'We have got to have someplace to put our trust': High expectations for the Mass Casualty Commission
Members of the Mass Casualty Commission visited the small Nova Scotia community where last year's April tragedy began as part of its fact-finding work.
The Commission had issued a community notice on its website regarding its visit to Portapique at the end of May.
The site visit began at 9 a.m. Friday.
"Today, the focus is on the work that Nova Scotians expect us to be doing," said Barbara McLean, investigations director with the commission.
"It's important for those most impacted, it's important to Nova Scotians to see we're in the community, advancing the work of the Commission," said McLean.
A native of Antigonish, N.S., McLean is deputy police chief of the Toronto Police Service with 31 years of policing experience.
She and several other members of the investigation, legal, research, and communities outreach teams spent time walking the dirt roads in and around the area where the 2020 April massacre began on the night of April 18.
Twenty-two people were killed during the shooter's 13-hour rampage, including a pregnant mother.
McLean said it is important to the commission to visit all communities in Colchester County affected by the events of the tragedy.
"To have an understanding of the physical layout, the geography," said McLean, "that will help us understand the context and circumstances of what happened here."
Tom Taggart, the municipal councillor for District 10 in Colchester County, which includes Portapique, says he has been helping the commission liaise with members of the community.
"I think that they understand the trauma that's sometimes created when strangers arrive in their community," said Taggart.
Taggart said he's glad to see the team of experts on the ground doing their work.
He has high expectations for the commission when it comes to finding answers for Nova Scotians.
"I want to hold their feet to the fire," he said. "I have questions I want them to answer."
Taggart said the commission has its work cut out for it, as many have been left grappling with a mistrust of the authorities involved in investigating what happened.
"They've got a huge challenge before them," he said, "to regain the trust of those residents and the community."
Taggart is among three Colchester County councillors who issued a statement Thursday, condemning the recent publication of audio from three 911 calls made from Portapique that fatal night.
Councillors Lisa Patton and Marie Benoit were also part of the statement, which read in part.
"…we are extremely concerned for the harm caused to families who were re-traumatized by the content of (the) 911 recordings released…we believe this to be absolutely deplorable."
AUDIO OF CALLS SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED
While the councillors acknowledge the content of the calls is important, they say the audio should never have been published by a Halifax-based magazine.
The calls have not been independently verified by CTV, but the audio indicates at least three callers to 911 that night shared details of the killer's replica police car early on.
That information was not shared with the public until a tweet from the Nova Scotia RCMP 12 hours later.
Both Patton and Benoit say that's cause to question the RCMP's actions.
"The higher-ups (at the RCMP) need to say what happened, if mistakes were made," says Benoit. "That's the only way I think they might get some trust back within the communities and the families."
"There were a lot of mistakes made," said Patton, "Just own them, that's all we ask."
Dalhousie University professor emeritus of law Wayne MacKay agrees.
"It now appears that contrary to what police had said at the time, and even more recently," MacKay said, "they did know about the police car fairly early on."
MacKay says the Mass Casualty Commission would have access to 911 calls as part of the evidence gathered for its examination.
He says the latest details raise questions around why an emergency alert was not issued during the tragedy.
"How many lives might have been saved here," MacKay says, "I think that is now accentuated yet again."
As recently as Thursday, the Nova Scotia RCMP have maintained investigators only confirmed details of the shooter's vehicle on the morning of April 19th.
Finding answers to these questions, and more, now part of the task facing the Mass Casualty Commission.
"We have got to have someplace to put our trust," says Taggart, "and I'm hoping it's them."