Politics

Pushback from families, MPs led to reversal on N.S. mass shooting inquiry, Blair says

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says it was persistent calls from victims’ families for a public inquiry into April’s mass shooting in Nova Scotia — and pressure from members of the province’s federal Liberal caucus — that led him to abandon a plan for a less robust review of the tragedy.

Public safety minister says he regrets the 'anxiety' caused by delaying commitment to public inquiry

People attend a march organized by victims' families in Bible Hill, N.S. on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. They marched to demand a public inquiry into the gun massacre in Nova Scotia that killed 22 people. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says it was persistent calls from victims' families for a public inquiry into April's mass shooting in Nova Scotia — and pressure from members of the province's federal Liberal caucus — that led him to abandon a plan for a less robust review of the tragedy.

"This was entirely about the families and their advocacy. We listened to them and that's why we've made the decision to hold an inquiry," Blair told CBC Radio's The House in an interview airing Saturday.

The minister announced Tuesday that the shooting would be the subject of a public inquiry days after Ottawa and the Nova Scotia government agreed to a joint independent review of the incident.

The news followed widespread criticism from families of the victims and a number of parliamentarians who had called for a deeper probe into the 13-hour rampage that left 22 people dead more than three months ago.

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday that he was "deeply upset" by the decision to pursue a review instead of an inquiry, a sentiment echoed by other Liberal MPs across the province.

In response, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey said those MPs should take their calls to "the federal minister and their federal colleagues," adding that the provincial government would support the move.

"I think my colleagues in the Nova Scotia Liberal caucus did their job and advocated very strongly on behalf of their constituents." Blair told The House guest host Rosemary Barton. "[That] was important because the voice of the victims was amplified through them, and certainly I listened very carefully to them and their advocacy did have an impact on the decision that we made."

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair details his decision this week to pursue a public inquiry into the April mass shooting in Nova Scotia, over earlier plans for a less rigorous joint independent review. 9:56

Recent allegations about gunman not known to minister

Blair said that he initially supported moving forward with a review because of his experience with taking that route in the past.

He cited a sweeping 2014 review — something he requested during his tenure as Toronto police chief — which explored how officers interact with people in crisis following the shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim in 2013.

The minister added that he hadn't been privy to recently revealed details about the gunman when he decided to launch the review panel into the tragedy, but acknowledged that more information has been "coming to light."

Court documents unsealed earlier this week uncovered a number of new allegations about the shooter — that he kept a stockpile of guns and drugs, for example, and had hidden rooms on his properties.

"I am aware that there is a great deal of complexity in what transpired. I think it's fairly important that all of the facts come to light and that everything that can be known should be known," Blair said. "The families deserve nothing less."

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair has apologized to families of the victims of Nova Scotia's mass shooting for the delay in ordering a public inquiry. (Adiran Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Inquiries can take 'substantially longer'

The review was slated for completion by the end of August 2021. Blair said the public inquiry could take "substantially longer."

"That's been the experience with previous public inquiries," he said. "It will take as long as is necessary to do the work the way it needs to be done."

The inquiry will have the power to summon witnesses and compel them to produce evidence — a level of transparency Blair said should foster trust among victims' families.

"Certainly, we regret the anxiety that the delay in that announcement [caused]," he said. "But I would also hope that they would take some comfort in the fact that their concerns were listened to, that we responded to their concerns. We listened very carefully to what they wanted and what they needed from this inquiry and we have done our best to provide it."

In a joint statement released Friday, Blair and Furey said lawyer and former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan has told them she won't be able to act as a commissioner. McLellan was one of three commissioners appointed to conduct the public inquiry, along with former chief justice of Nova Scotia Michael MacDonald and Leanne Fitch, a former chief of the Fredericton Police.

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