Women’s groups call for public inquiry into Nova Scotia mass shooting

But that's likely months away as legal wrangling over the release of search warrant documents related to the RCMP's investigation continues in court

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      More than two dozen women’s groups have joined a growing chorus calling for a public inquiry into last April’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

      In a letter to Nova Scotia justice minister Mark Furey, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, and federal Justice Minister David Lametti dated July 7, the directors of 26 women’s organizations expressed “shock” at the delay in calling for an inquiry.

      In particular, the groups say that recent statements made by Furey that the province plans to take a “restorative justice” approach to any future federal-provincial inquiry are of “grave concern.”

      The groups, which include women’s groups working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence from B.C. to PEI, point out that there has been a moratorium placed on restorative justice approaches to offences involving domestic and sexual violence in Nova Scotia.

      The groups say the litany of questions surrounding the case and “the institutional and individual responses to allegations of domestic violence,” require the scrutiny of a public inquiry.

      A restorative justice approach “would most likely involve bringing select people together in circles, meeting with different cohorts privately.

      “The public outcry for a public inquiry,” the groups say, “was not a demand to have discrete groups of affected individuals participate in a series of private meetings. The demand was for transparency and accountability—for a fully open process.”

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been quoted on several occasions on the need for a public inquiry into the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history, which left 22 people dead.

      He’s connected the shooting to the need for stricter gun control legislation and the banning of assault rifles. And he said during a COVID-19 press briefing last month that questions around a history of domestic violence surrounding gunman Gabriel Wortman, as well as where he got the RCMP uniform and other police equipment used in the rampage, also need to be answered.

      Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil also expressed concerns very early on about why an amber alert wasn’t issued by the RCMP until Wortman’s 13-hour shooting spree was almost over. He later backtracked on that.

      But as more contentious details have emerged about the RCMP’s handling of the massacre—including speculation that Wortman may have been an RCMP informant—there has been more dodging than action on the question of an inquiry.

      A Nova Scotia judge, meanwhile, has denied an application brought by the CBC and other media organizations for full access to some 17 search warrants and documents related to the RCMP’s investigation into the case.

      A batch of seven search warrants with redactions has already been released by the courts.

      David Coles, the lawyer representing the CBC and other media outlets, argued for the complete release of information in the remaining documents in court proceedings held by teleconference earlier this month. Both the provincial and federal Crown attorneys’ offices in Nova Scotia challenged the request saying that complete access to the documents may compromise the RCMP’s investigation into the killing spree. The Crown also cited the privacy considerations of the family members of victims.

      Complicating the release of the information are ongoing investigations of the Canada Border Services Agency, which is tracing illegal guns used by Wortman during his rampage, and the Serious Incident Response Team in Nova Scotia, which is investigating the circumstances surrounding Wortman’s death by the RCMP.

      While there are rules governing the sealing of court documents related to a police investigation, there are no hard rules when it comes to unsealing documents.

      The Crown has proposed providing the court with redacted documents and a table itemizing the reasons for those redactions. The Crown has also proposed including affidavits sworn by investigators to support reasons for the redactions.

      But Coles argues that “the principle of openness in Court proceedings, and repudiation of covertness… can only be fully arrived at by requiring the veil of police investigation in the form of search warrants, and other judicial authorizations, be lifted.”

      He’s proposed being allowed to cross-examine investigators on reasons for redactions in proceedings to be held in-camera and covered by a publication ban. He’s offered to take an oath of confidentiality. The Crown argued that would place Coles in an “awkward” position. Coles also suggested that matters which are not deemed confidential be argued in open court.

      But in a decision handed down July 16, Provincial court Judge Laurel Halfpenny MacQuarrie sided with the Crown. 

      She noted a 2018 case also involving the CBC in her decision. The CBC sought to unseal redacted portions of court documents in that case, too, but the judge’s decision weighed heavily in favour of the secrecy of police investigations.

      MacQuarrie laid out a four-stage procedure to determine what information will be made public, which has raised questions from Coles about timelines for the release of the remaining documents. That could be months away, as is likely a public inquiry.