himself as an RCMP officer and drove a replica police cruiser, giving him easier access to some victims. Police shot and killed their suspect in a confrontation at a gas station around mid-day April 19.
In the immediate aftermath, the public raised questions about the incident. People wondered why the RCMP hadn’t warned the public about the killer’s Mountie disguise earlier, when that information may have helped victims avoid the killer. Given the limited number of driving routes out of Portapique, where the rampage started, people also wondered why the RCMP didn’t catch up to their suspect until he’d travelled a considerable distance. Even more troubling, Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team (a police watchdog group) confirmed two RCMP officers had shot up a fire hall as the incident was ongoing, while it was being used as a registration centre for residents evacuating the area due to the ongoing danger.
Answers to those details were not forthcoming. Instead, the public heard about a police officer who fled and hid from the killer in the early hours of his rampage, and learned of a highly mysterious financial transaction by the killer, withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash before the rampage. And, after weeks of dithering, the police confirmed the suspect was not a legal gun owner—but that police had been alerted to his illegal gun stash years ago, and were aware of his violent criminal record, and had not taken any serious action upon knowing this information.
Understandably, the public and the victims’ families demanded an explanation for all of this mess. Instead, the federal government announced a ban on AR-15s and many other firearms, including tactical and hunting rifles. If you’re unfamiliar with those details, you can catch up on the story here, here and here.
Still, that wasn’t enough for Nova Scotians—they wanted answers, and citizens and media alike continued to ask for an open, public inquiry into the causes of the April 18-19 mess. For a while, it seemed like the province’s officials would actually go ahead and run a public inquiry. Now, we know that isn’t the case—all we’re getting is a private investigation, with no authority to demand answers and no requirement to share those with the public.