Nova Scotia

Advocates decry lack of feminist lens in N.S. shooting review

Two of the women who pushed for a feminist analysis into Nova Scotia's April mass shooting say they're disappointed with the government's announcement Thursday. While the joint provincial-federal review promises to look at domestic violence, they say it doesn't go far enough.

Senators, activists, women's groups have been pushing for feminist analysis for months

Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson, co-founders of Persons Against Non-State Torture and members of Nova Scotia Feminists Fighting Femicide, say they're disappointed the government has promised neither a public inquiry nor a feminist analysis of Nova Scotia's mass shooting. (Teckles Photo Inc.)

Two women who pushed for a public inquiry with a feminist lens into the Nova Scotia mass shooting say they're angry that the government has promised neither.

On Thursday, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey and Bill Blair, federal minister of public safety, announced that they would launch an independent review into the tragedy, which left 22 people dead. The news came as a disappointment for the families of the victims who were pushing for a public inquiry.

It also came as a disappointment to Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson, co-founders of Persons Against Non-State Torture and members of Nova Scotia Feminists Fighting Femicide.

While the review promises to look at the shooting's "contributing and contextual factors including the involvement of gender-based and intimate partner violence," MacDonald said that doesn't go far enough.

"You've got ... senators asking for a feminist analysis. You've got major organizations in Canada. You've got activist organizations in Nova Scotia," she said.

"It's not a public inquiry like we've asked for, and it's certainly not a feminist analysis."

Link between misogyny and violence

The gunman's shooting and arson rampage in April started with an assault on his common-law spouse, who police said escaped into the woods. A former neighbour of the gunman has said she reported him to police in 2013 for abusing his partner and owning illegal weapons, but nothing was done. She said the gunman began harassing her after she made her complaint and she left the area in 2014 out of fear.

Many mass killings begin with violence against women or people close to the perpetrator.

According to a 2017 study by Everytown for Gun Safety, an American gun violence prevention non-profit, 54 per cent of mass shootings in that country between 2009 and 2016 involved domestic or family violence.

As well, two of Canada's other deadliest massacres — the École Polytechnique shooting in Montreal and the Toronto van attack — involved male perpetrators who had a documented hatred of women.

Very little was said about gender-based and intimate partner violence during Thursday's media briefing, aside from Furey commenting that examining the issue "is crucial and will happen."

No details about what exactly the panel will look at when it comes to gender-based violence have been made public. In an email, Chad Lucas, spokesperson for the panel, simply said: "The panel's mandate to examine the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence will be an important part of their work."

Public Safety also didn't provide any more details. In an email, spokesperson Zarah Malik said: "Restorative justice principles represent the underpinnings of this Review and will guide the work of the Independent Review Panel. It will determine the scope of the gender based violence elements, guided by these principles and its own knowledge and expertise of these elements with regards to this terrible tragedy."

Nova Scotia Justice Minister said examining domestic violence in this case 'is crucial and will happen.' (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Former Fredericton Police chief Leanne Fitch, who helped develop the National Framework for Intimate Partner Violence and has researched the topic for years, is one of the people on the three-person review panel.

Both MacDonald and Sarson said it's problematic to have a former police officer look at policing and domestic violence, saying there could be a loss of impartiality.

"If they look at the intimate partner violence and the gendered violence in policing, that's one aspect of it. But … we were asking for examining misogyny in the police," said MacDonald.

"What misogyny beliefs and culture does the police have to not take domestic violence and intimate partner violence seriously?"

Gender equality department not involved

Sarson said the review needs to be victim-informed, as well as trauma-informed.

She also noted that Women and Gender Equality Canada, the department in charge of gender equality, will not be involved in the review.

Nova Scotia Feminists Fighting Femicide contacted Minister Maryam Monsef's office on May 5, asking for her support in calling for an inquiry with a feminist lens. 

In a July 2 email, they were told that Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is in charge of the RCMP, and that "creation of the sort of broad public inquiry you request is outside Minister Monsef's mandate." 

Sarson disagreed.

"The whole issue — the gender-based violence, intimate partner violence issue — is under that mandate," she said.

"When you go to the minister of public safety, you're staying within the police. And that's not what all this is about. This is about the community."

MacDonald and Sarson are calling for both a public inquiry, and an additional panellist with expertise on misogyny, male violence against women and femicide.

Link between domestic violence, shootings 'seemed to fall on deaf ears'

Amanda Dale, a feminist legal scholar and a member of the advisory panel for the Halifax-based Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response, said she hoped to see a public inquiry instead of a review.

A public inquiry would have the power to compel evidence and documents, and would let the public have access to the hearings, which would include the families. Interested parties could also hire counsel and be represented to parties at the inquiry.

"That whole trail of investigation — from early alleged reports of domestic violence all the way through to the 13-hour spree — that whole continuum would have had full public airing, and that's really what everyone asked for," Dale told CBC's Information Morning. "I don't think anyone asked for this."

Amanda Dale is a feminist legal scholar and a member of the advisory panel for the Halifax-based Canadian Centre for Legal Innovation in Sexual Assault Response. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

She said research on domestic violence shows a strong link between escalating domestic violence and public violence against many people, inducing women.

"The link in this particular incident came out fairly early and seemed to fall on deaf ears," she said.

Dale also brought up the 2013 incident in which the gunman was reported to police for domestic violence, but no apparent action was taken.

She said we need to find out what communication was had at the time, and there's nothing in the review's terms of reference that would compel this.

"Were there any missed steps that could have been taken to help his ex-partner, to diminish the risk that the shooter's violence would escalate in the way it did?" she said. 

"These are all questions that lie at the heart of the case and could actually give us good information to help us reform institutions that are responding both to domestic violence and public violence."

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Alex Cooke

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Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Halifax

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