It was so very encouraging that the provincial and federal governments, listened to the public, changed their minds, and decided to order a full public inquiry into the horrific events of last April in central Nova Scotia.
On July 28, Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced his government is proceeding with a full public inquiry into the tragedy that occurred on April 18 and 19.
“We have heard calls from families, survivors, advocates, and Nova Scotia Members of Parliament for more transparency,” Blair said.
An inquiry will include the power to summon witnesses, and require them to give evidence, orally or in writing, as well as produce documents pertinent to the investigation.
Noting that the Government of Canada continues to work with the Government of Nova Scotia on the path forward, Blair said it is the hope of both governments that the terrible tragedy will be fully examined and that all relevant facts and evidence will be made public.
He said J. Michael MacDonald, Anne McLellan and Leanne Fitch agreed to assist in the inquiry and will serve as commissioners.
“Canadians deserve answers to how such a tragedy could occur,” Blair said. “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.”
The news was greeted with unanimous approval from even federal and provincial opposition parties, the same entities who have been criticizing both Liberal governments for the half-measure of a judicial review.
As early as last week, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice Mark Furey responded to criticism from family members of those lost, Liberal MPs, Senators, and many other Nova Scotians opposed to the joint review.
At the time, Furey said that if the federal government agrees to a joint public inquiry where federal agencies – including the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency, Criminal Intelligence Services Canada, the Canadian Firearms Registry and the Public Alert Ready System – will participate and offer testimony, he and his government would support that.
That didn’t impress the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative caucus which maintained that the province had the authority to call a full public inquiry without the approval of the federal government, according to the Fatality Act.
The PCs said despite promising for months that justice would be done, the province announcing a review instead of an inquiry was a “slap in the face”
to the victims’ families and all Nova Scotians.
NDP leader Gary Burrill said for the past three months, the Liberal government failed to take action on the need for an inquiry.
“To say today, only after a major public outcry, that they are willing to support a public inquiry if the federal government agrees to it, is a further abdication of the leadership that is needed,” Burrill said at the time.
The NDP noted that the public inquiry was called for by legal experts, organizations addressing domestic violence, the public, and the families of those whose lives were lost.
In addition to the Conservative Party of Canada calling for an inquiry, the mother of Cst. Heidi Stevenson also joined her voice to the chorus.
In particular, she wants to know what happened nine years ago when the Truro Police Department issued a province-wide report to all police departments about the gunman’s stash of weapons and his expressed a desire to kill a cop. She wants to know what actions were taken in the two-year period before the report was destroyed.
“As the mother of the RCMP member slain on April 19, I feel very strongly that had meaningful action been taken nine years ago, there is a very high probability that Heidi would be alive today.”
And fortunately, the federal and provincial governments listened to these points, took seriously the feedback from fellow MPs and MLAs, heard the arguments from their political opponents, and above all, gave Nova Scotians, the victims’ families, and organizations the opportunity to explain why an inquiry was needed.
Then they took this information, and rather than organizing opposition to it and digging in their heals, or stubbornly becoming inflexible, they changed course from calling for a joint judicial review to a full public inquiry. That must not have been an easy about-face for the governments, and it might have damaged them politically, but it was ultimately the only decision that could’ve been made.
Although it took them time to get there, the national and provincial governments, did the right thing.