Nova Scotia

Justice minister says Nova Scotia pushed Ottawa for public inquiry from the get-go

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey says he advocated from the outset for a public inquiry into one of Canada's worst mass killings, and only agreed to a less-powerful review to keep the co-operation of the federal government.

'Those were the original discussions I had with the federal minister,' says Mark Furey

Months after the mass killing that began in Portapique, N.S., a memorial remains at a local church. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday he advocated from the outset for a public inquiry into one of Canada's worst mass killings.

He said he only agreed to a less-powerful review to keep the co-operation of the federal government.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Furey said he told Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in the aftermath of a shooting and arson rampage in the province in April that he wanted a joint provincial, federal public inquiry.

"Those were the original discussions I had with the federal minister," Furey said.

Furey did not express that position in public until this week, once the dust had settled on the question of an inquiry. Just one week before, he had been defending the review process, saying it would be quicker than a formal inquiry and just as effective.

But many people disagreed with him, and in the face of mounting public pressure from victims' families, advocates and some of the federal party's own politicians, the two levels of government did an about-face and agreed to an inquiry.

No regrets 

Furey said Thursday he didn't regret having initially agreed to a review because he believes it was the only way to keep the process co-operative.

"We wanted the federal government at the table and I don't have the authority to call a joint inquiry and to compel federal participation," he said.

CBC asked Blair's office for an explanation of the reluctance that Furey described.

Mary-Liz Power, Blair's press secretary, said in a statement that Blair's office has been in "close contact" with Furey and the province since the tragedy "and [we] have worked collaboratively to ensure Nova Scotians had access to timely and thorough information."

"Following the calls from families, victims, Nova Scotia Members of Parliament and advocates, we concluded that a Public Inquiry was required."

No timeline

Furey said he would not put a timeline on the public inquiry, which can take years to organize and carry out, but he said he would work with Ottawa to move it along.

"I believe there will be efficiencies ... found in the fact that the mandate and a substantial document in the terms of reference is already in place," he said, referring to work that was done around the now-defunct review.

He said the terms of reference for the review may need some "minor modifications and updates," but would act as a foundation for the inquiry.

"That is going to save us considerable time."

It's also yet to be determined how much the inquiry will cost, and how costs will be divided between the two governments.

Just this week Nova Scotia released its first updated fiscal projection since COVID-19 arrived in the province and it did not include the inquiry.

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