A poster at the roadside memorial in Portapique commemorates the 22 people killed in the mass shooting that began there on April 18, 2020. Photo: Joan Baxter

A federal-provincial inquiry into the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 22 Nova Scotians could be announced as early as next week after the details are sorted out.

Attorney General Mark Furey said yesterday discussions between the province and federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair are in the “final stages.”

Premier Stephen McNeil told journalists after a cabinet meeting yesterday the reason the province has not used the province’s Public Inquiries Act to review the events and circumstances of that tragedy is because the province wants the resulting recommendations to be “binding.” Unless Ottawa participates, McNeil said any recommended changes involving federal agencies such as the RCMP, Canada Border Services, or the Firearms Registry could be shelved and ignored.

An extensive internal RCMP investigation into what happened seven weeks ago could take a year to complete.

Among the many troubling questions raised by the mass murder is what the RCMP knew or didn’t know about the killer’s previous violent behaviour, his illegally-obtained guns, and his obsession with collecting police cars.

There will also be questions about the RCMP’s actions during the 13-hour manhunt, and why citizens were not properly alerted by either police or the provincial Emergency Measures Organization to lock their doors and stay inside while a murderer was in their area.

These are only a few of many questions to which families of the victims have been demanding answers. Both McNeil and Furey said the families deserve answers and this inquiry will be different from others because it will be designed to give the families an opportunity to participate.

“Past reviews have often been about them but without them,” said Furey, about the role of families. “That’s unacceptable. How can we ensure families have a meaningful role? This one will involve a new approach and it’s taking a little longer.”

Furey said the inquiry must be “independent” and broad in its scope. In his view, the inquiry “should be not only about the incident” but also examine elements such as “gender-based violence and mental health.”

“It’s a tragedy that these circumstances have happened but we have an opportunity to get this right,” he said. “We need to focus on the critical elements so that the recommendations are those that both the federal and the provincial government can take away and implement. Only then will we be able to effect change.”

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

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