Nova Scotia

N.S. justice minister supports probe into mass shooting but says province will not lead it

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says some kind of public inquiry, review or commission will be held into the mass killing of 22 people in April, and he's hoping those proceedings will start in the near future.

'I'm hoping in the very near future that, that the federal government will lead this'

Mark Furey is Nova Scotia's minister of justice. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says some kind of public inquiry, review or commission will be held into the mass killing of 22 people in April, and he's hoping those proceedings will start in the near future.

But exactly what form that probe will take and who will lead it are still up in the air.

Family members of Heather O'Brien, one of the victims of the gunman's 13-hour rampage through parts of rural Nova Scotia, have called on the provincial and federal governments to stop debating who should hold an inquiry into the killings, and just move ahead with one. 

"We are committed to finding the answers that you need to help you heal, to allow you to begin to, to live your lives in spite of these very, very difficult circumstances," Furey said Wednesday on CBC's Information Morning. 

Despite committing to some sort of inquiry, Furey said the province will not be leading it. Instead, he continued to push for the federal government to head it up, with the provincial government taking part.

The faces of the victims killed by the gunman in the April 18-19 mass shooting. (CBC)

The federal and provincial government have been tied up in a jurisdictional tug of war over who would hold an inquiry. So far, neither side wants to take responsibility.

"The province will work jointly with the federal government. What we believe, and that the premier has said, is the federal government is in the best position to lead," said Furey. 

He said the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and the firearm registry are just a few of the federal agencies that would need to be part of any kind of inquiry.   

Since there are so many federal agencies involved in the case, it only makes sense for the federal government to take the lead, said Furey. 

Heather O'Brien was killed in a gunman's shooting rampage in April. Her daughter, Darcy Dobson, says it's time for a public inquiry into the mass killing that took her mother's life. (Heather O'Brien/Facebook)

He said constitutional law prohibits a provincial inquiry from exploring and making recommendations that would apply to federal agencies. 

"The broader that inquiry, given these circumstances, the more questions we would be able to ask, the more answers we would get, and the more recommendations we would get that would be applicable to both federal and provincial entities," said Furey.   

Feds 'very close' to starting review: Blair

The federal government hasn't committed to leading an inquiry. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it will "work with the government of Nova Scotia" to get answers.

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Conservative MP Chris d'Entremont asked federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair during a committee meeting about the "secrecy" surrounding the file and when an inquiry would take place.

Blair said the federal government has been working "very closely" with the Nova Scotia government. He said all Canadians need clear answers to what led up to the shooting, how police responded, and the "restorative" actions needed to support Nova Scotians and the victims' families.

"We are very, very close to the actual implementation of this review," Blair said.

Furey's comments are baffling to Dalhousie University law professor Richard Devlin, who said the province should clearly come out and say it will hold a public inquiry and not any other kind of examination. 

"The best mechanism to achieve the goals of independence and impartiality, transparency and comprehensiveness is a public inquiry. If you simply have a review that would focus on police conduct, that would be inadequate and not deal with the larger structural issues," said Devlin. 

Richard Devlin is a law professor at Dalhousie University. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

The argument that a provincially led inquiry wouldn't be able to make binding recommendations to federal institutions doesn't matter, said Devlin, because no inquiry federal or otherwise can do that.

He said governments ultimately choose which recommendations they will follow. 

"In many other inquiries there's been different takeups on the recommendations; some have implemented many of the recommendations, some have implemented only some of them," said Devlin.     

Furey is hoping the issues will be ironed out shortly as both levels of government continue to talk about how they should proceed.

"I'm hoping in the very near future that, that the federal government will lead this, and share the elements of this publicly." 

A memorial pays tribute to health-care worker Heather O'Brien along the highway in Debert, N.S., on April 21. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

There are still a lot of outstanding questions surrounding the mass killing, including what police knew about gunman Gabriel Wortman, when they knew it and why they didn't act sooner. 

Criticism has been levelled against the RCMP about why they didn't seek a search warrant for the gunman's home in Portapique, N.S., years ago after reports about domestic abuse and illegal firearms were reported to them. 

Further questions were raised after CBC News obtained a 2011 police bulletin that said a Truro, N.S., police officer had been approached by an unnamed source who said Wortman had a stash of guns and wanted "to kill a cop" 

"It's necessary that families and communities, and the people of Nova Scotia and, quite frankly, the people of Canada get answers, that's our focus," said Furey.   

With files from Information Morning and Kayla Hounsell