One year later: How the Nova Scotia mass shooting shook and changed a province forever

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked the one-year anniversary of Canada’s deadliest mass shooting, telling the victims’ families: “you are not alone.” On April 18, 2020, a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer embarked on a 13-hour shooting rampage in Nova Scotia, killing 22 people at 16 separate crime scenes.

It has been described as horrific, terrorizing, unimaginable.

On April 18, 2020, a gunman dressed as an RCMP officer driving a replica cruiser assaulted his common-law spouse in Portapique — a small rural community outside of Halifax — and embarked on a shooting and arson spree.

Thirteen hours later, the events of those two days would give Nova Scotia a distinction no one wanted: Canada’s deadliest rampage killing.

Read more: ‘Come out with your hands up.’ Witness describes Nova Scotia killer’s disturbing ruse

In total, 22 people were killed at 16 separate crime scenes as the gunman drove through backroads and rural communities.

He shot people he knew, targeted complete strangers, and set fire to homes.

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The 51-year-old shooter slipped away from police repeatedly, as RCMP sporadically updated their Twitter and Facebook accounts but delayed in issuing a public alert.

It wasn’t until the shooter had stopped to refuel a vehicle he had stolen from a victim in Enfield — and after killing RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson — that police happened across him and fatally shot him.

In the days and weeks after the attack, a picture of the shooter began to emerge as a manipulative and paranoid man who longed to be an officer and had stockpiled weapons and replica police paraphernalia.

There was a lot of criticism against the RCMP and their handling of the shooting, specifically why an emergency alert wasn’t sent out during the attacks.

In the mass confusion during the events, two RCMP officers fired at the Onslow fire hall because they saw someone dressed similarly to the gunman standing near a cruiser and mistook him for the shooter.

A review by SiRT, the province’s police watchdog, later found no charges were warranted.

“The investigation found that based on everything the officers had seen and heard since coming on duty and what they had observed at the time, they had reasonable grounds to believe that the male was the killer and someone who would continue his killing rampage. They discharged their weapons in order to prevent further deaths or serious injuries,” the report read.

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Read more: Nova Scotia to restrict possession of police gear almost year after mass shooting

The tragedy also forced governments to enact change. Nova Scotia announced plans to restrict access to used police gear, and the Mounties in Nova Scotia set nearly 7 tonnes of surplus gear ablaze.

The federal government put a moratorium on the sale of decommissioned RCMP cruisers, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada would be banning the sale, transportation and importation of assault-style firearms.

In December 2020, the shooter’s common-law-spouse — Lisa Banfield, her brother and brother-in-law were charged with providing him with the ammunition used in the rampage. According to the RCMP, an investigation concluded that the three “had no prior knowledge of the gunman’s actions on April 18 and 19.”

A lawsuit has been filed against the shooter’s estate by the relatives of victims, and was later amended to add Banfield, her brother and brother-in-law as defendants.

Click to play video: 'Three charged with providing ammunition to Nova Scotia shooter' Three charged with providing ammunition to Nova Scotia shooter
Three charged with providing ammunition to Nova Scotia shooter – Dec 7, 2020

A separate lawsuit has also been filed against the RCMP and province, while Banfield also has a lawsuit against the shooter’s estate.

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Families of the victims demanded a public inquiry, which was finally announced in July 2020 by federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair. The inquiry will look into the RCMP response, as well as gender-based violence, and is slated to deliver an interim report by May 1, 2021.

In the year since the attacks, more attention has been placed on mental health support and gender-based violence prevention.

In the days leading up to the first anniversary, 10 psychologists began offering up their service to help people cope.

A legacy society set up by the victims’ families and community members is raising money to create a permanent memorial to the victims.

But for families, healing is a long road that is made more difficult as the first anniversary of the tragedy draws near.

“It’s agonizing. We are re-living the immediate pain that we felt,” Jenny Kierstead, the sister of victim Lisa McCully, told Global News.

“That grief will be something I live with forever.”

Read more: How Nova Scotia schools have provided mental health support since shooting tragedy

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