Nova Scotia

Rallies continue push for public inquiry to Nova Scotia mass shooting

Families of some of the 22 people killed in Nova Scotia's mass shooting joined together with supporters and politicians in Bridgewater, N.S., and Halifax on Monday to continue pushing for a public inquiry into the Portapique tragedy.

'We'll add our voice to make it loud, until we shake the bricks of Province House,' says El Jones

Tom Webber, father of shooting victim Joey Webber, speaks during a Bridgewater, N.S., rally on July 27, 2020, calling for a public inquiry into the April mass killing that began in Portapique, N.S. (Brooklyn Currie/CBC)

Families of some of the 22 people killed in Nova Scotia's mass shooting this spring joined together with supporters and politicians Monday to continue calling for a public inquiry into the Portapique tragedy.

Large crowds gathered in Bridgewater, N.S., and Halifax to hear passionate speeches and push the provincial and federal governments to reverse the decision to appoint an independent three-person review panel to look into what happened.

"That's no good. For something like this, that's no good," said Tom Webber in Bridgewater, father of victim Joey Webber.

A review means it is up to the panel to decide whether any hearings will be held in public. All documents and information collected as part of the review will also be kept confidential.

Webber, wearing a shirt bearing Joey's name and face, said an inquiry would likely mean the police would have to "admit to a lot of things."

The three people overseeing the review panel are Leanne Fitch, Anne McLellan and Michael MacDonald. (The Canadian Press/CBC News)

"I think there's a lot of things went wrong and [it's] a pretty easy way to avoid facing up to them," he said.

Webber said he's hopeful enough pressure will change the government's mind, and was glad to see so many people attend the rally.

"It feels good. Doing it for Joe, to find out some answers," he said.

On April 18 and 19, a lone gunman went on a 13-hour shooting rampage that began in the small community of Portapique and ended at a gas station in Enfield, 150 kilometres away. Twenty-two people were killed and several buildings were torched, and the gunman was shot dead by police.

The Bridgewater event began with a rally on King Street outside the constituency office of provincial Justice Minister Mark Furey. People then marched to Shipyards Landing for speeches.

Bridgewater event organizer Laurie Scott said more people across the province and country need to attend marches and rallies until a full public inquiry is announced.

Inquiry approach shows 'disrespect,' says rally organizer

Scott said she can't imagine how the victim's families are dealing with the whole situation after weeks of calling for an inquiry, only to be turned down.

"I think it's indecent. It definitely sends a big level of disrespect, but I think it goes much further than that. It sends the message of corruption, and that's what we need an inquiry for," Scott said.

"If there isn't any corruption in this, have the open inquiry."

Opposition leaders blast government

Provincial opposition leaders attended the Bridgewater rally. PC Leader Tim Houston and NDP Leader Gary Burril both said the Nova Scotia government made a mistake in choosing to go with a review and ignore the long-held wishes of victims' families.

"This was simply an error of judgment," Burrill said, adding that the right move would be for the province to acknowledge the criticisms that have come from "every quarter" and announce an inquiry.

Burrill said the move would be comforting and a "helpful gesture" toward those who have lost loved ones in one of Canada's deadliest mass killings.

Houston said the review announcement has shattered many people's confidence in government.

"I have to believe that they're realizing the gravity of their mistake. But now the question will be if they have the confidence to admit it, and that'll be up to them," Houston said.

People hold signs during a rally in Victoria Park in Halifax on July 27, 2020, calling for a public inquiry into the Portapique mass killing. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

About 100 kilometres northeast, more than 100 people gathered in Halifax's downtown Victoria Park to also call for an inquiry.

At one point, a speaker called for attendees to pull out their phones and email Premier Stephen McNeil and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to immediately demand they change course.

El Jones, a poet and advocate, shared an emotional piece before a crowd that also heard from NDP MLA Claudia Chender.

"We are standing in the light. No more coverups and staying quiet. No more inconsistencies and lies, we say to publicly inquire," Jones said.

"And we'll add our voice to make it loud, until we shake the bricks of Province House. We'll stand our ground as one for justice. We are Nova Scotia strong."

The panel will provide an interim report to the provincial justice and federal public safety ministers by Feb. 28, 2021. The final report will be delivered by Aug. 31, 2021. The ministers will receive the reports first and then make them public.

With files from Brooklyn Currie