Families of N.S. shooting victims celebrate public inquiry
'This was because of the families ... the Nova Scotians, the Bluenosers, all you guys that helped out'
Families of the Nova Scotia shooting victims, flanked by supporters, took a celebratory march around downtown Halifax Wednesday, one day after the provincial and federal governments responded to their pleas and committed to a joint public inquiry into April's mass killing.
Their route started at the Halifax ferry terminal and took them up to and around Province House, the seat of the provincial government that, along with Ottawa, announced last week that the tragedy would be the subject of a review.
That review lacked much of the legal power of a formal inquiry, including the power to subpoena witnesses to testify under oath.
Uproar over that decision was immediate and widespread. The victims' families, legal experts, women's groups and Canadian Senators had been loudly calling for a public inquiry for months and were not satisfied with the proposed review.
By Tuesday, the demands for an inquiry reached a fever pitch.
First, some Liberal MPs started breaking ranks and calling on their own government to commit to an inquiry. Then Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said the province would join an inquiry, if the federal government would. Shortly afterward, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair sealed the deal, announcing just before 5 p.m. that a public inquiry would go ahead.
Politicians' support came too late, widower says
But Nick Beaton — whose pregnant wife, Kristen Beaton, was shot and killed in April — said the credit for the about-face did not belong to any politicians.
"This was because of the families — our determination, our drive — and the Nova Scotians, the Bluenosers, all you guys that helped out," he told a cheering crowd at Wednesday's march.
Premier Stephen McNeil, as well as some of the Nova Scotia MPs who spoke up on the issue, responded to Blair's announcement Tuesday by saying they had been behind a public inquiry from the beginning. They suggested it was the federal cabinet that had prevented an inquiry from going forward.
Beaton said those claims rang hollow.
"Where have [those politicians] been for the last three months?" he said. "They could have stuck their necks out and said they wanted it, but they didn't."
Sean Fraser was among those MPs who came out in support of an inquiry at the last minute.
"To be honest, I didn't think there would need to be a significant advocacy case made," Fraser told CBC's Maritime Noon.
"I had made the assumption that there'd be a close working relationship with some of the families, members of the public."
Fraser said he should have been more unequivocal about his concerns about the review before he allowed his name to be added to a letter from the Nova Scotia federal Liberal caucus that expressed support for the review.
Gratitude to protestors
Dan Jenkins, who lost his daughter Allana Jenkins and son-in-law Sean McLeod in the killing rampage, said the news about the public inquiry gave him one of the best feelings he's had in months.
Before Tuesday's announcement, the families had planned to march on Province House in protest. Jenkins said the march was still important, although the meaning had shifted toward gratitude.
"Really it's to thank the people at Bridgewater that marched before, the people of Nova Scotia who helped us get here," Jenkins told reporters, referring to a protest staged Monday outside Furey's constituency office.
There was also a protest in downtown Halifax on Monday.
"Those are the ones we really want to thank. They've been instrumental in getting this done or I think it would've been passed by," he said.
Jenkins said he was now looking forward to getting answers from the inquiry.
The inquiry's commissioners will be the same three people who were initially tapped to lead the review panel: former chief justice of Nova Scotia Michael MacDonald, former Fredericton police chief Leanne Fitch and former federal Attorney General Anne McLellan. Otherwise, the federal and provincial governments have released few details about the inquiry, including its timing or scope.
The terms of reference for the review said it would look into the murderer's access to firearms, his relationship to RCMP, the police response to the killing spree and the role of gender-based violence, among other issues.
Those issues allude to some of the prominent concerns that have been raised about the mass killing, including the failure to issue an province-wide emergency alert as the killer travelled around the province for more than 12 hours.
Other concerns include the murderer's possession of illegal weapons and an unusual cash withdrawal of nearly $500,000 made the month before the shooting.
There's also a history of complaints from acquaintances about the killer's alleged past domestic violence and threats of violence toward others.
With files from Maritime Noon and Shaina Luck