Lack of transparency over N.S. officials’ support for public inquiry into mass shooting

Click to play video: 'N.S. officials say they’ve supported a public inquiry since the start'
N.S. officials say they’ve supported a public inquiry since the start
N.S. officials say they’ve supported a public inquiry since the start – Jul 30, 2020

After the federal government called a public inquiry into April’s mass shooting earlier this week, Nova Scotia’s top officials maintain they’ve wanted an inquiry since “day one.”

On Thursday, Justice Minister Mark Furey insisted he has advocated for an inquiry behind closed doors with federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and his deputy minister in the three months since the atrocity took place.

That position is news to Nova Scotians, however, who have not heard Furey or Premier Stephen McNeil voice a preference for that process publicly prior to this week.

“That was the whole objective, was to have the federal government participate in a federal-provincial joint inquiry,” said Furey.

“Yes, we spoke openly in the first instance around all of the options, including an inquiry.”

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Nova Scotia’s elected officials faced a mountain of backlash when the provincial and federal governments announced a joint review into the shooting late last week, and in subsequent press conferences, voiced support for that review as an effective model for obtaining answers.

Both Furey and McNeil have said since April that they were committed to getting answers for the families of those killed, but never publicly expressed support for an inquiry over a review, commission or other model of probe.

“We’ll continue to work with them to find out what is the best way for the federal government to proceed on whether or not they’re going to have some form of commission or inquiry as we go forward,” McNeil told reporters on May 14.

“The mechanism that we want to use has to be able to answer all the questions and not be restricted solely to matters of provincial jurisdiction,” Furey said one week later.

Two weeks after that, Furey told reporters: “I just want to make sure that it’s a platform or a medium that is as broad in scope as we possibly can be.”

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Asked now why they never publicly vouched for the inquiry they really wanted, both officials cited the importance of keeping the federal government at the negotiation table. They suggested they were unable to convince the federal government to participate in a joint inquiry, but declined to elaborate on why.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair did not answer questions about whether his department was supportive of an inquiry, or whether public advocacy would have botched the provincial government’s chances of getting one.

“We have been in close contact with Minister Furey and the Government of Nova Scotia since those days in April, and have worked collaboratively to ensure Nova Scotians had access to timely and thorough information,” wrote press secretary Mary-Liz Power.

“Following the calls from families, victims, Nova Scotia Members of Parliament and advocates, we concluded that a Public Inquiry was required.”

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Families of victims killed in N.S. shooting relieved over public inquiry call

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Both the provincial and federal governments could have called a public inquiry into the shooting, through the Nova Scotia Public Inquiries Act or Fatalities Investigations Act, and the federal Inquiries Act, respectively.

Officials from both governments now say they’re working in partnership on the framework and terms of reference for the public inquiry and will expedite the process, but there is no time frame in place for its start date.

On Thursday, the group of Nova Scotia senators who have been advocating for an inquiry since June, wrote a letter to Furey and Blair thanking them for their reversal on the joint review.

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