Mental health support still lacking 4 years after mass shooting: Nova Scotia mayor

Click to play video: 'N.S. mayor disappointed in lack of support for communities affected by mass shooting'
N.S. mayor disappointed in lack of support for communities affected by mass shooting
WATCH: The mayor of Colchester County, N.S., is expressing disappointment in the Nova Scotia government for a "slow response" in providing adequate support for communities still struggling four years after the mass shooting in Portapique. As Amber Fryday reports, the mayor says some residents are still struggling with a multitude of mental health-related illnesses as a result of the tragedy – Apr 18, 2024

This story contain disturbing subject matter and discussion of mental health. Discretion is advised.

It’s been four years since the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, and the mayor of the community where the tragedy began says mental health resources are still a challenge to access.

“It’s more than mental health support,” Colchester County Mayor Christine Blair said in an interview Thursday.

“It’s the overall support for the victims of trauma, and the relatives of victims of trauma, and the community that has been traumatized.”

On April 18-19, 2020, a gunman — at times disguised as an RCMP officer — murdered 22 people in Nova Scotia during a rampage that began in the Colchester County community of Portapique. The victims included a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer.

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Fifteen of the victims were in Colchester County.

“Because of that, we are suffering,” said Blair. “It’s huge here, and it has affected everyone.”

The 22 victims of the Nova Scotia shooting: Emily Tuck, Jolene Oliver, Aaron Tuck, Jamie Blair, Kristen Beaton, Lisa McCully, Gina Goulet, Const. Heidi Stevenson, Joey Webber, Joanne Thomas, John Zahl, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins, Heather O’Brien, Tom Bagley, Dawn Gulenchyn, Frank Gulenchyn, Greg Blair, Lillian Campbell, Joy Bond, Peter Bond, and Corrie Ellison. Global News

She said the community continues to struggle with the trauma of the event. Leon Joudrey, a survivor of the shooting, died by suicide in 2022.

“He cried out for help. He didn’t get that help,” said Blair.

“There’s more violence, there’s more anger, there’s more lack of patience, intimate partner violence — lots of things that have accelerated because people are traumatized and they don’t understand what they’re actually going through, what they’re experiencing because of the trauma.”

The Mass Casualty Commission, which investigated the killings and released a wide-ranging report last year, made a number of recommendations around improving mental health access in the province.

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Among those recommendations was to increase the availability of mainstream mental health services, enhance literacy around grief, bereavement, trauma, and resiliency, and implement a national policy to provide support services for those affected by a mass casualty.

It also called for the federal and provincial governments to “jointly fund a program to address the public health emergency that exists in Colchester, Cumberland, and Hants counties as a result of an unmet need for mental health, grief, and bereavement supports arising from the April 2020 mass casualty.”

Blair said in the aftermath of the tragedy, the province did send people into the community to provide counselling and grief support, but she said those supports need to be ongoing.

“Immediately following an event like this, you have people in a surreal state, and the reality of the situation has not set in,” she said. “It was great to have those people in the community, but they didn’t stay.”

Blair said there needs to be continuous support available for the community to help them cope with the trauma of the events in April 2020.

She said it will take time and effort to go through the commission’s recommendations, and the progress monitoring committee that was set up to review the recommendations is working “very hard” on it.

A couple pays their respects at a roadblock in Portapique, N.S. on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Ideally, Blair would like to see some sort of counselling centre in a “central location” of the county so everyone can access it and get the help they need.

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“Continuous help was needed. We need to have something there all the time,” she said.

She also said the community is working with the provincial government to create a permanent memorial for the lives that were lost.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston told reporters Thursday that the province is committed to making communities safer and stronger.

“We’re working across government departments, and with the federal government, to implement the recommendations,” he said.

He said the province has enhances supports for the impacted communities, which includes committing almost $9 million over two years, as part of an $18-million initiative to design and deliver mental health, grief and bereavement services in Cumberland, Colchester and Hants counties.

“Our commitment is there, our focus is there. There’s more to be done, there’s no question about that, but we’re committed to getting it done,” said Houston.

Blair said she is “hopeful” that more support will be coming to the community.

“After four years, we still need it,” she said.

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis is encouraged to use the following resources:

  • Mental Health & Addictions Provincial Crisis Line: 1-888-429-8167
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 988
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free) or text CONNECT 686868
  • Emergency: 911

— with files from Amber Fryday


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