Nova Scotia

N.S. law profs call on premier to commit to inquiry into April's mass shooting

More than 30 Nova Scotia law professors say it's time the province commit to leading a public inquiry into one of the country's worst mass killings that investigates not only the events of April 18 and 19, but systemic violence against women. 

'Frankly to refuse to act on this ... is appalling,' says associate professor Elaine Craig

More than 30 law professors from Dalhousie University have sent an open letter to Premier Stephen McNeil calling for a provincially led public inquiry into a gunman's rampage last month that left 22 people dead. (Héloise Rodriguez-Qizilbash/CBC)

More than 30 Nova Scotia law professors say it's time the province commits to leading a public inquiry into one of the country's worst mass killings that investigates not only the events of April 18-19, but systemic violence against women. 

Premier Stephen McNeil maintains the province does not have the authority to launch an inquiry into the violence that began in Portapique, N.S., saying it should be led by the federal government, which oversees the RCMP.

In an open letter to McNeil that was released Friday, law professors from the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University say that's not good enough. 

"We've sort of emphasized that we are Nova Scotia Strong, but when it comes to taking a response, we're now saying that it's not our job, it's not our issue," Richard Devlin told CBC's Mainstreet.

Elaine Craig, an associate professor at Dalhousie University, said policing has always been a provincial responsibility, and called the province's position "an abdication of both moral and legal responsibility."

She said the professors were partly compelled to call for the inquiry after accounts this week by the gunman's former neighbour.

Brenda Forbes lived next door to Gabriel Wortman, the man who killed 22 people during a shooting rampage that began on April 18 and lasted 13 hours.

Forbes said she warned RCMP in 2013 that Wortman was a dangerous man who beat his girlfriend and owned illegal guns. 

The night of the shooting, he assaulted his girlfriend, but she escaped into the woods and hid until morning. 

Elaine Craig is an associate professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. (CBC)

An inquiry into the events shouldn't just cover what happened over the 13 hours and how police responded, the professors say. 

Craig and Devlin want a "broad and transparent" review that dives into the reality of domestic violence and violence against women in this province.

"Nothing ever happens in a vacuum," Devlin said. "There's a larger social context, there's a larger culture of violence against women, misogyny. There's a larger ... gun culture. There's a larger culture of silence."

Premier Stephen McNeil answered questions from reporters about a public inquiry on Thursday, saying he believes there will be a review. (Province of Nova Scotia)

The professors say in their letter that it was clear that an inquiry was needed right after the mass killing, but they wanted to give RCMP time to do their initial investigation. 

Devlin said a public inquiry isn't meant to allocate blame or punish someone, but rather to find out what really happened and to determine contributing factors. 

Devlin and Craig say the inquiry should be independent of the RCMP, that it needs to result in real action and that it should have the powers of the court to subpoena witnesses.

"It should absolutely be led by experts in gender-based violence. It should be potentially a judge-led inquiry but certainly whomever leads it has to have that expertise," Craig said.

She said a public inquiry would help educate people about the prevalence of intimate partner violence.

"Sadly, I think if there was broad appreciation of the fact that the cost of gender-based violence is one that everyone bears, there would perhaps be more political will to act on it," she said.

Craig said the inquiry should be led by experts in gender-based violence, and investigate more than the events of April 18 and 19 and the RCMP's response. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

In an emailed statement to CBC News, McNeil said the province has a contract with the RCMP for police services, but the RCMP are federally regulated.

He said a public inquiry "can be called only into matters in which the province has constitutional jurisdiction."

"There are also other federal agencies, programs and departments involved with the tragic events that unfolded here last month. For example, firearms are federally regulated," the statement said. "This matter is complex and involves matters of both federal and provincial jurisdiction. We want to ensure that whatever mechanism is used, there is the necessary authority to consider all of the relevant issues."

McNeil also pointed to the Moncton shooting in 2014 where three RCMP officers were killed. The review of those events fell under the federal RCMP Act, he said.

But Craig said the mass shooting last month goes beyond policing.

"Frankly, to refuse to act on this in a moment when we are understandably being asked to endure enormous economic and social hardship in the name of public safety and the well-being of our families and our neighbours is appalling," she said.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet