It’s been two years since the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history unfolded in Nova Scotia, but for many, the grief and devastation of the tragic weekend in April is still fresh in their minds.
Over the course of 13 hours on April 18 and 19, 2020, a gunman disguised as a Mountie murdered 22 people – including a pregnant woman – during a rampage across northern and central Nova Scotia.
The families and loved ones of the victims left behind in the wake of the tragedy continue to mourn, even as they fight for answers, according to Sandra McCulloch, a lawyer with Patterson Law, who is representing the majority of the victims’ families.
“In a lot of instances, the weight of what happened is just as heavy today as it was two years ago,” said McCulloch.
“They’re continuing to work their way through their grief, and work their way through the tragedy that they’ve experienced and continue to wear today.”
Since the tragedy, the family members of those killed have been at the forefront of efforts to uncover the truth of what happened during the fateful weekend, successfully pushing for a public inquiry in the months after the shootings.
But now that the Mass Casualty Commission‘s public hearings are underway, McCulloch said there have been a “wide range of feelings” weighing on her clients.
She said so far, the inquiry has not been “cathartic” for the families, many of whom are still feeling like they have to fight for answers.
“It’s very difficult,” she said.
“I think that it’s fair to say that for many of our clients, it generates negative feelings, knowing that here we are, we’re at the two-year mark and we still are fighting to hear from witnesses, and understand people’s experiences, and unpack some of the limited information that’s available there.”
Throughout the ordeal, the families have been “extraordinary” as they continue to fight for answers while working through their complicated feelings, said McCulloch.
In observance of the tragedy, the Mass Casualty Commission’s public hearings are paused this week and will resume on Monday.
Tragedy ‘affected all of us’
Christine Blair, the mayor of the Municipality of the County of Colchester, said while the loved ones of those murdered are by far the most impacted, the tragedy has “affected all of us.”
“There’s no question of that,” Blair said in a recent interview.
“I’ve had people talk to me about the anxiety they’ve felt when they’ve met an RCMP car on the road, or they hear the siren of a firetruck, or you don’t want to walk in front of your window.
“Those things are just conversations, but can you imagine the suffering that is behind that? And this is something that needs to be addressed.”
Blair said the Mass Casualty Commission has a job to do, and said the loved ones of those who were killed deserve to have answers.
Still, the inquiry has been retraumatizing for them, she said, and she called for a “trauma team” to be set up in the community to help people deal with the trauma they continue to live with.
Blair said all levels of government need to work together to make it happen.
“I see that as something that still needs to be done,” she said. “That gap still needs to be filled and I don’t think it’s too late to do it.”
She said the families of the victims did not want events to mark the anniversary, but said the community had plans to observe moments of silence on both Monday and Tuesday.
“That’s something that’s the very least we can do,” said Blair.
“This marks the day … of remembrance, but the families are living with this on a day-to-day basis and they’re trying to adjust their lives.
“So please, remember them. Keep them in your prayers.”
Tom Taggart, the MLA for Colchester North, said it’s clear that many people in Portapique, where the rampage began, and the surrounding communities are still traumatized from the events of April 18 and 19, 2020.
“There’s many of them that still have trouble sleeping at night. There’s people that have told me that they get up in the night to go to the bathroom and they check every window in the house. People who don’t lock their doors ever … they’re locking their doors now,” he said.
“The people that were traumatized are still traumatized. There are no two ways about it.”
Rebuilding in the wake of tragedy
Taggart took note of the many people who were affected by the shootings even though they may not have been a loved one of the victims.
“In a sense, those folks are forgotten, in that they don’t have legal representation or legal standing in the inquiry, but they were there, they lived through it,” he said.
“I think we need to understand and we need to recognize what they went through.”
But throughout this time, the resiliency of the community has shone through, said Taggart.
Last week, Nova Scotia Lt.- Gov. Arthur J. LeBlanc presented a Community Spirit Award to Portapique in recognition of a project intended to “build up” the small town, which was launched in the wake of the tragedy.
Taggart said about 75 people turned up to the ceremony, many of whom were young children. The MLA said the recognition of the community’s work shows the strength of its people, who continue to rebuild after such heartache and devastation.
“They are kind of looking after each other … I think they’ve gained that real sense of community,” said Taggart.
“I like to say there’s better days ahead, and so they’re getting there.”
— with files from Eilish Bonang