The inquiry investigating the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia released an interim report Monday that charts its progress and defends its decision to limit witness testimony.
Having largely completed its initial fact-finding phase, the inquiry has heard from several witnesses and disclosed more than 50,000 documents, including investigative files, emails, notes from first responders, transcripts of police communications and photographs.
The 162-page interim report contains no findings of fact or recommendations. That kind of content will be part of a final report that must by submitted to the federal and provincial governments by Nov. 1. The report, however, offers insight into what the inquiry hopes to accomplish over the next six months.
The inquiry has already moved on from fact-finding to explore “how and why” a lone gunman killed 22 people on April 18-19, 2020, while evading police capture for 13 hours. And in the weeks ahead, the inquiry will explore relevant events before and after the rampage in northern and central Nova Scotia.
Among other things, the inquiry — formally known as the Mass Casualty Commission — is expected to produce summary reports on the killer’s previous violence towards other people, including his common-law spouse and other family members.
The inquiry will also hear more about the gunman’s financial affairs, and the way relatives of his victims were notified of their deaths and offered support.
The commission of inquiry started its work in October 2020 when the federal and Nova Scotia governments issued cabinet orders and appointed three commissioners to lead the effort.
The commissioners were supposed to complete a yearlong independent investigation in October 2021, but they failed to meet that deadline, partially because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the start of public hearings was delayed twice.
When public hearings began on Feb. 22, lawyers for the commission said the huge volume of evidence — collected from more than a dozen crime scenes and interviews with more than 150 witnesses — would be summarized in so-called foundational documents that would be released as the proceedings progressed.
This approach stands in contrast to the methods of most other public inquiries, which typically rely on in-person, under-oath witness testimony to reveal what happened and why.
Early on, the inquiry faced criticism from the relatives of some victims, who have repeatedly said they want to hear more witness testimony rather than receiving transcripts from previous interviews.
In its interim report, the commission defended its approach, saying it has disclosed transcripts of witness interviews to minimize the number of times an individual is asked to speak about a “potentially difficult” subject.
“By proceeding this way, we are able to include the testimony of many individuals in an effective, efficient manner while being attentive to the needs of those who may continue to experience trauma,” the report says, noting that it is being guided by restorative principles and a “trauma-informed” approach.
“Restorative principles guide us to do no further harm, to be trauma-informed, and to be attentive to the needs of and the impact of the mass casualty on those most directly affected,” the report says.
“Ensuring that our work is trauma-informed does not mean that the commission is a service provider or that we play a healing role. It does not limit our ability to thoroughly and independently investigate the mass casualty.”
The inquiry has heard that on the night of April 18, 2020, the killer was disguised as a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP cruiser when he fatally shot 13 people in Portapique, N.S., before fleeing to to nearby Debert, N.S., where he spent the night.
The next day, he killed another nine people as he led police on a chaotic chase that spanned more than 100 kilometres. He was fatally shot that morning by two RCMP officers when he stopped to refuel a stolen car at a gas station north of Halifax.
His victims included a pregnant woman, an RCMP officer, two nurses, two correctional officials, a family of three, a teacher and some of his neighbours in Portapique.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2022.