Families of N.S. shooting spree victims ‘increasingly concerned’ about public inquiry

Click to play video: 'Public hearings for Nova Scotia shooting delayed by months'
Public hearings for Nova Scotia shooting delayed by months
WATCH: Tuesday was supposed to mark the beginning of another phase in the painful process of understanding the shooting spree that shook N.S. in April 2020. But public hearings are being delayed by months and some say that raises new questions about transparency in the process. Sarah Ritchie has more – Oct 25, 2021

Families of 22 people murdered in the April 2020 shooting spree in Nova Scotia say it’s time for public hearings into the tragedy to begin.

In a statement released by their lawyers Thursday, the families say they’ve become “increasingly concerned” by the fact that the Mass Casualty Commission has delayed public proceedings into the killing spree twice since they were supposed to start in October.

A full-scale public inquiry into the killing spree that terrorized parts of rural Nova Scotia was announced in July 2020 after protests by victims’ family members and the public.

The federal and provincial governments said the commission would hold public hearings to provide Canadians answers about what happened during the 13-hour-long killing spree and make recommendations about how to prevent future tragedies.

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The families say they’re also concerned by the lack of transparency from the commission, adding that they “continue to wait for meaningful assurances that a fulsome public inquiry is what they will receive.”

“Our clients are becoming increasingly concerned by these delays and the limited information being shared about what the public proceedings will entail, and what role those ‘most affected’ will be afforded in those public proceedings,” said lawyer Sandra McCulloch in a statement released to the media Thursday.

Click to play video: 'RCMP and CBSA subpoenaed by Nova Scotia’s mass shooting inquiry'
RCMP and CBSA subpoenaed by Nova Scotia’s mass shooting inquiry

In an interview with Global News, McCulloch said victims’ families are worried the ongoing delays will hinder the commission’s ability to do its work properly, while still meeting deadlines imposed by the government.

“The longer we delay getting started, the less time there is for the public inquiry,” McCulloch.

Public hearings at the inquiry were scheduled to begin in October. Two weeks before the start date, however, the commission said the hearings would be delayed until the end of January. The commission has since pushed this date back even further. Public hearings are now set to begin on Feb. 22.

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The commission must present an interim report to the government by May 1 and a final report by Dec. 1.

“The deadlines are what they are,” McCulloch said. “The interim report due date and the final report due date are coming up very fast and from our perspective, we haven’t really even begun.”

McCulloch said she and other lawyers representing the families don’t even know if they’ll be given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses during public proceedings, including members of the RCMP and other emergency response officials.

“Not having that opportunity… calls into question the integrity of that evidence, which is going to inform the final report,” McCulloch said.

When asked by Global News if the commission will allow lawyers representing victims’ families to question witnesses during public hearings, a spokesperson said any additional questions participants may have will be addressed through the course of the proceedings.

“The Commission has 61 participants, including those most affected, families, first responders and organizations. A public inquiry is different than a court process; we collaborate with and balance the needs and interests of each of our participants as well as the public,” said commission spokesperson Emily Hill.

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Hill added that the commission has worked with the families and their lawyers to make sure they have the most up-to-date information. This includes sharing “foundational documents” that outline the facts of what happened during the tragedy.

Global News has previously reported concerns raised by legal experts who argue too much of the commission’s work has taken place “behind closed doors.”

The commission was announced in July 2020 and began its work in January 2021. Since then, nearly all work has occurred in private sessions that the public and media can’t attend.

The commission has also been criticized for sharing draft copies of its foundational documents with interested groups, such as the RCMP, police unions and governments, without sharing that same information with the public.

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