Mass Casualty Commission pushes public proceedings to January

    HALIFAX: The Mass Casualty Commission says “no fact is too small” as it delays public hearings on April 2020’s mass shooting and arson rampage to ensure the most accurate information is shared with Nova Scotians.

    Public proceedings originally scheduled to start on Oct. 26 at the Halifax Convention Centre and other venues have been pushed back to late January.

    The independent public inquiry said gathering information and redacting sensitive and private details is taking longer than anticipated. Information about what happened during the rampage that killed 22 people and an unborn child continues to flow into the commission. The investigations team is conducting witness interviews and following new leads.

    The commission already has gathered and analyzed nearly to 40,000 pages of evidence and 230 video and audio files, on top of information collected through its own investigations, witness interviews and site visits.

    The collection of facts, including subpoenaed RCMP information, will form the basis of “foundational documents” to share with the public on what happened on April 18 and 19, 2020.

    Participants in the inquiry, which include family members of those killed and organizations with a direct interest in the probe, are being asked to review the draft documents to help identify any gaps or omissions.

    “The contribution of all those who have come forward is greatly appreciated. We encourage anyone with any information to get in touch with us,” Barbara McLean, investigations director with the commission, said in a statement announcing the delay. “We are following up and adding new information and details as the process continues.”

    Hearings are now scheduled for February, after the public proceedings begin in January. The commission says the delay won’t push back its target of May 2022 for an interim report or its final report in November 2022.

    Emily Hill, senior lawyer with the commission, said it is vital that participants, their lawyers and the commission have time to review and discuss the draft documents on what happened.

    “Once this review has taken place, the areas that require further investigation and exploration will be identified, and the foundational documents, which link to source materials, will be made public,” she said.

    Sandra McCulloch, a lawyer representing survivors and the families in two proposed class action suits, said the clients are content with the change in schedule.

    “It provides adequate time for all participants to properly prepare for the proceedings,” she said.

    McCulloch declined to comment further, citing a request from her clients.

    The commission said feedback is welcome even after the documents are made public.

    Its ultimate recommendations won’t be binding.

    FACT BOX

    A lone gunman began a killing rampage in Portapique, N.S. on the night of April 18, 2020.

    He was shot and killed by police at a gas station in Enfield on April 19, 2020, after a 13-hour rampage in which he killed 22 people.

    Ottawa and Nova Scotia agreed in July 2020 to establish the independent public inquiry, bowing to pressure from family members and others upset the province only planned a simple review.

    Former chief justice of Nova Scotia, Michael MacDonald, is chair of the Mass Casualty Commission.

    The commission’s goal is to submit a report in November 2022 containing its findings, lessons learned and meaningful recommendations to help protect Canadians in the future. The recommendations are non-binding.

    The inquiry is funded by both the federal and Nova Scotia governments.

    Sixty individuals and groups have been granted the opportunity for formal participation in the public proceedings.

    After determining what happened, the commission will examine broader issues that might have contributed to the tragedy, including firearms access, RCMP response, emergency communications and the role of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence.

    Proceedings will include public hearings, community meetings and roundtables involving experts, policy makers and community members.

    The public inquiry is expected to take two years.

    Class-action lawsuits have been filed by family members against the RCMP and province for allegedly failing to protect the safety and security of the public, as well as the killer’s estate, estimated to be worth more than $2 million