Three years after the worst mass killing in modern Canadian history, some are wondering why more mental health support still hasn’t materialized.
During 22 hours beginning April 18, 2020, a gunman shot and killed 22 people — starting in Portapique, N.S.
As the province and country solemnly marked the grim anniversary on Tuesday, resident Shelley Tower is questioning why it’s taken so long to help the community.
“We need the gigantic response to the gigantic tragedy that happened here. But we’ve not got the gigantic help,” she said.
Tower has lived in the community of Bass River in Colchester County for 33 years. Her husband was born and raised there. Their children and grandson have also spent their lives there.
Since the tragedy, Tower said the community has changed. There’s a “burden” and a “sadness to this community.”
“People are not as quick to smile. They’re not as quick to laugh. Their eyes are dim. They walk slower,” she said.
“And the change in the camaraderie between people. The change in how we look at strangers. The change in daily interaction everywhere. People are becoming more isolated within their own groups, their own houses.“
That sense of sadness and change is what prompted Tower to plead for action — from all levels of government.
“Heal the community, help us heal, please help us heal. And it doesn’t have to be expensive things. Start with the children,” she said.
Tower said she’d like to see more activities brought to the community, the creation of gathering spaces, and the introduction of group grief counselling.
One recommendation from the Mass Casualty Commission’s final report, which was released at the end of last month, is that the provincial and federal governments jointly fund a program by May 1 to address the “public health emergency” in Colchester, Cumberland and Hants counties.
The report said the emergency was a result of an unmet need for mental health, grief and bereavement supports.
Despite the looming deadline, the province initially wouldn’t commit.
“I think it would be inappropriate to commit to that deadline today,” the province’s minister of addictions and mental health, Brian Comer, said on April 6.
In a new statement to Global News on Tuesday, Comer’s office said the team of deputy ministers dedicated to reviewing the recommendations are “actively working” to respond.
“This includes meeting the May 1 deadline for the recommendation you have noted,” the statement added.
“As we move forward, we will do so in a way that honours families, survivors and communities.”
Alec Stratford, the executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, said the delay to date shows there is often “a lack of understanding of the amount of hurt and grief and pain that exists” after such tragedy.
Stratford said there needs to be a recognition that “grief comes in waves, it comes in different points in time. It’s not just bringing over a lasagna to someone and then having that pain go away.”
“Mental health is progressive,” he added. “If we can support folks earlier, then it can make a huge difference in terms of needing that higher level of psychiatric care.”
He acknowledged that there is a lack of clinicians who specialize in grief and bereavement, which proves to be a challenge. That’s why, he said, it’s important for government and stakeholders to “grow that skillset” and talk about mental health differently.
Meanwhile, Colchester County resident Shelley Tower is remaining hopeful. She described the people of the community as kind, generous and supportive — up until the massacre.
All she wants is to return to that feeling of optimism.
“Communities can’t do it themselves right now, so somebody has to help.”