Relatives, legal experts say N.S. should begin work on inquiry into mass killing
Published Monday, April 27, 2020 2:36PM ADT Last Updated Monday, April 27, 2020 7:42PM ADT
HALIFAX -- Nova Scotians struggling with the devastating aftermath of a mass shooting are looking for a commitment from the province's leaders to set up a public inquiry to help answer a long list of unanswered questions.
Nick Beaton, the husband of a continuing care assistant who was killed on her way to work during this month's massacre, said Monday an inquiry is needed to examine a number of issues, including the way the RCMP communicates with the public during a mass shooting.
Beaton said that had there been an emergency alert issued after the shooter left the Portapique area -- where 13 people were killed -- he believes his wife Kristen would still be alive.
"There definitely needs to be an inquiry, no mistakes about it," he said in an interview, adding that a lack of clear information about the weekend's events has led him to start his own investigation.
"How do we know? We don't know anything because they're not telling us anything."
Beaton said he feels the RCMP's upper management failed to communicate the extent of the threat by detailing it in a series of tweets, rather than an emergency alert that would have appeared on smartphones and television screens.
But the issue of the emergency alert is just one of many arising from the rampage that resulted in 22 deaths in five communities over the weekend, Beaton said.
Police have said the attacker, Gabriel Wortman, had access to a handgun and long guns he didn't have a licence for, including some weapons obtained in the United States, but they haven't release details of how Wortman gained access to them.
It's also unclear how the denturist managed to slip through a police perimeter around Portapique.
RCMP have also yet to indicate how the attacker came to own at least four replica police vehicles, including the one with a light-bar and accurate paint job he drove on the days of the killings.
In addition, there are questions about the underlying issues of motive in the crime.
The RCMP has already stated that Wortman began his massacre after a domestic dispute with his girlfriend on Saturday evening, saying this was a possible catalyst to the chain of events that unfolded.
Archie Kaiser, a professor at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law, says a wide-ranging inquiry could look at issues such as what role misogyny played.
"There's been suggestions that what fuelled this was hatred against women that exploded into violence," he said in a telephone interview.
Kaiser said Premier Stephen McNeil should promise to hold a wide-ranging public inquiry and have justice officials begin the groundwork under the Public Inquiries Act.
McNeil has said he's asked Attorney General Mark Furey, a former RCMP officer, to look into the possibility of an inquiry.
Furey wasn't immediately available for comment Monday, but the provincial Justice Department said in a statement that it would be "premature" to consider a public inquiry at this stage.
There is a police investigation underway into such issues as how the killer obtained weapons, police lookalike vehicles and RCMP clothing.
However, Kaiser said this is not necessarily information that will be fully released to the public.
Beaton agrees, saying his trust in the force has fallen, and he's been conducting his own inquiries.
"I should be able to sit here, raise my three-year-old son, grieving. I shouldn't be having to run around and put things together myself," said the widower.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia's police watchdog is investigating why two RCMP officers started shooting at a fire hall on Sunday morning even though the suspect is not believed to have been in the vicinity.
Again, Kaiser notes that the Serious Incident Response Team's inquiry will be limited in scope to produce findings on whether charges should be laid against officers. He said the agency generally doesn't comment on wider issues of police handling of the incident.
Brian Sauve, president of the National Police Federation that represents front-line RCMP officers, said an inquiry is needed, but it should occur following the completion of the criminal investigation and the SIRT inquiry.
"As late as a year down the road, something could be underway," he said.
The leader of the union that represents police also said it's important that a public inquiry not be focused solely on the 12 hours of actions by police during the rampage, but also look at underlying issues leading to the crimes.
"Did our health-care system fail? Did people who might have been looking for early intervention actually get it? Did the bad guy actually ever reach out for help?" the union leader said.
In terms of domestic violence, Sauve wants to know if early warning signs were missed.
A sister of a man Wortman killed said she remains uncertain of what form of public inquiry should occur, as she's still struggling with the shock and grief of the death of loved ones.
Kelly Blair, whose brother Greg was murdered by Wortman in Portapique alongside his wife Jamie, said: "We know what happened. But none of us can comprehend it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2020