"It's what we were looking for at the beginning"; N.S. premier McNeil on inquiry
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil says his government is 100% committed to the public inquiry into the April mass shooting that claimed 22 lives in the province.
“It’s a joint inquiry, it’s what we were looking at from the very beginning,” said McNeil during a live interview with CTV Atlantic's Steve Murphy on Tuesday. “It is critical for us that both levels of government be at the table so all of our agencies can be brought forward to testify.”
The federal government is now pursuing a full public inquiry, under the authority of the Inquiries Act and it will include the power to summon witnesses, require them to give evidence under oath and produce documents the commissioners deem required.
“When we started we were looking for a joint inquiry because it’s critical that the federal government be at the table. It was clear that wasn’t going to be an option at the beginning,” explained McNeil. “So we looked at how can we best get the answers that families want, the answers that all of us want? And we need the federal government at the table. We cannot compel federal agencies to come to an inquiry, we needed the federal government to be at the table to do that.”
The announcement comes after Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey announced on Tuesday that he was now in support of the calls for a full inquiry into the shooting, citing the political pressure from some parliamentarians who have challenged the federal and provincial governments’ decision to launch a joint review rather than a public inquiry.
In the statement, Furey said he has heard the calls from Nova Scotians and “a number of federal MPs” who have come out against their own government’s decision to opt for a joint review. He said that if the federal government agrees to instead pursue an inquiry that would see the RCMP and other federal agencies testify, he would support it.
There had been a growing chorus of complaints about the joint review, which was to be led by a three-member panel.
A series of protests were organized across the province, including by family members of victims.
“We obviously missed the mark,” says McNeil of the initial announcement of a review. “Families were not happy, we understood that, we know that there was a lot of anxiety over the past number of days and for that I am sorry.”
Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced the inquiry on Tuesday after five Liberal MPs from Nova Scotia broke ranks and openly challenged their own government's decision, which was announced only last week.
McNeil says that he told those MPs that he was in favour of an inquiry, and that they would need to go back to the federal government with the request.
“We could not have a provincial inquiry without the federal government at the table. We just wouldn’t be able to get the answers that families wanted,” said McNeil. “The federal government did not want that. They wanted to say can we do with this review, and we worked with them. Federal MP’s came out to today and made it sound like that’s not where the province wanted to be, we made it very clear to them today, go back to your government, we’re all in for an inquiry, its what we looked for three months ago. Obviously they did and the government listened and we’re looking forward to listening to them.”
Blair confirmed the three original panel members had agreed to serve as commissioners to guide the inquiry.
They are Michael MacDonald, a former chief justice of Nova Scotia, Anne McLellan, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of police in Fredericton.
“I haven’t talked to the panel members at any point,” said McNeil. “I’m grateful that the three of them are continuing on and I made it clear last week that at any point during this process, if they needed more authority, they could ask our government and we would deliver it to them. It was important for us that it would be independent, and I’m grateful that these three distinguished Canadians have stayed on and will see this through.”
The victims' families have said they wanted a system that can compel testimony about the RCMP's response during the shootings in northern and central Nova Scotia, as well as its prior knowledge of the gunman's alleged criminal behaviour.
Feminist groups have called for an investigation into the issue of domestic abuse, noting the killer had abused his common-law partner.
“We kept staying focused on how we can answer the questions for families,” said McNeil. “What happened that night between law enforcement and the perpetrator? How could the perpetrator have a marked vehicle that everyone seemed to know about? How did we get guns illegally brought into our province? Why wasn’t the national alert system running? All of those require the national government and their agencies to be at the table, and we needed to stay focused on ensuring that we could answer those questions.”
Considered among the worst mass murders in Canadian history, 22 people were killed by a gunman who evaded police for hours between April 18-19, burning down properties in the Portapique, N.S. area before being shot and killed by police at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 100 kilometres from where the spree began.
With files from CTV Ottawa's Rachel Aiello and The Canadian Press.