RCMP officers who responded to the Nova Scotia shooting spree that left 22 people dead in April 2020 shouldn’t be made to give live testimony before the public inquiry tasked with investigating the killings, according to the union that represents them.
Nasha Nijhawan, a lawyer for the National Police Federation, which represents roughly 20,000 regular duty and reservist RCMP members across Canada, told the inquiry Wednesday that it’s required to take a “trauma-informed approach” to investigating the killings and that asking RCMP officers to testify would be contrary to its mandate.
“(The officers) wish to be helpful. In fact, they wish so much to be helpful that they may be willing to extend themselves beyond what is appropriate for their own wellness,” Nijhawan said.
“And so it would be our submission that you should not ask them to do too much, you should ask them to do what is necessary.”’
Nijhawan said the inquiry must also measure the usefulness of any RCMP testimony against the additional trauma testifying might cause.
“Of course, it would be best if everybody could explain in their own first-person voice what they experienced. But at what cost?” Nijhawan said.
“We should look at what evidence is already available, what questions must be asked of the members, and find ways to allow them to participate meaningfully in a trauma-informed way, which in our submission will not include live testimony”
Lawyers representing victims’ families countered these arguments, saying it’s essential that RCMP officers with important information about what happened during the killing spree testify. And if assessments are done to determine whether an officer is fit to testify, they should be done on an individual basis.
“Police have a very difficult job. Part of that job often requires testifying,” said Joshua Bryson, a lawyer who represents the family of victims Joy and Peter Bond. “To suggest that these members be disqualified from testifying … is very concerning to the participants.”
Bryson added that accepting that officers are, in general, too traumatized to provide live testimony before the commission is potentially “precedent-setting,” meaning it could result in officers being excused from testifying in other legal proceedings.
“In our view, it acts as a barrier for this commission to fulfill its mandate, which is to understand what happened, why it happened, the circumstances of what happened and making recommendations going forward,” he said.
It is expected that the inquiry will discuss an expert report Thursday submitted by the police union that explains why officers shouldn’t be made to give live testimony.
Bryson and other lawyers argued this report is not valuable and shouldn’t be considered by the commission because the expert in question has not treated or reviewed the medical records of the RCMP officers who responded to the shooting spree.
It’s unclear when a decision will be made on whether RCMP officers will testify and in what capacity. This decision ultimately rests with the three commissioners tasked with leading the inquiry.