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N.S. shooting inquiry could allow senior RCMP officers to testify by videotape

CTV News has learned the Mass Casualty Commission, which is investigating Nova Scotia’s mass shooting, has been asked not to put several senior RCMP officers on the stand -- but rather to allow their testimony by videotape.

It’s not clear exactly who those officers are, and what the specific reason for the request is, but a lawyer representing many of the families and individuals affected by the tragedy says the submission from the National Police Federation and the Attorney General of Canada includes officers involved in making crucial decisions during the killing rampage on April 18-19, 2020.

“Our clients are incredibly upset over this turn of events,” says Sandra McCulloch.

The commission’s rules allow for such accommodations to be made for witnesses, at the discretion of the commissioners. McCulloch says the commission’s counsel has recommended the move.

But she believes allowing RCMP officers to testify by videotape would hamper her ability to seek answers on behalf of her clients, many of whom are family members of the 22 victims.

“Our participation will be limited to offering questions in writing that commission counsel may or may not pose to them, as far as we can see,” says McCulloch.

It appears another RCMP witness has asked to give testimony in a closed room with only the commissioners and commission counsel present.

“And whether or not we would be able to do any sort of follow-up in the way that we have been doing with witnesses to date is entirely unclear,” says McCulloch.

“Our clients feel they're going to be just ‘told’ some information and that's just not satisfactory to them,” she adds.

Her firm, and those representing other families, can submit arguments against the move to the Mass Casualty Commission in writing. The commissioners would make their decision after that.

Expert observers say the commission’s decision requires a balance between its trauma-informed mandate and fact-finding.

“So any accommodations that seem less than exposing them to full cross-examination is likely going to be criticized,” said Wayne Mackay, a professor emeritus of law at Dalhousie University.

“The commission has no choice really but to accept any application to not have face-to-face testimony,” says Chris Lewis, public safety analyst for CTV News.

RCMP Cpl. Chris Marshall said the commission rules and procedures allow for accommodations to be made for witnesses to provide their evidence.

“It would not be appropriate for there to be any further comments on applications for accommodation that have not been decided on by the commissioners,” said Marshall.

Emily Hill, senior counsel for the Mass Casualty Commission, did respond to the issue in a statement provided to CTV News, which reads in part:

“Accommodations ensure that the Commission receives the information it needs from witnesses to do its work in the best way possible … all testimony will be shared with the public and the media through public proceedings, interview transcripts, and on the website,” writes Hill.

 Hill also notes witness accommodation requests “involve sensitive personal health information,” and protecting their privacy means “subpoenaed witnesses with wellness issues may make a request for special arrangements to facilitate their testimony; however, the Commissioners retain the ultimate discretion as to whether, and to what extent, such requests will be accommodated.”

The National Police Federation has declined to comment. Top Stories

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