'We recognize that those most affected want answers': participants of inquiry into N.S. mass shooting announced
HALIFAX -- The joint federal-provincial inquiry into the April 2020 tragedy in Nova Scotia made its first public presentation Thursday, and announced who will be participating in its proceedings.
The Mass Casualty Commission is tasked with examining the events leading up to and including April 18 and 19, during which a gunman killed 22 people in over a 13-hour rampage throughout a number of Nova Scotia communities.
In March, the Commission issued a call for applications from individuals and groups with direct interest in the subjects being examined by the inquiry.
In a news release, the Commission says it received 60 applications for participation. In Thursday's virtual announcement, it released the names of individuals and organizations that will be part of the proceedings.
"People continue to be affected by what happened, and many will be watching the work of the Commission closely," said Commission Chair, Michael MacDonald.
Among the participants are those the Commission calls "those most affected" – which includes 15 families of those killed in the tragedy.
"My expectation is that all of them will testify if called upon," said the lawyer representing the families, Robert Pineo, in an interview with CTV News.
Survivors who were in the small village of Portapique, where the shooter began his rampage, will also be taking part.
The Chief and Deputy Chief of the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade – where shots were fired by RCMP officers during the intense manhunt on April 19th – were also selected to participate.
The shooter's common law spouse, Lisa Banfield, is also listed.
"My clients will finally be able to ask her some of the questions that they've had from the beginning," says Pineo.
Twenty-five organizations are also on the list of participants, including victims' advocacy groups, health unions, along with organizations focusing on social justice and gender-focused issues.
In a news release, The Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) said, "It will be critical for the Commission to examine the relationship between the horrific events of April 2020 and intimate partner violence."
The Avalon Sexual Assault Centre and Wellness Within will be working as a coalition with LEAF on the issue during the inquiry.
"It's to ensure that all aspects of the severity and implications of what happened is taken into account, " said Jackie Stevens, the Centre's Executive Director.
"Like many other feminist organizations and anti-violence organizations across the country, [we]very quickly identified that there was a correlation between gender-based violence, misogyny, and the mass shooting, and felt that it was very important that responses acknowledged that and worked from that framework," said Stevens.
But the participation of groups centered around gender-based violence is a sticking point for some of the victims' families.
"They don't want too much of the inquiry taken up on that aspect of it," says Pineo. "They want to make sure that the main questions about why this happened, how this happened, and the events afterwards concerning communication are answered."
Police organizations are also participating, including the Truro Police Service, the National Police Federation, and the Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association.
In a statement to CTV, the head of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP members across the country, said the Federation "(looks) forward to participating in the Commission to help fulfil its mandate to conduct a comprehensive public inquiry."
"Properly executed, the Commission will determine what happened and, most importantly, what factors led to this tragic event," writes Brian Sauvé. "We will take the opportunity to represent and advocate for RCMP Members directly involved in the tragic mass shooting in Portapique."
The Chief of the Truro Police Service, Dave MacNeil, told CTV in an email "since we are the only other police service in Colchester County, we felt it was important to be part of this work as this tragedy has impacted our communities greatly."
Two firearms groups will also participate: The Canadian Coalition for Gun Control and the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights.
The Commissioners on the inquiry are former chief justice of Nova Scotia J. Michael Macdonald, retired Fredericton Police chief Leanne Fitch, and attorney Kim Stanton.
The Commission has set up offices in Halifax and Truro.
It is scheduled to deliver its final report and recommendations in November 2022.
In wrapping up its virtual proceeding, Commissioner Kim Stanton said, "We recognize that those most affected, and the public generally, want answers."
With no word yet on when the Commission's hearings will begin, and its final report scheduled to be delivered in November 2022, those answers will take time to come.