Victim’s families want Mass Casualty Commission to go deeper

    HALIFAX: As the public hearings examining April 2020’s mass shooting rampage shift to focus on how and why the massacre happened, some family members of those killed are concerned the fact-finding phase didn’t go deep enough. 

    The independent Mass Casualty Commission appointed by the provincial and federal governments spent the first several weeks of hearings delving into what happened on April 18 and 19, 2020, when a shooting and arson spree by a man disguised as a Mountie ended with 22 killed, including a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer. With its second phase, the commission is exploring the broader context to answer why and how the tragedy happened.  

    “There’s some reservations about the depth to which the commission is focussing on the factual record, the what-happened piece,” Sandra McCulloch, a lawyer representing several family members of those killed, said in an interview.  

    Linda Hupman, a lawyer representing the interests of other family members, said her clients share the same worry.  

    “But we are certainly not at the point of throwing up our hands,” she said. “They are hopeful as we work through more of the witnesses coming forward in the next number of weeks that it will, at some point, reach at least some of the expectations of what we hoped would be accomplished.” 

     Legal teams for the family members have submitted a new round of witnesses they’d like to be called to give live testimony, and an opportunity for cross examination.  

     Among those on the list is Brenda Forbes, a former neighbour of the gunman in Portapique who told police in 2013 she believed he had illegal weapons. 

     “We still feel there are a bit too many hoops to jump through for justifying our requests for certain witnesses and the opportunities for cross examining them,” said Hupman, who represents relatives of Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver and Emily Tuck — a family killed in Portapique – and Lilian Campbell, who was killed while out on her daily walk in Wentworth. “But when witnesses are called we are being given the opportunity to cross examine them. That’s not been denied to us at this point, which we weren’t sure of in the beginning.” 

    Family member lawyers have been meeting to collaborate as a group to avoid questioning that might be repetitive. For each witness, one lawyer for family members has been asking questions. 

    Hupman said with some witnesses, such as the killer’s spouse, Lisa Banfield, one lawyer might not be enough.

    “We’d be making an effort not to duplicate questions and not to drag things out, but we may want to frame our own questions without trying to have another counsel read our minds to fully express what we’re looking for,” she said. 

    As it began Phase 2 of the hearings, the commission said its Phase 1 work to understand the facts of what happened will continue.

    “We will hear from more witnesses, including senior ranking RCMP officers,” the commission said.  

    Additional witnesses to be subpoenaed are being considered on a rolling basis and more names will be added to the schedule in coming weeks. 

    Before the hearings began, the Mass Casualty Commission amassed mountains of evidence and distilled them into a series of “foundational documents” that serve as a foundation of what happened and why. 

    The commission has said the documents are only a starting point and will evolve as the hearings continue and more details come to light. 

    Once the second phase of hearings is complete, the commission will shift to its third and final phase that will make recommendations to keep communities throughout Canada safer. 

     A final report with those recommendations is due Nov. 1.