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Nova Scotia Shooting: Lack Of Public Inquiry Infuriates Victims Families

Nova Scotia Shooting: Lack Of Public Inquiry Infuriates Victims  Families
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HALIFAX Ottawa and Nova Scotia have announced a review of the April mass shooting that left ,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 wont be able to cross-examine witnesses.

The review panels terms of reference dont 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.

A memorial pays tribute to RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, one of the victims of the Nova Scotia mass shooting, in Shubenacadie, N.S., on May 14, 2020.

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 gunmans 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.

This is not how the families wish to be treated.Robert Pineo, lawyer for victims families

In an email,Pineo 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 RCMPs 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 werent 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 didnt have a licence for, including some weapons obtained in the United States, but they havent released full details of how Wortman gained access to them citing an ongoing investigation.

Its also unclear how the denturist managed to slip through a police perimeter around Portapique, or why further perimeters werent 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 wasnt 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.

RCMP investigators search for evidence at the location where Const. Heidi Stevenson was killed in Shubenacadie, N.S., on April 23, 2020.

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 publics 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?

Family and friends of Nova Scotia shooting victims attend a march demanding an inquiry into the deadly attack on July 22, 2020.

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.
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