The public inquiry announcement is only a first step

Because maybe the government is using righteous citizen outrage to distract from deeper issues related to the mass shooting.

hat if, dear Nova Scotians, we've been played? Bamboozled. That the whole review-not-an-inquiry announcement was a hot ploy?

The government knew that no matter what it said about its plan to investigate the largest mass shooting in Canada's history, folks would criticize and demand more. Families of murder victims bring an unquenchable moral outrage to the table. Feminist voices, habitually ignored by government, would be skeptical of genuine intent to uncover and bring change. And there are enough conspiracy theories about the shooter that the seed of doubt may already be planted, leaving people to decide the truth won't come out no matter what some reports says. 

What if the government got tired of being behind from the moment events started unfolding in Portapique, and decided to get ahead of the public? What if some savvy comms staffer on Parliament Hill said, "What if we make all this attention go away by pretending they win? Let's toss them an independent review, give journalists and activists and citizens time to scrutinize the heck out of it. Let them gather and rally and protest and Tweet that they're pissed and it's not enough for the families and for women and for Nova Scotians."

Then the government would balk, as we saw happen over recent days. MPs folded, and the premier and justice minister folded, and Nova Scotia punted it to Ottawa, and within hours badda-boom badda-bing a public inquiry was set to happen instead of a review.

Celebration and back-patting and relief came. We did it! Emails and calls and noise worked to change the minds of these malleable politicians, wholly unaccustomed to their constituents paying attention to them and demanding change. (Do we thank COVID-19 for igniting a new sense of civic duty and activism among the polis that's creating real change?)

It would be cynical to dismiss the merits of that work. Even if the government expected the review to provoke an outcry, that outcry still had to happen.

But it would be just as silly to sit back now, and let an inquiry come through without the same amount of scrutiny that was applied to the review. And that's not only if you believe a Machiavellian plot to diffuse righteous protest has been hatched in the corridors of power. Nova Scotians are dealing with a government that claims schools are safe but press conferences with media are not—so questioning its logic is vital.

Why would a government that prioritized businesses reopening and people going back to work before providing a plan for adequate child care for said workers want to allow the whole country to scrutinize its oft-forgotten 55,000 square kilometres of coastline and conservative culture with a feminist lens?

In her 2017 reporting on unfounded or dismissed sexual assault cases, journalist Robin Doolittle found that Truro Police had the fourth-highest unfounded rate in the whole country: with more than half of sexual assault allegations being labelled as unfounded. Did that damning review bring about meaningful change for the residents of the area? 

All this to say: We are pissed and sad and grieving. There's a national discussion unfolding about the role and competency of police in our communities, and for the first time, that role is being heavily scrutinized. The national discussion about domestic violence, misogyny and violence against women has been unfolding, and thanks to #MeToo's unending tide of stories, people are finally, slowly starting to believe women and believe in the importance of believing women.

When Canada sits down and decides to call an inquiry it's saying: "we, the institutions of Canada, fucked this up, and we're gonna dissect all the things that led to it happening, in hopes of preventing it from happening again." It'd be nice, indeed, if Canada never had to see 22 people murdered again by someone whose abuse and misconduct had been previously reported to the police.

Mind you, Indigenous women and girls continue to be murdered and go missing a year after their national inquiry was completed—so I wouldn't go on holding your breath in the name of justice.

About The Author

Caora McKenna

Caora is the City Editor at The Coast, where she writes about everything from city hall to police and housing issues. She’s been with The Coast since 2017, when she began as the publication’s Copy Editor.

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