A memorial on Plains Road is dedicated to Kristen Beaton, one of the 22 people killed on April 18/19, 2020. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

The long-awaited public hearing portion of the public inquiry into the mass shootings and fires that claimed 22 lives in April 2020 will now begin in February, 2022, instead of at the end of this month. 

The Mass Casualty Commission’s Investigation Director Barbara McLean told journalists and family members of the gunman’s victims a month ago at a meet-and-greet session in Debert (one of four open houses held by commission staff in the Truro and Wentworth areas) that hearings would begin in late October. But the commission issued a news release yesterday to announce changes in the timing of the public disclosure of facts related to the 13-hour rampage. This is the portion involving testimony from witnesses and written documents. 

“There are a number of reasons for the adjusted timing,” said the news release issued on behalf of the three commissioners — retired Nova Scotia Chief Justice J. Michael MacDonald, constitutional lawyer Kim Stanton, and retired Fredericton Police Chief Leanne Fitch. 

“The disclosure process, including gathering information and redacting sensitive and private details, has taken longer than anticipated. Important information about what happened during the April 2020 mass casualty continues to come in through information from disclosure and from the public; new witnesses and leads have come forward, and the investigations team continues to conduct witness interviews and follow new leads.”

Commission staff (which includes about 60 people) spoke to 100 people at the four open houses. Close to 50 subpoenas have been issued to members of the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency as well as other organizations. So far, the Mass Casualty Commission says it has gathered 40,000 pages of evidence and more than 200 video and audio clips. Witnesses are still being interviewed.

“The contribution of all those who have come forward is greatly appreciated,” said McLean. “We encourage anyone with any information to get in touch with us. There is no fact too small. We are following up and adding new information and details as the process continues.” 

Another reason for the delay is to allow the 60 participants in the inquiry to read and provide feedback on the documents created by the commission staff before the documents are entered as evidence in the public hearing and are posted publicly on the commission website. 

One purpose for this consultation, according to the news release, is to give the families of the shooter’s victims and other interested parties such as the police and advocates for victims of intimate partner violence more opportunity to tell commission staff where there are gaps in the factual information and where questions remain. 

“Throughout the fall, lawyers for the Commission will meet with Participants’ lawyers to hear from them regarding any gaps, questions or errors in the draft Foundational documents,” wrote Commission Senior Counsel Emily Hill. “The purpose is to provide Participants with the opportunity to inform and assist us with ensuring that when the information is shared publicly in the new year, it is as accurate and complete as possible.”

Below is the initial list of documents the Commission says it is ready to share with these participants. They offer a glimpse of the sifting through thousands of documents and interviewing hundreds of people that has been ongoing for the past year. 

Location-based Foundational Documents

• Community Perspective in Portapique (April 18-19, 2020)
• First Responders in Portapique (April 18-19, 2020)
• Perimeter Containment in Portapique (April 18-19, 2020)
• Ventura Drive, Debert (overnight April 19, 2020)
• Hunter Road, Wentworth (April 19, 2020)
• Wentworth (April 19, 2020)
• Glenholme, Highway 4 (April 19, 2020)
• Plains Road, Debert (April 19, 2020)
• Onslow Fire Hall, Onslow (April 19, 2020)
• Shubenacadie Cloverleaf (April 19, 2020)
• Highway 224, between Shubenacadie and Milford (April 19, 2020)
• Enfield (April 19, 2020)

Topic-based Foundational Documents

• Truro Police Services involvement during Events (April 18-19, 2020)
• Emergency Response Team Response (April 18-19, 2020)
• Mock Police Car (April 18-19, 2020)
• Air Support (April 18-19, 2020)
• Public Alerting (April 18-19, 2020)
• RCMP Command Decisions (April 18-19, 2020)

The news release says that despite a delayed start to the public hearings, the commission still expects to fulfill its mandate and deliver an interim report by the end of May this year. A final report that will delve into the broader context and circumstances that contributed to tragedy and include non-binding recommendations is due in November 2022.

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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