The federal and provincial governments’ decision not to hold a public inquiry into the worst mass killing in Canadian history is fuelling a growing backlash in Nova Scotia and accusations of a cover-up.
Nova Scotians have been calling for an inquiry for months to examine the RCMP’s response to a 13-hour rampage that left 22 people dead in five rural communities before the shooter was killed by police in April. Instead, the federal and provincial governments announced on Thursday a three-person panel review that many say falls short of their expectations for transparency.
“It’s just inflamed their pain even further,” said Mary Coyle, who is among a group of more than 30 Canadian senators calling for a full, public inquiry into the massacre.
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“We don’t need any more secrets around this, there’s already been enough erosion of public trust. ... This is not the best we can do. It’s pretty clear the voices of the families of those victims have not been respected.”
Some families of the victims say they reject the governments’ argument that a review – which would produce a report by the end of August, 2021, but doesn’t require public hearings – would be a faster way to get answers and spare them from the “trauma” of revisiting the massacre through an inquiry.
They believe a full, open inquiry is needed to examine why the RCMP didn’t charge the gunman in the years leading up to the shootings, despite multiple weapons and assault complaints, and to probe mistakes made in the police response to his rampage.
That includes the decision not to use the province’s emergency alert system, keeping other municipal forces in the dark after allowing the gunman to slip through a police perimeter, keeping secret for nearly 12 hours the fact the gunman was on the loose in a look-alike RCMP cruiser, a delay in calling for an aircraft in the search, and for a manhunt that only caught the killer by accident – when he stopped for gas and an officer who was also filling up recognized him.
“They won’t give us a full public inquiry, why? Because they are covering up facts that happened that night and day,” said Amelia McLeod, whose father Sean McLeod and stepmother Alanna Jenkins were killed by the gunman. “We deserve a full public inquiry. My parents deserve the truth.”
The husband of one of the victims is calling for the resignation of the province’s Attorney-General and Justice Minister, Mark Furey, who along with Bill Blair, the federal Minister of Public Safety, laid out why their governments rejected a public inquiry.
A protest is planned for Monday outside the constituency office of Mr. Furey, who is a former member of the RCMP. Some families of the victims allege he is putting the interests of the national police force over the public.
“It’s a conflict of interest as he is ex-RCMP and helping bury the truth,” Nick Beaton, whose wife Kristen Beaton was killed, said in a statement on social media.
“We want and deserve the truth and transparency in the senseless murders in April.”
Lenore Zann, the federal Liberal MP for Cumberland-Colchester, said she was disappointed by the decision not to hold an inquiry, and was not consulted in that process. She said she wanted an inquiry because it could force anyone to testify – something a review can’t do.
“This is a sad day,” she said. “I don’t know what happened behind closed doors, and I’m not happy. We need to find out the truth, and I’d like to see people compelled to testify if there’s some way to do that.”
Despite her frustration with the process, Ms. Zann said she’s glad the review will look at how police handle domestic-violence calls, and said her government is committed to changing policy to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.
Opposition parties at both the federal and provincial levels also criticized the review. Nova Scotia’s NDP and Progressive Conservative parties demanded Premier Stephen McNeil call an emergency sitting of the legislature to push through a bill forcing a public inquiry.
“April 18 and 19, 2020 are among the darkest days that have been visited on our country. I am asking you to recognize and respect this fact with the commensurate response and allow for the initiation of a full-fledged, public inquiry,” reads a statement from NDP Leader Gary Burrill to the Premier.
Tim Houston, Leader of the Nova Scotia PCs, dismissed the review as an attempt to “silence Nova Scotians.” He noted that the review’s recommendations will be non-binding and information gathered for the review can be kept confidential.
“Nova Scotians should be angry, not only because they have been cheated out of an inquiry that is essential to getting answers, but because their Premier and Prime Minister are attempting to fool them into thinking this direction is in their best interest,” Mr. Houston said.
Premier McNeil defended the review process and the qualifications of the panel chosen to lead it – former chief justice of Nova Scotia Michael MacDonald; former federal attorney-general Anne McLellan; and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of the Fredericton Police Force.
He acknowledged that many people in his province weren’t happy, but said the review should be able to provide the answers they’re looking for.
“We’re concerned when people are expressing a lack of confidence in the review panel,” Mr. McNeil said. “I understand there’s a belief out there that the only way to get to the truth is through a public inquiry. But that’s just not true.”
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