Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Inquiry commissioners (MCC)
Emily Hill, senior counsel for the Mass Casualty Commission, confirmed to reporters at a briefing yesterday the commission is considering a request from one of the lawyers representing the families of victims to change a rule that governs who can question witnesses.
Commission hearings in Truro last week saw protests and boycotts by two legal firms representing 15 families of the murder victims. They were reacting to the commissioners’ decision to permit two senior RCMP officers who supervised operations on April 18, 2020 –Staff-Sergeants Brian Rehill and Andy O’Brien — to avoid direct cross-examination by lawyers for some of the families.
Under the rules established by the commission, every person who testifies may apply for accommodations based on health or privacy reasons. Lawyers for the two RCMP officers requested Rehill and O’Brien provide their information virtually — using video-conferencing — and that all questions be directed to them by the lawyer for the Mass Casualty Commission. The reasons for their requests are confidential and Commissioners Stanton, Fitch, and MacDonald approved the accommodation.
Lawyers for the families of the killer’s victims had the option of submitting questions through the MCC lawyers, but two firms declined. Statements from Rob Pineo and Sandra McCulloch at Patterson Law as well as from lawyer Josh Bryan said the process had been too badly compromised by limiting the scope of who could ask direct questions and important follow up questions based on the answers supplied by the police officers.
Rule 52 of the commission’s Rules and Procedures states that “Participants may have an opportunity to question witnesses to the extent of their interest as determined by the Commissioners” (emphasis added). The rule change requested by the victims’ families’ lawyers would change the word “may” to “will.”
Commissioners now have to make a ruling on the request. Lawyers for the families they represent will be back at the public hearings when the proceedings resume Monday. MCC lawyer Emily Hill said the commission has received no other requests from future witnesses for special accommodations.
Hill was asked by reporters if the commission is concerned the public may have lost confidence in the inquiry process given recent statements by some of the family members and Premier Tim Houston. “Of course it’s concerning,” said Hill, “ but we will continue with the work and participants continue to engage and participate.
Truro police chief to be questioned
Public hearing and roundtable discussions will continue through the summer. Hill said that in July, the public will learn more about the past actions and behaviour of the gunman, as well as earlier interactions with police and why people may have been reluctant to report what they observed, through a series of documents, witnesses, and roundtable discussions.
Hearings resume Monday with Truro Town Police Chief Dave MacNeil as the only witness.
Statements by the former Colchester RCMP District Commander Al Carroll had indicated there wasn’t much of a relationship between he and MacNeil. Carroll said the front-line officers attached to each force worked well together and occasionally provided back-up on calls during evenings and nights.
The witness list for Tuesday and Wednesday includes three RCMP officers with some knowledge of why Twitter was chosen to convey messages to the public, and, also why there appears to have been significant delays in broadcasting the perpetrator’s identity and replica vehicle through a media release to newspapers, radio, and TV stations.
The public can directly contact the commission with suggestions about any aspect of the crime or the proceedings that they think warrant more investigation by the commission; you can do that by going here.
On Friday, Hill was unable to say if the commission will be able to meet the November deadline for submitting its recommendations to prevent another mass tragedy.
Hill said the commission is currently focused on getting the work done that will lead to developing “actual recommendations that would have made a difference and won’t be just knee-jerk reactions like ‘we need more training or public education.’” Hopefully, if there is a delay in the final report, it will be worth the wait. The cost of the inquiry now stands at over $25 million.