Canadian Security Magazine

Relatives of those killed in N.S. mass shooting say their work has only just begun

The Canadian Press   

News active shooter mass shooting

By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

The brother of a man killed during a mass shooting in Nova Scotia almost three years ago says he’s keen to make sure recommendations from a public inquiry released Thursday are implemented.

“It’s great to have things move forward,” Scott McLeod told a news conference in Truro, N.S., a community about a 30-minute drive east of where the shooting started on the night of April 18, 2020. “There’s still a lot of stuff to be done with the recommendations …. It’s going to give some sort of closure because this chapter is done.”

McLeod’s brother Sean was among 22 people who were fatally shot during a gunman’s 13-hour rampage through northern and central Nova Scotia. The killer, a 51-year-old denture-maker, was shot dead by two RCMP officers at a gas station north of Halifax on the morning of April 19, 2020.

Like his brother did, Scott works in the federal correctional system.

“I’m sure he’s happy with the fact that I’ve come forward to speak with people,” McLeod said when asked if he was thinking about his brother as the federal-provincial commission of inquiry released a final report that includes 130 recommendations to make Canadian communities safer.

Among the recommendations, the commission called for a committee to ensure the other recommendations are carried out. McLeod said he plans to be a member of that committee.

“To have this report and know that the families and the public have been heard is a fantastic thing,” he said. “I see a lot of positives coming out of this.”

Sandra McCulloch, a lawyer who represents relatives of 14 victims, said her clients experienced a sense of relief when the seven-volume report was published.

“They’ve put so much energy and emotion into this process, they can begin to move on from this piece,” she said in an interview.

“There is a lot of content in there that is in line with concerns they had expressed, mainly about the RCMP’s response to the mass (shooting) and the way they were dealt with …. That’s the gut reaction.”

Still, McCulloch said her clients’ generally positive reaction to the report did not erase the hard feelings that surfaced early in the process when the commission was accused by some families of failing to ask tough questions because of its “trauma-informed” approach.

“There are answers that the commission left behind …. There are loose threads that they felt existed before, and those remain,” the lawyer said.

During the inquiry’s public proceedings, there were complaints that some witnesses — including senior RCMP officers — were given an easy ride because they were not required to face in-person cross-examination from lawyers representing the victims’ families.

The chairman of the commission, former Nova Scotia chief justice Michael MacDonald, challenged that view Thursday, saying the inquiry got the answers it was after.

He noted his nearly 45 years of experience as a lawyer and a judge. “I know a thing or two about getting evidence from witnesses,” he said in an interview. “It’s just wrong, in my experience, to say that the only way you can get the truth … is through cross-examination.”

Despite the lingering rancour, other family members agreed with McCulloch’s clients’ positive assessment of the report.

Harry Bond, the son of victims Joy and Peter Bond, said he, too, will be shifting his focus to ensuring the recommendations are implemented.

“We have to keep the push on to make sure that changes are made,” he said in an interview after the report was released. “We’re not 100 per cent confident it will happen, but with our pressure and the pressure of all the families, I feel more confident that change will happen.”

As for the report, he said he was impressed to see the commission’s sharp criticism of how the Mounties responded to the shootings.

“They actually named a lot of faults with how things were not done properly and how the RCMP kind of messed up,” he said. “I was surprised to see that.”

Bonnie Oliver, the mother of victim Jolene Oliver and grandmother of victim Emily Tuck, said the report marks a new beginning for her.

“At least this report is giving us a starting page to be able to create our families’ legacy, because that’s what this is all about,” Oliver said Thursday. “The families will keep pressure on so that … there is some kind of meaning behind their deaths.”

As for the RCMP, interim commissioner Mike Duheme said that when he had met with some of the families on Thursday, he committed to carefully examine the recommendations.

“Failure for us to bring about change within the organization means this tragic, horrific incident … would have happened for nothing,” he said in an interview. “We must learn from this and get better from this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023.

— With files from Lyndsay Armstrong in Truro, N.S., and Michael Tutton in Halifax.

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