Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia PC leader wants inquiry panel into mass shooting to be beefed up

The leader of Nova Scotia's Official Opposition wants Ottawa and the province to create a five-member panel, three from outside the province, to preside over the public inquiry that will examine April's mass shooting.

'We need to make sure that the inquiry is what people are expecting'

PC Leader Tim Houston is calling for a five-member inquiry panel into Nova Scotia's mass shooting in April. (Robert Short/CBC)

Tim Houston, the leader of Nova Scotia's Official Opposition, is calling on Ottawa and the province to name at least five people, three of them from outside the province, to oversee the inquiry into the circumstances around Canada's worst mass shooting.

A gunman went on a 13-hour rampage through central Nova Scotia in April that left 22 people dead.

Ottawa and the province originally announced the creation of a three-member review panel to do the work, but public and political pressure, notably for the family and friends of those killed, forced both governments to abandon those plans in favour of a full public inquiry.

Although the terms of reference for the review were made public, authorities are still working on what the inquiry's job will be.

Houston said the composition needs to include "at least three residing out of province" to ensure there is no bias or political interference.

"It is only through this elevated level of transparency that the public will have confidence in the process, and that the findings that will result in real and meaningful change," Houston wrote in a letter to Public Security Minister Bill Blair.

No ambiguity

Houston said he had sent the letter because he wants there to be no ambiguity about where his party stands on the inquiry.

"It's important that we get the inquiry right," Houston said on Wednesday. "Both governments got it very, very wrong with this review so there's no room for giving the benefit of the doubt anymore.

"We need to make sure that the inquiry is what people are expecting."

A full public inquiry was called after families and friends protested a review panel. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Houston, concerned that inquiry won't be as thorough or independent as it needs to be, has written Blair with his thoughts, including:

  • The inquiry must take place in Nova Scotia so that grieving family members can attend.
  • An examination of how the gunman got his guns, RCMP vehicles, uniforms and equipment.
  • The actions of RCMP officers on April 18-19.
  • A full review of policing policies.
  • The provincial procedure surrounding the emergency alert system. 
  • The role of RCMP informants and whether the gunman was one.
  • The impact of domestic violence on this incident along with a broader review of it in Nova Scotia.

Houston sent the letter to Blair and only copied Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey on it. He's still waiting to hear from Joseph Kennedy, Nova Scotia's conflict of interest commissioner, following a request that Kennedy rule on whether Furey's career as an RCMP officer constitutes a conflict in this particular file.

Questions of impartiality

In a letter to the former chief justice of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court dated July 31, Houston requested Kennedy look at whether public concerns over his impartiality are justified.

"I am requesting that a review be conducted with respect to Minister Mark Furey's participation, on behalf of the province, in discussions surrounding any investigation, review or inquiry into the tragedies that occurred on April 18 and 19," Houston noted in that letter.

"At the very least, Minister Furey's prior involvement with the RCMP suggests the reasonable perception of a conflict. It is unfortunate the Minister chose not to recognize or acknowledge this potential and refer the matter to you."

Houston said the commissioner has affirmed he will look into the matter.

Response from province

In a written statement, Justice Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said the department is always mindful of conflicts of interest.

"When asked last year about potential conflicts, the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner advised simply having been a member of the RCMP does not create a conflict of interest," she said.