N.S. premier defends mass shooting probe against criticism it lacks key powers
Published Friday, July 24, 2020 5:18PM ADT Last Updated Friday, July 24, 2020 10:32PM ADT
HALIFAX -- Premier Stephen McNeil says if panellists leading a review into Nova Scotia's recent mass shooting need more powers, he expects they will request them from his government.
The Liberal leader responded Friday to criticism from families, opposition parties, legal scholars and feminist groups about the format chosen for the probe into the rampage that resulted in the deaths of 22 people last April 18-19 in central and northern Nova Scotia.
Critics say Ottawa and the province should have ordered a public inquiry composed of open hearings and with the power to compel testimony.
Sandra McCulloch, a lawyer who represents families of 21 victims in a lawsuit against the RCMP, has said the review process announced Thursday is "wholly insufficient to meet the objectives of providing full and transparent answers to the families and the public."
McNeil said in June he believed the probe needed the power to compel witnesses to testify under oath. But now he supports the current process -- which lacks this feature.
He told reporters Friday he believes the review format will be sufficient and if necessary, the panellists can ask his government for assistance.
The panel will be led by the former chief justice of Nova Scotia, Michael MacDonald, who will be joined by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, and Leanne Fitch, the former chief of police in Fredericton.
"They (the panellists) believe this will allow them to get to the critical answers that those families want," McNeil said. "And I made it very clear if they are at a point where they need more power, and need more support to be able to get to those answers, come to our government and we'll respond to them."
He added, however, "I only have jurisdiction over those institutions which are provincial in nature."
The RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency, for instance, are under federal jurisdiction. But the premier said Friday those two agencies have committed to fully participate.
He contrasted the review of April's shooting with the provincial inquiry his government ordered into the Lionel Desmond case, which began earlier this year in Guysborough, N.S. That inquiry is looking into the circumstances surrounding the Afghan war veteran's suicide and his murder of his wife, Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother Brenda.
McNeil said the federal departments involved in the Desmond probe aren't directly participating and their officials can't be compelled to provide information.
He noted that in the current review process for April's mass shooting, the police said they will participate and provide information to panellists. The premier said he believes families of victims will learn answers to key questions.
"What was the relationship between the perpetrator and the RCMP? What was the response that night by law enforcement? ... What role did gender-based violence play? These are mandated in the terms of reference," McNeil said.
A feminist group that was among the first to call for an independent public inquiry said in a Friday news release the Liberal government's process falls short of what they'd hoped for. Nova Scotia Feminists Fighting Femicide said it stands in solidarity with the families in their desire for a public process.
"By not listening and responding to the public, our government is causing a loss of trust and undermining our democracy," the group said. "As feminists we are infuriated with this 'father knows best' patronizing process of proceeding with a review versus an inquiry."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2020.