Public demands mass murder inquiry make the whole truth the only goal

Nick Beaton's pregnant wife was one of the 22 Portapique murder victims

"EVERYTHING’S STILL FUCKED" is the slogan on Nick Beaton’s t-shirt. It sure seemed that way on the first day of the Mass Casualty Commission hearings in Halifax into the mass murder of 22 people in Portapique, N.S. in April 2020.

Beaton’s pregnant wife was one of the victims. He has been one of the strongest advocates for the victims’ families in their two-year battle with officialdom: first, to even get a full official inquiry; and then, to make sure it includes answers to all the questions the victims’ families have.

The first day of the inquiry did not do anything to contradict the slogan on Beaton’s t-shirt. Remarkable insensitivity to, and disrespect for, the victims’ families continued.

The commission filled its first day and a half with a panel of “experts” delivering lectures on mental health and rural life in the communities touched by the horrific events. Nothing could have been farther from the minds of the victims families and friends sitting in the front row.

Answers please

What everybody wanted was answers, wrote Halifax Examiner editor Tim Bousquet, not lectures and “self care” platitudes delivered by a “condescending and offensive” panel of “experts.”

“The public wanted answers,” wrote Bousquet.

“We wanted to know how a crazed gunman could murder 13 of his neighbours and burn down their homes in the idyllic community of Portapique and then roam across the province in a look-alike police car willy nilly murdering nine more people—friends and strangers, a hapless woman out for a walk, a pair of nurses, a cop, two good samaritans—without anyone stopping him during the 13-hour mayhem.

“We wanted to know why the police response was inadequate, why different police agencies couldn’t seem to communicate with each other, why the provincial emergency alert system wasn’t activated, and why two cops mistakenly shot up a volunteer fire hall full of people.

“We wanted to know why red flags about the killer’s past domestic violence were ignored.

“We wanted to know how the man could assemble an arsenal of illegally imported weapons, build three different fake police cruisers, and obtain RCMP uniforms.

“We wanted to know why and how this terrible tragedy played out.

“Instead, we got a condescending and offensive panel telling us that the murder spree may cause us some mental anguish."

Insensitive and indifferent

That’s the way it has been ever since the day of the killings. Insensitivity, indifference to suffering and official foot dragging. To the point that, there was never going to be an inquiry of any kind.

Federal and provincial officials decided a toothless “independent review” would be good enough. Despite the fact calls for a public inquiry into the killing spree began almost immediately after police announced the gunman was dead.

The review would not be held in public and would not have any powers to subpoena witnesses or evidence if anyone refused to participate.

Victims’ families and legal experts were furious with this decision. They staged protests and rallies. Victims’ families marched in the streets outside an RCMP detachment in protest against the governments’ initial refusal to call an inquiry into the murders.

The governments caved in and agreed to hold a full-scale formal public inquiry into the Portapique shootings

Two years in the doldrums

But, it’s been two long years of official obstruction and delays since the promise of an inquiry was made.

Bousquet writes: “The RCMP and an entire team of crown prosecutors have worked for these two years to withhold court documents from the public and to keep those documents sealed and redacted for as long as possible, causing cash-strapped media organizations to collectively spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in a mostly fruitless bid to make those documents public.

“Does the Mass Casualty Commission think that the repeated official lies, obfuscations, delays, and ass-coverings might cause the public to be a bit traumatized? Apparently not.”

The long delays, lack of inclusion and co-operation led the victims’ families to voice strong concerns about being “left in the dark” and a real lack of transparency about what was being planned. They were not alone.

Premier sides with families

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston took the extraordinary step of making public statements to support their concerns. In a written statement released just 90 minutes before the start of the inquiry he said he had real concerns with the commission’s process and wanted to make sure victims’ families and their lawyers would be allowed to participate in the hearings in a meaningful way.

Houston said he had raised these concerns with the commission weeks earlier, but didn’t receive any assurances that they would be properly addressed.

He said he felt he needed to make his concerns public because the commission was on the “wrong path” when it comes to working with victims’ families and fulfilling their mandate.

Houston said in the release that he’s heard that family members feel “left in the dark” and have expressed frustration about the structure of the inquiry.

“This is not only disrespectful, it should cause us all to pause and ask, if the families don’t have confidence in the process, how can the public?” the premier said.

Pop psychology hurtful

Starting the hearings with lectures from experts was not a good way to build public confidence in the outcome.

Bousquet found the mundane advice from the experts next to useless and even infuriating. He wrote: “This discussion of sleeping regularly and knitting was happening in front of victims’ family members who have been waiting two long years for answers about the murders of their loved ones.

“For myself, the pop psychology and reduction of collective political problems to individual mental health diagnoses was angering ...”

"Let us hope they did not start as they intend to go along." noted a lawyer for the victims' families.

The commission must provide its interim report no later than May 1 and a final report by November 1. Once these reports have been submitted, federal and provincial ministers will review the documents and decide when to release them.

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