N.S. Tory leader calls for details, conflict review for public inquiry into April mass killing

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston sent letters to federal and provincial government officials with concerns about a lack of transparency in preparing for a public inquiry into the April mass killing that happened in Nova Scotia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Keith Doucette.

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston wrote to federal and provincial government officials with concerns, following the announcement of a joint public inquiry into the mass killing that occurred on April 18-19.

“The depth of this tragedy is really unimaginable, and you get that when you when you speak to the family members,” Houston says.

“I want to make sure that the inquiry that Nova Scotians are expecting they’re going to get, is what they get.”

He says he was disappointed the province initially announced an independent review of the incident, after calls for an inquiry by the victims’ families and other Nova Scotians.

“I think what we’ve seen here is we saw two levels of government that somehow thought a ‘review’ would be appropriate for this situation,” Houston says.

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Read more: After backlash, governments agree to hold public inquiry into Nova Scotia shooting

A joint review was announced by the federal and provincial governments on July 23. In less than a week, the decision was undone after a massive wave of public backlash.

Houston says there was no good reason for calling a review instead of a public inquiry.

“They had a couple of explanations which were unacceptable and, quite frankly, unbelievable,” Houston says.

“I think the public pressure forced them to do something that they were, for some reason, reluctant to do. At least they made the right decision, and we’ll see where it goes from here.”

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Houston says it’s important to keep the advocates’ and victims’ families’ voices heard.

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On Wednesday, Houston sent a letter to federal Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair with concerns he wishes to be addressed in the public inquiry’s terms of reference, including:

  • The inquiry be held in Nova Scotia, to protect the victims’ families
  • The gunman’s access to weapons and RCMP paraphernalia and the ongoing sale of such items are reviewed
  • The roles, responsibility and actions of the RCMP related to the killing are reviewed, as well as a full review of policing policies and general rural policing
  • The provincial procedures of using the emergency alert system is reviewed
  • The impact of domestic violence on this incident and a broader review of domestic violence in Nova Scotia is conducted
  • Amending the inquiry panel to consist of at least five members, three of whom reside out-of-province, to allow for greater transparency.

Houston also asks in the letter, whether witnesses and those called to provide evidence would be legally obligated to provide truthful and accurate information.

“Now that two levels of government that, you know, didn’t understand the importance of the inquiry, have now indicated that they do understand the importance of it, we can’t take our eye off this,” Houston told Global News.

“There’s no reason to just assume that this will happen the way it should happen,” Houston says.

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

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In an email statement, the Minister of Public Safety’s office said:

“The chairpeople of the inquiry will … have the ability to summon witnesses, and require them to:

  1. Give evidence, orally or in writing, and on oath or, if they are persons entitled to affirm in civil matters on solemn affirmation; and
  2. Produce such documents and things as the commissioners deem requisite to the full investigation of the matters into which they are appointed to examine.”

The email said the ministry sincerely hopes the tragedy will be fully examined and all relevant evidence will be made public.

“We will do what is necessary to ensure an event such as this will never happen again,” it said.

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Houston has also written to Nova Scotia’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner to ensure there is no conflict with Minister of Justice Mark Furey’s former position at the RCMP and his current role.

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The letter sent to Justice Joseph Kennedy asks that “a review be conducted with respect to Minister Mark Furey’s participation, on behalf of the province, in discussions surrounding any investigation, review or inquiry into the tragedies that occurred on April 18 and 19.”

The letter states, according to Furey’s LinkedIn page, he has worked with RCMP for over 30 years including the position of “district commander.”

N.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said in an email:

“The Department of Justice is always mindful of any perceived or potential conflict of interest as part of its work. When asked last year about potential conflicts, the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner advised simply having been a member of the RCMP does not create a conflict of interest.”

The conflicts commissioner has previously cleared Furey of conflict in a previous case, the 2019 wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun.

Read more: Conflict of interest commissioner clears Mark Furey of conflict in Assoun wrongful conviction

Houston says in his letter to the commissioner that clearing Furey once does not absolve him of conflicts in other cases.

“Your findings in Minister Furey’s prior conflict referral acknowledged that as Minister of Justice, Minister Furey is responsible to the people of Nova Scotia for the functioning of the RCMP. The issue of the functioning of the RCMP is at the very heart of the decisions on the how and what to examine in the aftermath of the Portapique tragedy,” read the letter.

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The conflict commissioner told Global News in an email the office is unable to comment on matters submitted for review.

Houston says the minister himself should say why he believes there’s no conflict.

“It’s too important to have even the perception of a conflict of interest. And certainly, I’m here for a lot of Nova Scotians that they feel that there is a conflict,” he says.

Houston says he is hoping that Blair and other government officials are listening to what people are asking for.

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