'Somebody is listening:' Families of N.S. shooting victims hope final report brings change
Politicians, prime minister asked to champion recommendations
For months, the families of the victims of Nova Scotia's mass shooting in 2020 wondered if an inquiry would deliver answers.
But some say they were "pleasantly surprised" Thursday to see strong criticism of the RCMP and clear recommendations for how to make Canadians safer.
The Mass Casualty Commission released its lengthy report with 130 recommendations to a packed room in Truro, N.S.
"We were pleasantly surprised," said Darcy Dobson, daughter of victim Heather O'Brien. "We didn't expect them to crack down so hard on the policing in this province as hard as they did. So, that was great, actually, because there definitely needs to be some change in policing.
"It was really nice to actually see somebody is listening."
Dobson said she still thinks the inquiry itself was a "flawed" process that retraumatized the families, while certain RCMP officers were protected by not having to answer direct questions from family lawyers. She said that's why many people had "low expectations" for the report.
But she said it was good to see the level of detail about how RCMP actions put people in danger, and structures like provincial mental-health services failed families.
Dobson said the RCMP treated families poorly both during and after the mass shootings, leaving them to "jump through hoops" to get any information, and next of kin notifications were often done poorly.
The main recommendations that stuck out to her were structural changes with the RCMP, and a review of the national Alert Ready system.
When asked what her mom would think, Dobson said: "I hope that she would be proud, I really do. And I know that she would have done the exact same thing for me or any one of my siblings."
The report sets out findings on how and why things happened as they did across those two days, and outlines recommendations for police, governments and individuals.
Those recommendations include calls for major changes to RCMP oversight, processes and culture; a process to rethink the structure of policing in Nova Scotia; a national review of public alerting; greater focus on addressing intimate partner violence; and a much expanded collaborative model to ensure community safety.
Charlene Bagley, who lost her father, Tom Bagley, agreed that she was happy with such a wide-ranging report that "looks really good on paper."
"Whether everything gets done that says it's going to be done moving forward, we will see," Bagley said.
The past few months since the inquiry's public proceedings ended have been the start of her own "healing process, finally" Bagley said, touching the purple necklace that holds the remains of her dad.
Bagley said she thinks her father would be glad that this chapter is now over, so she and her mother can move on.
"He wouldn't want us hurting," Bagley said. "He'd want us happy so I'll try to do that for him, but in the meantime I'm just not giving up — and he knows that.
"My hope is that they will follow through. I'm going to be holding them accountable, so let's hope."
Scott MacLeod, brother of victim Sean MacLeod, said he would be interested in being one of the family members assigned to sit on the "accountability body" eventually set up to ensure that the recommendations are carried out.
The report suggests federal and Nova Scotia governments should fund the body, consult with communities on what should be prioritized, provide public updates on progress every three months, and put out an annual report.
"If there's a body to hold them accountable … then at least there's that positive side of it. There's no sneaking away from anything," MacLeod said.
While MacLeod said nothing will bring his brother back, but if changes are made then "these people didn't lose their lives for nothing."
"If it makes a positive change that's nationwide, it'll be appreciated I know by families," MacLeod said.
Michael MacDonald, chair of the Mass Casualty Commission, and fellow commissioners Leanne Fitch and Kim Stanton spoke about the need for action now after the release of their 3,000-page report.
"We do not shy away from declaring hard truths and accountability. We identify them precisely so we can learn from them and do better," MacDonald said.
"Future acts of violence are preventable if we have the will to do what is necessary."
The event began with a montage of photos of the 22 people who died in the tragedy followed by a moment of silence.
MacDonald led his remarks by thanking the families of those killed in the rampage for their "unwavering courage and commitment." The victims, who included a pregnant woman, were killed by a gunman posing as an RCMP officer over 13 hours.
"This is a blueprint that can make Canada a world leader when it comes to community safety," MacDonald said.
"When implemented, it will establish that those wonderful, dear lives that were taken on April 18 and 19 would not have been taken in vain. Those lives cannot have been taken in vain — that cannot happen."
Speaking with the media after his remarks, MacDonald defended the commission's decision to limit direct questions from family lawyers for key witnesses like RCMP officers and the gunman's partner, Lisa Banfield.
"We set up a system for each witness, tailor-made, that got the best information from them," he said. "I believe our report dispels any criticism in that regard.
"I challenge anyone to suggest that we did not get all the information. We did."
Fitch was clear that a culture change in the RCMP is not a case of "we think that it can change," but "it must change," especially given that many reports in the past have called for that transformation.
"This isn't just something that is directed at the RCMP in Canada, this is policing in Canada. It's time to rethink the roles and responsibilities, and how to share the responsibility of community safety and well-being with everyone," Fitch told reporters.
The commissioners also thanked key politicians including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, and federal Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, for attending the release of the report in person.
"It is so important that you are here. Our recommendations call for transformative change, they call for collaboration, they call for leadership," MacDonald said.
"They call for you to champion these recommendations so that our communities in Nova Scotia and Canada will be safer."
If you are experiencing distress or overwhelming emotions at any time, you can call the Nova Scotia Provincial Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-888-429-8167. The Nova Scotia Provincial Crisis Service can also provide contacts for other crisis services that are available if you live outside Nova Scotia.
If you or someone you know is struggling in any way, you can call 211 or visit 211.ca. 211 offers help 24 hours a day in more than one hundred languages and will be able to connect you directly to the right services for your needs.
The Kids Help Phone is a national helpline that provides confidential support at 1-800-668-6868 or Text CONNECT to 686868.
Additional supports for across Canada are available at www.wellnesstogether.ca.
With files from Angela MacIvor