Facing backlash, Ottawa announces full public inquiry into N.S. shootings

Facing backlash, Ottawa announces full public inquiry into N.S. shootings

Facing backlash, Ottawa announces full public inquiry into N.S. shootings

HALIFAX — Bowing to public pressure, the federal and Nova Scotia governments agreed Tuesday to scuttle their plans for a joint review into the April mass shooting that claimed 22 lives and instead establish a more rigorous and transparent public inquiry.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair made the announcement late in the day after five Liberal MPs from Nova Scotia broke ranks and openly challenged their own government’s decision, which was announced only last week.

“The tragedy that took place in Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19 devastated families, friends and communities,” Blair said in a statement.

“This situation requires that our governments work diligently with all those affected … to bring forward the critical answers, and to ensure an event such as this will never happen again. We have heard calls from families, survivors, advocates and Nova Scotia members of Parliament for more transparency.”

Earlier in the day, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey forced Blair’s hand by issuing a statement saying he would support a more comprehensive federal-provincial public inquiry if Ottawa agreed to go along.

“I’ve heard from family members and many Nova Scotians who were opposed to a review,” Furey said in a statement issued after Blair changed course. “It’s critical that people have confidence in the process.”

Nick Beaton, whose pregnant wife was murdered by the gunman on April 19 while on her way to work, said widespread public pressure was behind the reversal.

“I’m just over-the-top excited,” he said in an interview.

“I’m not saying thank you, because it’s something we should have had all along. But I’m happy …. This is what we’ve been asking for: transparency and truth …. We want to know everything, so we can finally start to grieve.”

Beaton helped organize a protest march last Wednesday in Bible Hill, N.S., that he said attracted 300 people — among them were relatives of 21 of the 22 victims, all of them demanding a public inquiry.

After the governments’ abrupt reversal, Nova Scotia Liberal MP Lenore Zann said she and some caucus colleagues had recently made presentations to the Prime Minister’s Office asking for a public inquiry.

Zann’s constituency includes many of the communities where the lone gunman, dressed as an RCMP officer and driving a look-alike police cruiser, killed 22 people over a 13-hour period.

“I’m extremely relieved and glad that (Blair) and the prime minister have been listening … to my constituents and the families of the victims here in Cumberland-Colchester,” Zann said in an interview.

“From Day 1, there were question that weren’t being answered in a timely fashion from the RCMP. That has led to much speculation, rumour and gossip. So we really want to get to the bottom of exactly what happened and why it happened.”

Darren Fisher, the Liberal MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, issued a statement earlier in the day saying he, too, had been pushing for a public inquiry, a process that provides more authority, openness and accountability than a joint review.

“I believe the decision to move forward with a joint review was made with good intentions; however, the gravity of this tragedy demands a greater response,” he said. ”I’ve made my voice heard on this issue to our government’s decision-makers on this file.”

The other Liberals who openly urged Blair to change his mind were Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser and Cape Breton MP Mike Kelloway.

There had been a growing chorus of complaints about the joint review, which was to be led by a three-member panel.

Scores of academics, women’s groups, opposition politicians and more than 30 senators came forward to complain about a lack of transparency and legal clout, despite terms of reference that were lauded for being comprehensive.

Two other protests were held Monday in Nova Scotia and a third was planned for Wednesday in Halifax.

Legal experts have said little, if any, of the review would have been conducted during open hearings. As well, they said the panel did not have the power to compel witnesses to speak under oath or produce documents, and any information collected would have been kept confidential until a report was issued.

By contrast, the public inquiry must hold open hearings and will be given authority under the federal Inquiries Act to summon witnesses and order the production of documents.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia will use its Public Inquiries Act to offer the same level of scrutiny and openness for provincial matters.

The victims’ families have said they wanted a system that can compel testimony about the RCMP’s response during the shootings in northern and central Nova Scotia, as well as its prior knowledge of the gunman’s alleged criminal behaviour.

Feminist groups have called for an investigation into the issue of domestic abuse, noting the killer had abused his common-law partner.

Blair confirmed the three original panel members had agreed to serve as commissioners to guide the inquiry.

They are Michael MacDonald, a former chief justice of Nova Scotia, Anne McLellan, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of police in Fredericton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.

— With files from Michael Tutton

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

Mass shootings

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

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Kyla Gibson with her boyfriend Gavin Hardy. (Photo used with permission)
Sylvan Lake couple lose ‘fur babies’ to house fire

‘They were our world and nothing will ever replace them,’ Kyla Gibson said of her three pets

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

Lucas Berg, left, with the backpacks filled with essential items he donated to the Red Deer Mustard Seed Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo submitted)
Central Alberta teenager donates filled 20 backpacks to Red Deer Mustard Seed

Lucas Berg, 14, of Ponoka County says he ‘just wants to help people’

A conveyor belt transports coal at the Westmoreland Coal Co.’s Sheerness mine near Hanna, Alta., on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Coal mining impacts are already occurring in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains even as debate intensifies over the industry’s presence in one of the province’s most beloved landscapes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
As Alberta debates coal mining, industry already affecting once-protected Rockies

UCP revoked a policy that had protected eastern slopes of the Rockies from open-pit coal mining since 1976

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb. TC Energy Corp. is planning to eliminate more than 1,000 construction jobs related to its decision to halt work on its Keystone XL pipeline expansion project. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
TC Energy cutting more than 1,000 Keystone XL construction jobs as Biden pulls permit

Some 200 kilometres of pipe have already been installed for the expansion

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Most Read