Technicalities delaying Nova Scotia shooting inquiry: province’s justice minister

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Technicalities are causing delays as the provincial and federal governments work out what form an inquiry into the April mass shooting that claimed 22 lives will take, the province’s justice minister said Thursday.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Mark Furey said he made a mistake last month when he suggested the terms of reference for the inquiry would be announced within days.

“I want to commit to the families that we understand their frustrations,” he said. “We’re working day and night to bring this together.”

The minister said he expects an announcement some time this month.

“There’s legalities and technicalities that our legal teams are reviewing and finalizing in the drafting of relevant documents,” he said, declining to offer details.

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Furey has said the investigation could take the form of a traditional federal-provincial public inquiry led by an independent commissioner, but the minister made it clear Thursday that some sort of hybrid is in the works.

The challenges facing legal teams in Ottawa and Halifax appear to stem from the fact that Nova Scotia wants the probe to include a restorative justice approach.

Earlier this month, Furey said the exercise must also have certain features common to public inquiries, including judicial leadership, the power to compel witnesses to testify and the ability to make recommendations to hold public agencies accountable for their actions.

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On Thursday, Furey hinted that grafting the restorative justice model onto a traditional public inquiry was taking time to sort out.

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“We want to take a different approach to sourcing the questions that individuals would have, particularly the family members,” he said. “We’re taking a human-centred and trauma-informed approach consistent with some of the principles of restorative methodologies.”

Nova Scotia created a “restorative inquiry” in 2015 when it appointed a committee to look into allegations of long-term abuse at a former orphanage in the Halifax area, known as the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

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That process was not a provincial inquiry in the traditional sense, though it was established under the authority of the province’s Public Inquiries Act.

Its collaborative approach featured “sharing circles” with former residents, black youth and community organizations.

Instead of providing a list or recommendations, the inquiry’s final report offered a “road map” for breaking down what it described as the government’s fragmented approach to helping people in need.

Furey said this approach is key to getting people to come forward to tell what they know about the circumstances before, during and after Gabriel Wortman’s murderous April 18-19 rampage through northern and central Nova Scotia.

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However, the provincial and federal governments have faced a growing chorus of calls for a traditional, public commission of inquiry led by an independent commissioner with no strings attached.

Among those asking for this approach are relatives of victims, about 30 professors at Dalhousie University in Halifax and opposition politicians.

In early June, the daughter of Heather O’Brien – a nurse who was killed by the gunman on April 19 – urged the federal and Nova Scotia governments to work together. Darcy Dobson said “the back and forth about who’s responsible for an inquiry is unreal.”

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Earlier this week, five Nova Scotia senators renewed a call for the province to join with Ottawa to launch a joint inquiry. They said the delays have led to increased speculation about the shootings and the assailant, which could be eroding public trust in law enforcement.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2020.

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