Study continues on N.S. investigation. Mass killing, victims' families long rattled
Toronto solicitor Kim Stanton named third commissioner
Study on a public inquiry into the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia has recently begun — but after months of waiting, family members of some victims say they've lost confidence in the panel-setting lawmakers.
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced on Thursday that the commissioners have began their work and issued their mandate. It involves asking the commission to investigate topics such as police reaction, actions taken to educate victims, their family and the public, the position of gender-based abuse, and whether there was any particular gunman-RCMP interaction.
In the shooting spree, Nick Beaton 's wife Kristen was pregnant.
"I'm glad it's going forward, but at the same time it's pissing me off it's taking six months. You know, like that's my wife and unborn daughter. You know, I'll never hold her again," Beaton said Thursday.
In July, the federal and Nova Scotia governments set up the inquiry to assess what occurred and make proposals to avoid such incidents in the future.
Shortly after the investigation was revealed, former Federal Justice Minister Anne McLellan resigned her position as commissioner because she did not stick to the current timetable.
Beaton said the delay made him feel "worthless" and he is responsible for Blair, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey, Prime Minister Stephen McNeil and Premier Justin Trudeau.
"They're on their knees," Beaton said.
"The greatest thing a family member wants is not to happen again."
The July announcement came only after days of outrage and pressure from family members, such as Beaton, who said the "independent study" originally proposed by the federal and provincial governments did not have the necessary powers to perform a complete inquiry.
Beaton said he now believes commissioners will see that a study was selected as the first choice rather than an investigation, and who made the decision.
"We're trying to make life better for everyone and there's nothing to get back any of our loved ones," he said. "But ... we want the defective people to respond."
In the process of setting up a secretariat in Nova Scotia, recruiting support personnel, setting up a budget and developing a job schedule, Blair told MPs during the House of Commons query time.
Blair replied to Shannon Stubbs, Conservative public safety activist, who inquired about the inquiry 's success six months after the incident.
The third commissioner — lawyer Kim Stanton — was named after one of the former commissioners left the inquiry. Former Nova Scotia Chief Justice J. Michael MacDonald and former Fredericton Police Chief Leanne Fitch will join Stanton, who practices Aboriginal and criminal law at Goldblatt Partners LLP in Toronto.
Twenty-two people died in the shootings of April 18-19 that occurred in the small town of Portapique, N.S., and ended about 13 hours later at a gas station in Enfield, N.S. The gunman — Gabriel Wortman — also set fire to many homes and evaded capture by impersonating an RCMP officer before being shot dead by police.
The victims' families are "relieved and grateful" that the trial is going forward, but are dismayed that it took too long, said Robert Pineo. He and his Patterson Legal firm in Truro, N.S., represent most victims' family members in the public investigation and in two related class action cases.
Like Beaton, Pineo said replacing the third commissioner shouldn't have taken three months. He said there must have been a longer short-list of people vetted and ready to resume the job.
But Pineo said he's "very pleased" with Stanton herself, adding her experience as a noted feminist writer and public inquiry scholar makes her an outstanding pick.
"It gives the panel a perfect balance," he said.
Issued inquiry mandate
Two orders-in-council were issued specifying the terms of reference of commissioners.
They guide commissioners to ask into the causes, context, and conditions that gave rise to the tragedy, police reaction, and actions taken to educate, assist, and interact with victims, relatives, and concerned people.
The commissioners are charged with "gender-based and intimate partner abuse" and "access to
The mandate also calls for a study of the gunman's "police contacts, including any particular partnership between the perpetrator and the RCMP and between the perpetrator and social care, including mental health services," prior to the case.
The commissioners would investigate police conduct, including tactical strategies, reaction, decision-making and monitoring, along with interactions with the public before and during the incident.
They can also consider correspondence between the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Department, the Criminal Intelligence Service Nova Scotia, the Canadian Weapons Network and the Warning Ready Network.
The terms of reference also call for a gender-based and intimate relationship harassment policing reform analysis and instruction in active shooter cases.
The commission is to be "led by restorative values to prevent more injury," and a clause also states that it is to provide victims and victims ' families an opportunity to engage appropriately in the inquiry.
Final study November 2022
Inquiry commissioners would have the power to summon witnesses to provide testimony under oath. They may also be empowered to force witnesses to produce records or other items related to their investigation.
Two updates on their findings, lessons learnt and recommendations are expected to be delivered — an preliminary report by May 1, 2022 and a definitive report by Nov. 1, 2022.
Furey refused Thursday's interview.
In a quote, Furey said setting up the inquiry is "one crucial step" in helping families recover, and they and all Nova Scotians deserve answers.
"Thank you for your patience. I know it was hard to wait for us to finish our work. The part of the journey is over," Furey said.