Ottawa initially refused to hold joint inquiry into mass killing: N.S. minister
Published Thursday, July 30, 2020 6:38PM ADT
Nova Scotia's justice minister is insisting he privately pushed Ottawa for a full federal-provincial public inquiry into the April mass shooting, but he alleged today that federal officials refused to endorse that kind of investigation. Then-Attorney General Mark Furey, left, fields a question as Bret Mitchellin, CEO of the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation, looks on at a news conference in Halifax, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's justice minister says he privately pushed Ottawa for a full federal-provincial public inquiry into the April mass shooting but federal officials initially rejected the idea.
Mark Furey says that's why the province chose to go along with the less rigorous independent review announced last week. That move was widely criticized, and it was reversed Tuesday with the creation by Ottawa and the province of a joint public inquiry.
"The whole objective was to have the federal government participate in a federal-provincial joint inquiry," Furey said Thursday after a cabinet meeting in Halifax.
"In the absence of our ability to get the federal government to participate in a federal-provincial joint inquiry, we ... were successful in those discussions ... to land on a review."
He said the discussions involved federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and his officials.
A spokeswoman for the Public Safety Department issued a statement Thursday, but it did not address Furey's claim.
"We have been in close contact with minister Furey and the government of Nova Scotia since those days in April, and have worked collaboratively to ensure Nova Scotians had access to timely and thorough information," press secretary Mary-Liz Power said.
"Following the calls from families, victims, Nova Scotia members of Parliament and advocates, we concluded that a public inquiry was required."
The announcement of a joint review last Thursday was met with criticism from the relatives of victims who said the process would not offer as much transparency and legal clout as a full inquiry, which has the power to hold public hearings and compel witnesses to give evidence.
On Tuesday, several Liberal MPs from Nova Scotia came forward to publicly challenge their own government's decision -- and Furey later issued a statement saying the province also wanted a joint public inquiry. Blair agreed to the change a few hours later.
However, Furey's call for a joint public inquiry Tuesday was the first time he publicly declared his preference.
For the past three months, Furey and Premier Stephen McNeil have repeatedly said they wanted to make sure the federal government was at the table for some sort of inquiry or review, but neither politician stated what they preferred.
After the cabinet meeting Thursday, McNeil did not answer directly when asked why he did not tell the public what type of investigation he wanted -- an issue that proved to be a sore point for the victims' families.
"It was critical for us ... to have all of the players at the table," he said. "Those families deserve the answers to the questions that they have, many of which are related to federal agencies. We believed a review would achieve that. The families have expressed a very different view."
Earlier in the week, the premier apologized to the victims' families for the back-and-forth over how the rampage that left 22 dead would be investigated.
Like the premier, Furey said the key was to keep federal government at the table, mainly because any review or inquiry would be asked to investigate the role of the RCMP, the federal firearms registry, the Canada Border Services Agency, Criminal Intelligence Canada and the federal public alert system.
On another front, Furey said Ottawa had refused when the province asked for a federal-provincial inquiry to investigate the case of former soldier Lionel Desmond, who killed his mother, wife and daughter in their rural Nova Scotia home before turning the gun on himself in January 2017.
The province's chief medical examiner eventually decided on a provincial fatality inquiry, which started earlier this year.
McNeil has said that inquiry is lacking because the federal government is not a full partner in the probe.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2020.