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MP Lenore Zann throws weight behind calls for feminist lens on N.S. shooting inquiry

Colchester MP wants a feminist lens in NS shooting inquiry
Colchester MP is pushing for a public inquiry into the NS shooting and believes the inquiry should have a feminist lens. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more.

Nearly two months after the horrific mass shooting that left 22 dead in rural Nova Scotia, the member of Parliament who represents that region is doubling down on calls for a public inquiry that includes a feminist analysis and approach.

Cumberland-Colchester MP Lenore Zann said her constituents have waited patiently for answers not only on whether the massacre could have been prevented, but the role of domestic abuse, the suppression of women’s voices, and the relationship between access to weapons and violence against women and girls.

Zann said governments must avoid the mistakes made after the 1989 Montreal Massacre, which left 14 women dead and 10 women injured at École Polytechnique. It was a misogyny-fuelled, anti-feminist attack, she explained, that was not recognized as such until 30 years too late.

READ MORE: She witnessed the N.S. mass shooter’s violence. She’s still struggling to be heard

“There was no public inquiry done at all,” she told Global News from her home in Truro on Thursday.

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“This is now the largest mass shooting in Canada and it was done by a man who they call a ‘grievance collector,’ but he was also a misogynistic, controlling person who victimized his partner.”

Nova Scotia RCMP have confirmed the gunman’s shooting spree began in Portapique on April 18 with an assault on his common-law partner, who survived the overnight rampage by hiding in the woods until the morning of April 19, when the shooter had moved elsewhere.

Multiple witnesses to Nova Scotia shooter’s violent past
Multiple witnesses to Nova Scotia shooter’s violent past

READ MORE: Did we miss the Nova Scotia shooting signs — or dismiss them?

Gabriel Wortman’s former neighbour, Brenda Forbes, has told Global News she notified RCMP that Wortman had viciously beaten his partner in 2013 — a complaint the Mounties have no record of today.

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In a separate interview, Wortman’s uncle, Glynn Wortman, also confirmed he personally witnessed his nephew’s violence many times over the years. Around the time of Forbes’ complaint, Glynn Wortman lived in Portapique, where he was locked in a property dispute with his nephew.

“The more that the public can realize that private violence can lead to public violence… the quicker we can do something about this, because there’s too much domestic violence going on,” said Zann. “Is the public in danger?”

READ MORE: Family of Heather O’Brien, VON nurse killed in Nova Scotia shooting, calls for public inquiry

Zann is not the first person to call for a feminist lens on a public inquiry into the shooting. Within a week of the atrocity taking place, a group of Nova Scotia feminists, including staff from Persons Against Non-State Torture and the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association, demanded it.

Dalhousie University law professors, Nova Scotia transition houses, and the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability followed.

Earlier this week, three independent Nova Scotia senators joined the chorus, calling on on the provincial and federal governments to launch a joint inquiry that seeks and “to change how the current system addresses” spousal abuse and misogyny.

Johanna May Black, bystander program co-ordinator for the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, said such national calls are “extremely encouraging,” and indicative of broad recognition in Canada that domestic violence is a broad social problem.

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Nova Scotia senators call for public inquiry into mass shootings
Nova Scotia senators call for public inquiry into mass shootings

READ MORE: The psychology of an ‘injustice collector’

“While the shooting itself is unique in the size and how horrific it is, that violence is something we see every day,” she explained.

“There are women and children put in harm’s way who are suffering every day, so we think a much broader inquiry needs to be held, taking a feminist lens, taking a look at where does this type of violence come from and what can we do to prevent it.”

An inquiry with a feminist lens, she explained, would have a broad focus that extends beyond the RCMP’s handling of the situation; it would analyze the shooter’s individual history and psychology, his relationships with family, friends and romantic partners, and any factors in the community that allowed his violence to take place.

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It would also examine the role of witnesses, bystanders and community supports that may have prevented the violence, Black added, and dig into the role of societal institutions, such the RCMP, the legal system, and the supports in place for woman fleeing violence or violent men seeking reform and rehabilitation.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia killer had history of dubious financial practices

Both the Nova Scotia and federal governments have committed to some form of joint probe into the shooting, but neither has provided any details on what such a probe would entail. Last week, provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey used both the words “inquiry” and “review” to describe what’s being discussed between his department and federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

Furey told reporters he hoped to have news this week on the probe, but no such announcement has been made. He has, however, stated that the probe must be thorough, with the power to compel provincial and federal agencies, and make binding recommendations.

“I know this is very difficult for the families, and they want answers. This is my top priority at this time,” he wrote in an emailed statement to Global News on Thursday.

“We are actively engaged with the federal government on this matter, and I expect an announcement will be made in the near future.  Details will be shared at that time.”

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Colchester councilor calls for police services review after mass shooting
Colchester councilor calls for police services review after mass shooting

READ MORE: Nova Scotia gunman was a ‘psychopath’ and ‘paranoid’ about COVID-19 pandemic

The shooting — one of the deadliest in Canada’s history — has also renewed the discussion of strengthening “red flag laws” in Canada. Such laws would expand the ability of certain professionals and members of the public to raise the alarm when they believe a person is at risk of harming themselves or others with firearms.

That could include family members, victims and other community members, in addition to health-care providers, who are currently allowed to breach patient-doctor confidentiality in order to report a potentially dangerous individual.

Blair, the federal public safety minister, had indicated the plan to introduce expanded red flag laws would come alongside other legislation to further tighten gun control in the spring.

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“If not us, who? And if not now, when?” asked Zann, indicating her support.

“There are many women who’ve been threatened by guns, who have been raped by guns, and who are kept in control and fear by a man in the house who’s threatening them with a gun. This should not be happening.”

Want to learn more about gender-based violence, like sexual harassment, the complexities of violence against trans peoplethe shelter crisis, and the importance of teaching your kids to say vagina rather than ‘hoo-ha’? Read the full Broken series.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or violence and needs help, here are resources you can access across Canada.