Nova Scotia

Cost of N.S. mass shooting inquiry climbs above $20M

The Nova Scotia government has spent $12.8 million to date on the joint provincial and federal inquiry into the April 2020 massacre. Because costs are shared with Ottawa, this means the total has surpassed $20 million and is likely much higher.

Nova Scotia government has spent $12.8M and costs are split with Ottawa

Michael MacDonald, commission chair, is flanked by fellow commissioners Leanne Fitch, left, and Kim Stanton at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry in Halifax on March 9, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Preliminary figures for the joint provincial and federal inquiry into the April 2020 massacre in rural Nova Scotia show that costs have climbed to more than $20 million with six months left in the commission's mandate. 

The Nova Scotia Department of Justice confirmed it has spent $12.8 million to date on the Mass Casualty Commission. This is up from $5.9 million in late January, though the province was not able to say whether the $6.9-million difference was all incurred in the final quarter of the 2021-22 fiscal year that ended March 31.

The federal portion of the costs has not yet been finalized and a breakdown of the expenses will be published later this year, according to Pierre-Alain Bujold, who speaks for the Privy Council. At the beginning of the year, the federal government had spent $7.1 million.   

Because Ottawa is sharing the cost of the inquiry, the total costs to date are likely to be well above $20 million. 

Emily Hill, senior counsel for the commission, said more details may be available next week after the federal government closes its books.

Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O'Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University's Schulich School of Law, has been following the commission's work closely and said it's hard not to think the estimate of more than $20 million is a lot of money.

But MacKay said the complexity and scale of the commission's mandate, its emphasis on a trauma-informed approach and on developing foundational documents that lay out its preliminary findings, as opposed to focusing primarily on witness testimony, make it a unique type of inquiry. 

"It is kind of a surprising figure, which doesn't necessarily mean it's completely unjustified because it's hard to know what we should expect, what should we have expected for this particular inquiry?" he said.

"Will the public and the families get their money's worth? It's clearly going to be, and it is already, a very expensive exercise. But at the end of the day, will there be recommendations and advice and insights that will help society going forward and therefore be worth the investment?" 

Hearings started in February

Part of the increase in the overall costs may be related to public hearings that started at the end of February. The commission is renting meeting and ballrooms at the Halifax Convention Centre and several hotels in the Halifax area. It's covering the costs of security, catering and support staff at the venues. 

The commission also has a staff of about 60 people. Through its work, they're putting together dozens of documents summarizing information gathered about the various crime scenes and specific issues such as public alerts, a report on which will be released Tuesday. 

The inquiry also hired researchers to prepare about 20 expert reports that examine policies and lessons learned from past events. 

Fitch and Stanton's per diem is $1,800. MacDonald's is $2,000. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC, Kim Stanton/LEAF, Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Some information about expenses are already publicly available. The three commissioners, for example, can claim travel and accommodation costs. Records of paid claims are posted online. Commissioners Leanne Fitch and Kim Stanton were approved for $10,248 and $9,926 for expenses incurred in January and February respectively. 

On top of those expenses, Chief Commissioner Michael MacDonald has a daily rate of $2,000, and Stanton and Fitch each receive $1,800 a day. Based on the 26 days they spent overseeing public proceedings since Feb. 22, MacDonald has earned at least $52,000, and Fitch and Stanton earned $46,800. Those figures do not include any days they spent in meetings behind the scenes. 

Legal fees big portion of expenses 

There are 61 groups and individuals participating in the inquiry, including families of people killed, people closely affected by the violence, as well as police, firearms and intimate partner violence organizations. 

MacKay said fees can "escalate very quickly" when lawyers and other people at the top of their field are involved. The commission staff includes Thomas Cromwell, a former Supreme Court justice, and Christine Hansen, the former head of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. More than half a dozen investigators with the commission used to earn more than six figures working as police officers. 

"Every time that you have … competent professionals performing, they have a competent professional fee that goes with it…. This is not a pro bono exercise," MacKay said.

"It's not just the lawyer presenting, although that's in itself a significant thing, but also all the preparation, their preparation time, clerks that work with them or other lawyers in their law firms working with them." 

Commissioners listen as Benjamin Sampson, a firearms expert with the Ontario government, appearing by video, provides technical information at the Mass Casualty Commission on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The orders-in-council setting out the terms of the inquiry state that funding be provided to participants who would not otherwise be able to take part in the inquiry. 

Hill said a "significant portion" of the commission's budget goes toward this. 

Nearly $5M in grants for participants' legal counsel 

The Privy Council has published some information about the nearly $5 million in federal contributions it has approved for about two-thirds of the participants, many of which went to lawyers and firms representing non-for-profits, charities and 29 individuals.

The following are the largest grants approved for the period between March 1, 2021, and Dec. 15, 2022, which will cover the remainder of the hearings and the weeks following the final report:

  • $2,086,350 for 22 unnamed participants. 

  • $1,177,035 for six unnamed participants. 

  • $395,052 for Sullivan Breen Defence and/or MacKillop Pictou Law Group split eventually between three groups: Wellness Within, Women's Legal Education Fund and Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. 

  • $311,560 for one unnamed participant.

  • $214,397 for David W. Fisher on behalf of Atlantic Police Association. 

  • $214,397 for Burchell Macdougall on behalf of Truro Police Services.

  • $210,866 for Suzan E. Fraser on behalf of Canadian Coalition For Gun Control.

  • $129,521 for Megan Stephens Law on behalf of Women's Shelters Canada. 

Five other groups received less than $130,000 each. 

Desmond inquiry has cost $3M 

By comparison, the Nova Scotia government has spent a total of $3 million on the Desmond inquiry, the provincial fatality inquiry probing the circumstances that led up to an Afghanistan veteran shooting his wife, mother, daughter and then himself in 2017 at their home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

Hearings were held over two years and wrapped up last month. It only has one commissioner and a fifth of the participants. 

But MacKay said even though it's not a national inquiry, some of the issues it's exploring — intimate partner violence, access to firearms, and Lionel Desmond's experience leaving the military and grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder — are still relevant to people outside of Nova Scotia, so the cost difference in the inquiry is a bit "jarring."

"Both of them primarily focused on domestic violence situations in Nova Scotia, but equally applicable throughout the country and even beyond. So there are a lot of parallels in many ways," he said.

Watch: Victims' families frustrated by N.S. mass shooting inquiry: 

Victims’ families frustrated by N.S. mass shooting inquiry

2 months ago
Duration 6:48
Ian Hanomansing talks to Nick Beaton, whose wife and unborn child were killed in the April 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting, and Michael Scott, a lawyer representing more than a dozen victims’ families, about their concerns with the ongoing public inquiry and the importance of police testimony in the process.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 13 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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