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Michael MacDonald, chair of the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry into the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020 in rural Nova Scotia, delivers remarks in Halifax on Feb. 23.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Almost two years after a gunman impersonating a Mountie killed 22 people in rural Nova Scotia, Mary Teed and her neighbours are still struggling with their grief – but the horrific magnitude of the tragedy is only partly to blame.

Teed lives in Masstown, N.S., about 22 kilometres from Portapique, the rural enclave on the north shore of Cobequid Bay, where the killer started his rampage on April 18, 2020.

On Wednesday, Teed was among five community leaders asked by an independent public inquiry to describe what life has been like in the rural communities affected by the mass shooting. The inquiry started public hearings on Tuesday and must submit a final report by Nov. 1.

Teed, head of the Colchester Adult Learning Association, told the inquiry that the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the grieving process in central and northern Nova Scotia. The strong sense of community that is common in rural areas has been undermined by the fact that routine social gatherings have been put on hold, she said.

“COVID got in the way of doing the things that we normally do,” she told the inquiry. “Normally, you go to your neighbours, you make a casserole, you have a function where you’re raising some funds and gathering people together. We didn’t get to do that.”

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As a result, feelings of anger, sadness and grief continue to linger in a way that seems unnatural, she said.

Teed said she had at one point planned to visit a friend directly affected by the killings, but she found it difficult to approach their home.

“I drove past their house three times,” she said. “Normally, we would have bumped into each other … at a baseball game or a hockey game, and we would have said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you’re doing OK.’ But two years later, it’s as raw as the day it happened.”

Rev. Nicole Uzans, Anglican rector of the parish of Northumberland, told the inquiry that simple routines remain difficult for those who haven’t had the opportunity to properly grieve.

“One of the markers in the transition of grief is: can you go to the grocery store, knowing you’re going to run into people you know – and can you face the conversations that come when you’re at a vulnerable place in your grief?” Uzans said.

That kind of obstacle is particularly daunting in rural settings, where everyone knows everyone’s business, she said. “It comes from a place of care, but it does introduce lots of challenges – that level of interpersonal connection,” Uzans said.

Other members of the panel talked about the keen sense of community in rural communities, and Teed mentioned the online memorial service that was held in the aftermath of the multiple murders.

“We were in the early, scary stages of COVID, so nobody could come together,” Teed said.

“Almost overnight, this online vigil took life. It was the online version of how we normally offer love and support … Virtually, we came together to say, ‘We care. We’re sorry. We want to be helpful.”’

The pandemic has also hindered the work of the commission in charge of the inquiry, said Barbara McLean, director of investigations.

“Investigations are very human activities, best done face to face,” McLean told a media briefing Wednesday. “COVID and the challenges of people getting together to have those conversations was an impediment to the investigation. People didn’t want to speak face to face.” She said the commission instead used online technology to get the job done.

The federal-provincial inquiry has been tasked with determining what happened when a lone gunman disguised as a Mountie killed 22 people on April 18-19, 2020, and to make recommendations to improve public safety.

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