Today, Oct 26, was supposed to be the start of public proceedings for the federal and provincial public inquiry into what happened when a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer shot and killed 22 Nova Scotians in April 2020.
Instead, the first public hearings into the Portapique tragedy will begin in February—four months later than planned. An Oct 13 statement from the Mass Casualty Commission said the starting date was delayed because the process of information gathering and redacting “sensitive and private details, has taken longer than anticipated.”
Before these documents are shared with the public, all 60 commission participants—including the RCMP—will be able to first review what’s in them. Legal experts are concerned about the lack of public involvement in this public inquiry, Global reported.
The 60 people or groups who will formally participate in the commission include 27 families or family members of the deceased, six police services or groups, nine gender-based organizations, three victim advocacy groups, a firearm rights coalition and a gun control coalition. The federal and provincial governments have participated in the process since the outset, which includes the RCMP.
“Adjusting the schedule allows for more time for us to work with the Participants,” said a commission spokesperson in an email. The counsel will spend the fall meeting with the participants in order to hear about any “gaps, questions or issues” in the documents that will eventually be shared publicly.
“The purpose is to provide Participants with the opportunity to inform and assist us with ensuring that when the information is shared publicly in the new year, it is as accurate and complete as possible,” a spokesperson said.
Robert Pineo and Sandra McCulloch, the lawyers representing families of the mass shooting victims, said their clients are “content with the change in schedule as it provides adequate time for all participants to properly prepare for the proceedings.” The lawyers say they’ve been instructed not to comment further on the delay.
Some type of public proceeding, which could mean an update, community meeting, policy roundtable or witness panel, will happen Jan 25. This will be followed with the first public hearing, which is when evidence will be received and witnesses will answer questions about the mass killing. This begins in early February and runs for about five weeks, ending March 3. The commission says this first phase will focus on what happened on that April weekend a year and a half ago. The second phase, which looks at why and how it happened, runs from March 28 until May 5.
An interim report is due May 1. The final report, findings and recommendations are scheduled to be shared a year from now, on Nov 1, 2022. A commission spokesperson said despite the four-month delay in beginning the hearings, they are on track to meet both deadlines. The commission declined to share the costs associated with its work or say if this delay will increase overall expenses, which will be paid by the Nova Scotia and federal governments.
The commission is being led by three professionals: former Fredericton police chief Leanne Fitch, Nova Scotia Chief Justice J. Michael MacDonald and Toronto-based lawyer Kim Stanton, who was appointed after former deputy prime minister Anne MacLellan withdrew from the inquiry.