Almost two years after a gunman disguised as a Mountie went on a shooting rampage that claimed 22 lives in rural Nova Scotia, an independent public inquiry is set to begin public hearings today in Halifax.
The federal-provincial inquiry, which was supposed to start in October, is expected to hear opening statements from the three commissioners leading the proceedings at the Halifax Convention Centre.
Before any evidence is presented, there will be a panel discussion on mental health and wellness, which will acknowledge how the multiple murders on April 18-19, 2020 had a painful ripple effect across Canada.
The commissioners have said the evidence presented at the hearings will rekindle awful memories for many people, so they will seek to “normalize and validate” people’s emotions and prepare them for the information to be revealed during the inquiry.
The hearings will be livestreamed on the commission’s website, and a toll-free telephone line has been set up to allow those without internet access to listen in.
A report on the inquiry’s preliminary findings is due May 1, and a final report with recommendations on improving public safety must be submitted no later than Nov. 1.
The inquiry has been asked to determine the circumstances surrounding the killings, including the police response, the role of intimate-partner violence, access to firearms and the killer’s prior interactions with the police and social services.
As well, the inquiry will examine police training, policies and communications — both with the public and among law enforcement agencies.
The commissioners’ final report will describe the lessons learned as well as recommendations for preventing similar incidents in the future.
‘I stand with you’
In a statement Tuesday morning, Premier Tim Houston said he has heard family members of the victims express “frustration and concern about the structure of the inquiry.”
“They feel left in the dark,” he said. “This is not only disrespectful, it should cause us all to pause and ask, if the families don’t have confidence in the process, how can the public?”
Houston noted that it is not yet known if key witnesses have been subpoenaed to testify, if there will be an opportunity to cross-examine them or if there will be a comprehensive list of witnesses.
“This uncertainty is causing further, unnecessary trauma,” he said.
Houston said the commission should meet with the families and their counsel “to listen to their concerns and provide them with a plan that gives them confidence in the process.”
“As Premier, I stand with you,” he said. “Together, we will continue to push for answers.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2022.
— with files from Alex Cooke
© 2022 The Canadian Press