After days of criticism about the decision to launch a review panel into the Nova Scotia mass shooting, the federal government has announced that the tragedy will instead be the subject of a public inquiry.
“Canadians deserve answers to how such a tragedy could occur,” Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said in a statement on Tuesday, announcing the inquiry amid mounting pressure from fellow MPs, families of victims, legal experts and the public who were upset after a review panel was announced last week.
“This situation requires that our governments work diligently with all those affected by this tragedy to bring forward the critical answers, and to ensure an event such as this will never happen again.”
Twenty-two people died in the April 18-19 shootings, which began in the small community of Portapique, N.S.
A public inquiry will allow the power to summon witnesses and require them to:
- Give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if they are persons entitled to affirm in civil matters, on solemn affirmation.
- Produce such documents and things as the commissioners deem requisite to the full investigation of the matters into which they are appointed to examine.
The same people who had been involved with the highly criticized review panel will take part in the public inquiry, Blair said.
J. Michael MacDonald, Anne McLellan and Leanne Fitch agreed to assist in the public inquiry and will serve as commissioners.
‘I’m sorry,’ premier tells families
In an interview with CBC Nova Scotia News at Six on Tuesday, Premier Stephen McNeil apologized to the families of victims. He said his intent was not to cause families additional harm, but to get them answers with the panel review.
WATCH | N.S. Premier Stephen McNeil apologizes to families of victims:
“Clearly, they did not agree with that. They felt that the inquiry was the only way that they would achieve the answers they were looking for. We’ve delivered that today, and for them I would say I’m sorry if the process created more anguish for you.”
Relief and happiness
Robert Pineo, the lawyer representing 21 of the 22 families in a class-action lawsuit against the killer’s estate, and whose firm is handling the class-action suit against the province and the RCMP, said he’s glad the two levels of government had a change of heart.
“It is unfortunate the families had to go through the turmoil of the last three days worrying about this, but at the end of the day, the government did the right thing,” Pineo said.
He said he’s only spoken with one of the families since the news broke, but he said they’re glad a public inquiry is moving forward.
“There’s a lot of relief and a lot of happiness right now.”
Families had organized a march for Wednesday and Pineo said they still plan to do that.
“The family member that I spoke with said he would like to see the march go on as … a show of support to the families and to the processes coming,” Pineo said. “The families are going to be there tomorrow and so will some of their supporters.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said he would support a public inquiry into the April mass shooting if the federal government agreed.
His comments came following days of criticism about the decision to instead appoint a review panel.
“If the federal MPs agree that their government should conduct a joint public inquiry rather than a review, they should take that up with the federal minister and their federal colleagues,” Furey said in a release on Tuesday afternoon.
The joint review panel was announced last Thursday by the federal and Nova Scotia governments.
Unlike a public inquiry, witnesses cannot be subpoenaed and will not testify under oath. All documents and information collected as part of the review will be kept confidential, and it’s not clear whether any hearings will be held in public.
On Tuesday, several Nova Scotia Liberal members of Parliament called for a full public inquiry into the killings, despite their names being attached to a letter welcoming the joint review when it was announced.
‘Deeply upset’ by decision
Kody Blois, the MP for Kings-Hants, sent out a letter on the day of the announcement on behalf of all the Liberal MPs in the province.
“The Nova Scotia Federal Liberal Caucus welcomes the announcement of a joint-review into the Nova Scotia mass shooting,” the letter said.
But in a statement on Facebook Tuesday morning, Sean Fraser, the MP for Central Nova and the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, said he was “deeply upset” by the decision to move forward with a review instead of a public inquiry.
“If ever there was a moment to listen to Nova Scotians and reconsider the path being taken, it is now,” Fraser said in his post.
Fraser said his name was included in the letter because of a “misunderstanding” of his views.
“I should have been more explicit and unequivocal in my opposition to being included in that letter, and I remain responsible for that,” his post said.
Demands for ‘greater response’
Darren Fisher, MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, also said in a tweet Tuesday he’s been “advocating” for a public inquiry.
“I believe that the decision to move forward with a joint-review was made with good intentions; however, the gravity of this tragedy demands a greater response,” the tweet said.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore, who is parliamentary secretary for infrastructure, tweeted Tuesday that a public inquiry is “the best way forward” to get answers and closure for the families of the victims.
My thoughts on the recent announcement of a joint-review into the April 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dartmouth?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Dartmouth</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ColeHarbour?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ColeHarbour</a> <a href=”https://t.co/w0YOF0QOux”>pic.twitter.com/w0YOF0QOux</a>
CBC News reached out to Fraser and Fisher, but neither was available for comment Tuesday.
Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway issued his own statement Tuesday afternoon saying that since Thursday he’s been hearing from constituents expressing their disappointment in the government’s plan.
“We know that the families of the victims are crying for a public inquiry and in my opinion that is what they deserve.”
Kelloway said it’s the government’s duty “to uphold the values” of Nova Scotians and “honour the families of the victims by moving forward with a full public inquiry and not a joint review.”
Another <a href=”https://twitter.com/liberal_party?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@liberal_party</a> MP from Nova Scotia calls for a public inquiry into the mass shooting. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NSpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NSpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/CDNpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#CDNpoli</a> <a href=”https://t.co/sTrT6eaf4I”>https://t.co/sTrT6eaf4I</a>
On Monday, the MP for Cumberland-Colchester, Lenore Zann, said she was upset she was not consulted about the independent review. Many of the families of the victims live in her riding.
Relatives of victims have been calling for a public inquiry into the massacre for months. On Monday, two rallies in Halifax and Bridgewater did the same.
Karen Casey, Nova Scotia’s finance minister and the MLA for Colechester North, a district that includes Portapique, said she knows her constituents have questions, and she supports whatever process gets them the information they deserve.
Casey said she wasn’t concerned about the path the two levels of government announced last week, but she is concerned that people get what they need as she said the community is still “very much in the grieving process.”
Some want answers more quickly, some want things done more publicly, but everyone has questions, and Casey said she wants those questions answered in a way that provides confidence to the public.
“Whatever the process is, it will be traumatic for them and it will be difficult for them … they need to be confident they’re getting the answers they’re looking for.”
Nova Scotia’s lone Conservative MP, Chris d’Entremont, says word of the inquiry “is welcome” but also “raises a number of serious questions.”
Some of those questions, he said, include why a public inquiry wasn’t called on Friday, why families have to fight their government for transparency and answers they deserve, and “how can Nova Scotians trust this process after its flawed start?”
“Nova Scotians deserve a government they can trust, who will stand up for their priorities,” d’Entremont said in a statement. “It’s clear that the Trudeau Liberals have let them down again. Conservatives will continue to fight for the answers you deserve.”
Earlier Tuesday, Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston had called for the premier to call a public inquiry himself without waiting for the federal government.
Houston said a review panel instead of a public inquiry was “a slap in the face to the victims’ families and all Nova Scotians.”