As the third anniversary of the Nova Scotia mass shooting approaches, Tammy Oliver-McCurdie is preparing for a simple ritual to remind her of the loved ones she lost.
She is the older sister of Jolene Oliver, who on the night of April 18, 2020, was gunned down in Portapique, N.S., by a man disguised as a Mountie. The killer also shot Jolene’s partner, Aaron Tuck, and the couple’s 17-year-old daughter, Emily Tuck.
On Tuesday, Oliver-McCurdie says she will spend time looking at old photographs and videos of the family, a way for her to grieve privately, away from what she calls “the noise” that so often accompanies discussion of the mass shooting.
“We still don’t know what happened in my family’s home, and none of this three-year process has given my family that,” she said Friday in an interview from her home in Red Deer, Alta. “The anniversary is very much a grieving process with anger.”
In the months ahead, Oliver-McCurdie plans to make a mission of ensuring action is taken on the 130 recommendations from a public inquiry that investigated why it took the RCMP 13 hours to stop a man who killed 22 people in Nova Scotia on April 18-19, 2020.
The inquiry also looked into what happened before and after the murders to determine how to prevent a similar tragedy.
“The changes are necessary to save lives,” Oliver-McCurdie said. “My job is, I will be checking every six months, and if they’re not done, we (the victims’ families) may have to get loud again.”
But there are lingering concerns that little, if anything, will change, especially when it comes to the RCMP.
“In the shadow of the worst mass casualty in modern Canadian history, it would be tragic if we didn’t see meaningful reform (toward) the kind of culture that the RCMP is going to require as we move into a different era of policing,” says Cal Corley, a former assistant commissioner of the RCMP.
“They have been slow adopters at every turn in the last 35 or 40 years.”
The Mass Casualty Commission spent two-and-a-half years investigating the tragedy. The federal-provincial inquiry heard that the killer assaulted his common-law wife and then fatally shot 13 people in Portapique, N.S., while driving a car that looked exactly like an RCMP cruiser. The next day, he killed another nine people before two RCMP officers shot him to death at a gas station north of Halifax.
Less than three weeks ago, the commission released a 3,000-page final report. Among other things, it calls on Ottawa to rethink the RCMP’s central role in Canadian policing.
Corley says changes within the RCMP will not take hold unless the roles and responsibilities of senior government officials and RCMP management are clarified. And the inquiry has recommended the RCMP take steps to “disrupt the unhealthy aspects of the RCMP’s management culture.”
But the commission’s recommendations are non-binding. It can’t compel the RCMP or either level of government to do anything.
And if history is a guide, says Corley, it is unlikely that much will change. He is CEO of the Community Safety Knowledge Alliance, a non-profit agency that supports governments, police and others in developing new approaches to community safety and well-being.
“The (commission) looked back on a history of 71 inquiries and reviews, which had a combined total of 2,000 recommendations,” Corley said in a recent interview. “Many of those continue to go unfulfilled.”
In a bid to ensure its recommendations are not ignored, the commission has called on Ottawa and Nova Scotia to establish a so-called implementation and accountability body by May 31.
But the RCMP has dodged that kind of body before, Corley says, citing a 2007 task force on rebuilding trust in the RCMP. It recommended creation of a so-called implementation council. The task force made 48 other recommendations aimed at changing the culture of the RCMP, but most of those ideas went nowhere, Corley says.
Christopher Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University in Manitoba, says two of the commission’s most important recommendations are unlikely to become reality, mainly because of politics.
The inquiry heard that the killer, Gabriel Wortman, was armed with four illegally obtained semi-automatic weapons when he started his rampage. The commission wants the Criminal Code changed to “prohibit all semi-automatic handguns and all semi-automatic rifles,” as well as shotguns that discharge centrefire ammunition and accept detachable magazines with capacities of more than five rounds.
“It’s not going to be realized,” Schneider said, pointing to the federal Liberal government’s decision in February to back away from a similar proposal. Parliament, however, is still debating the gun-control legislation introduced last May by the Liberals, which has sparked opposition from gun groups.
Meanwhile, the commission’s recommendation to shut down the RCMP’s training academy in Regina by 2032 is also doomed to fail, said Schneider, an expert on policing issues. Earlier this month, the Saskatchewan legislature approved a motion to oppose the closure of Depot Division, which has been used to train Mounties since 1885. Federal members of Parliament from the area are also opposed to the move.
“It’s unfortunate and it’s tragic that we won’t be able to seriously talk about implementing some of these changes because of the politics at play,” Schneider said. “(The commission) does not have any teeth to legally compel the RCMP to do anything.”
The commission’s work won’t produce results unless Canadians put pressure on their elected representatives, he said.
“I think most people can agree that there needs to be some serious, systemic changes to policing in this country to ensure that something like this never happens again,” Schneider said. “But getting buy-in is difficult.”
Deadlines for key Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry recommendations
The federal-provincial inquiry into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting last month published a 3,000-page final report with dozens of recommendations. Here is a look at the deadlines attached to some key proposals:
May 1, 2023
The Canadian and Nova Scotia governments should pay for a program to address the “public health emergency” in Nova Scotia’s Colchester, Cumberland and Hants counties — the areas most affected by the mass shooting. The commission says people in these areas desperately need mental health, grief and bereavement support.
May 31, 2023
The federal and provincial governments should establish a committee to ensure the inquiry’s recommendations are implemented. Its members should be appointed by Sept. 1, 2023, following consultations with inquiry participants and representatives of the affected communities.
The RCMP commissioner should provide to the responsible minister and the RCMP’s management board a document that explains the criteria on which the RCMP selects its commissioned officers and those in equivalent civilian roles. This document should include an explanation of how the RCMP will change these criteria to “disrupt the unhealthy aspects of the RCMP’s management culture.”
Nova Scotia should establish a council that will review the structure of policing in the province. It should make recommendations before the 2032 expiration of the Provincial Police Services Agreement.
The federal government should establish a “resource hub” that will provide a standard level of care to those affected by mass shootings.
Ottawa should enact legislation to create a “prevention-first approach” to public safety across Canada. The legal framework would recognize that social determinants of health are key to community safety. Among other things, these factors include income, education, job security, diet, housing, access to health services.
The RCMP should commission a review of its critical incident response training and how it handles public communications.
Ottawa should establish a Community Safety and Well-Being Leadership Council. Its role would be to draft strategies for addressing social issues and prevention.
Provincial and territorial governments should each enact laws to create a statutory framework for community safety and well-being initiatives.
The RCMP and other police services should review their systems for uniform inventory and disposal.
The RCMP commissioner should provide semi-annual written updates to the responsible minister and the RCMP’s Management Advisory Board on its progress in addressing the commission’s recommendations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2023.