Family members of the victims of the mass murders of April 18/19, 2020 have instructed their lawyers to boycott the next four days of the proceedings of the Mass Casualty Commission.
The boycott is in response to a decision issued by the commissioners yesterday that grants “accommodation requests” for three RCMP officers who are to testify.
Staff Sergeant Al Carroll, who is scheduled to testify tomorrow, will appear via Zoom, and not in person, and he will not be cross-examined directly by the families’ lawyers.
Sergeant Andy O’Brien and Staff Sergeant Brian Rehill will be questioned next Monday and Tuesday separately via Zoom but not in public — their interviews will be recorded and posted to the website later. As with Carroll, O’Brien and Rehill will not be cross-examined directly by the families’ lawyers.
You can read the commissioners’ decision here.
At the start of today’s proceedings, Chief Commissioner Michael MacDonald said that granting the witness accommodations won’t prevent the gathering of information. Participants’ lawyers can still ask questions, just they’ll be filtered through the commission’s lawyers. And, said MacDonald, the testimony of all witnesses will be shared with the public. “A trauma-informed approach does not prevent someone from testifying but leads to getting the best evidence,” said MacDonald.
That’s not good enough for the victims’ families.
Patterson Law, which represents the majority of victims’ families, issued this statement:
Patterson Law has been instructed by its clients, those participants “Most Affected”, to not attend the Mass Casualty Commission Hearings on May 25, 26, 30 and 31, 2022. Our clients are disheartened and further traumatized by the Commissioners’ decision to not allow their own lawyers to be present and participate in the questioning of whom they view to be amongst the most crucial RCMP “in command” members, S/Sgt Brian Rehill and Sgt. Andy O’ Brien.
Our clients firmly oppose the Commissioner’s decision and take this action to send a clear message that they will not be associated with this restricted fact-finding process for such critical evidence.
The statement is signed by lawyers Robert Pineo, Sandra McCulloch, and Michael Scott.
“We’re disappointed,” said lawyer Josh Bryson in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. Bryson represents the family of Joy and Peter Bond. “For us, we feel [the commissioners’ decision] marginalizes our participation in these two key witnesses, Staff Sgt. OBrien and Risk Manager Rehill, the first decision maker.
“We have different roles from that of the Commission counsel,” continued Bryson. “They are representing the public interest. We have clients, those who are the most affected and we are there to flush out issues that are very important to the families. Unfortunately we can’t do that. Yes we can submit questions in advance but that’s not a suitable replacement for meaningful participation”
Asked what he wanted to ask Rehill about, Bryson said there are “several areas. Let’s talk about the initial 911 call. There was some speculation about it being a mental health call. Did you actually listen to that call? What if any direction did you give on containment? Did you turn your mind to Cst. Colford’s radio transmission at 10:48 that there is another way out of Portapique? Those are just a few examples but there are lots of things we want to flush out.”
“I have instructions from the Bond family I won’t be here next week for these two witnesses; I won’t be participating,” said Bryson. “We feel if we are going to be marginalized to this extent there’s really not much point to being here.”
Scott McLeod, the brother of victim Sean McLeod, is self-represented and has been granted “ participant status” at the inquiry. (Sean McLeod’s two daughters are represented by Patterson Law.) McLeod grew up in Bible Hill but now lives in Moncton; he attends every commission proceeding in person so the commissioners can see his face and understand that real people were hurt.
McLeod feels the Inquiry is mostly “for show.” He called it “smoke and mirrors” and wondered aloud if the commissioners’ decision is designed “to protect someone or something.”
McLeod wants the commission to call Lisa Banfield and Peter Griffon as witnesses.
He supports the boycott by lawyers because he feels the veteran RCMP members have adequate training to handle the stress of the proceedings and that they are no more traumatized than families who lost loved ones.