Families of N.S. shooting victims feeling further victimized by delay of public inquiry: law firm

A memorial remembering Lillian Hyslop is seen along the road in Wentworth, N.S., on Friday, April 24, 2020. Liam Hennessey/CP

The law firm representing many of the families impacted by the mass shooting in Nova Scotia on April 18 and 19 says the families are feeling further victimized by the lack of initiative taken by both the federal and provincial governments in moving the public inquiry into the incident forward.

Patterson Law said on Wednesday that the families have “waited patiently” for federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey “to appoint the third and final commissioner to the inquiry panel” as the public inquiry cannot begin until this is completed.

“This delay is causing the families to feel ignored and abandoned by the very governments that have continually made statements of sympathy to them; however, their actions are speaking louder than their words,” the firm said in a statement.

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“Given the delay and further victimization of the families by the two levels of government, his clients will request that all processes concerning the calling of the public inquiry be included in its terms of reference,” Patterson Law lawyer Robert Pineo said in a press release.

“These governments, represented by Ministers Blair and Furey, have acted secretly and not in the best interests of the families.”

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

According to Pineo, those governmental actions must be disclosed and examined in a public forum “to ensure a meaningful public inquiry.”

“That is the only way that the families and the public will gain a full understanding of the governments’ mishandling of the public inquiry from its inception and ensure that in the future, such processes are transparent, fair and conducted in a timely manner.”

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Professor Emeritus at the Schulic School of Law, Wayne Mackay said “it’s outrageous and unfair” it’s taken so long to proceed with the inquiry.

“I think it’s another unkind injury to those surviving from the awful shooting, it’s really counter to what both levels of government have said all along that they’re very aware of how hurtful this is and they’re going to proceed as quickly as they can to get some answers and investigate but that’s not what they’re doing it’s been months since the last activity,” said Mackay.

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice told Global News in response to the families’ statement that its work with the federal government to appoint the commissioners continues.

A spokesperson for the department, Heather Fairbairn, said a third commissioner has been identified, and the federal government is in the final stages of the vetting process.

“Once the third Commissioner is confirmed, the next step will be to formally appoint the Commissioners using an Order in Council process. Both levels of government must issue Orders in Council,” said Fairbairn.

Global News has also reached out to the federal Department of Justice for comment but has not received a response as of yet.

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Mackay said he would have hoped that months ago the governments would have confirmed the new Commissioner and confirmed the terms of reference.

Click to play video: 'Former murder investigator retained by firm representing N.S. shooting victim’s families'
Former murder investigator retained by firm representing N.S. shooting victim’s families

“The process now would be started, it might be in the research stage or putting together the staff stage, but there’s a lot of work from the time the Commissioners are named until the inquiry itself can start hearing witnesses or taking evidence, so there’s going to be a big delay even after the additional person is named and the terms of reference are set,” Mackay said.

“I would think at a  minimum we should be at the preparing stage now and even hearing witnesses at the inquiry.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston also released a statement stating that “the federal and provincial governments are once again dragging their feet on the inquiry into April’s mass-shooting.”

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“I am standing firmly with families who continue to pressure the federal and provincial Liberals for answers into the deaths of 22 Nova Scotians. It has been six months. These delays are cruel and unnecessary,” said Houston.

He’s also calling on Minister Bill Blair and Minister Mark Furey to include the investigation of these delays in the terms of reference for the upcoming inquiry, and “provide families with more timely updates and full transparency.”

More to come.

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