Shooting victims' families want to ensure inquiry recommendations followed

·4 min read

TRURO, N.S. — Families of victims of Nova Scotia's mass shooting called Wednesday for an oversight committee to ensure the recommendations coming out of the public inquiry into the tragedy won't be ignored.

In his final submissions to the inquiry, Tom Macdonald, the lawyer for the brother of victim Sean McLeod, said the committee should include a small group that tracks whether the inquiry’s recommendations are followed.

Macdonald said it should include representatives of the provincial and federal governments and the RCMP as well as an advocate for families. It would be led by a single "implementation czar" who would hold the federal and Nova Scotia governments to account.

The lawyer said the murders of McLeod and his wife Alanna Jenkins in West Wentworth, N.S., on the second day of the rampage, along with the 20 other people — including a pregnant woman — killed on April 18-19, 2020, should prompt lasting reforms.

"Two years from now you may have totally different leadership at the RCMP, a different minister of public safety, maybe a different government, and these (recommendations) are too important to be left to the ups and downs of change," said Macdonald.

He said there was "voluminous" evidence of the policing shortfalls, including confusion over which staff sergeant was overseeing the initial response, poor knowledge of local geography and an "unacceptable delay" in warning the public of an active shooter driving a replica police vehicle.

Jane Lenehan, who represents the family of Gina Goulet, said the Mounties' image of reliability in Nova Scotia was gone, despite the bravery of some individual officers during the mass shooting.

"The vision and mystique of the red serge, that comforting and reassuring belief in the RCMP, has been shattered," she said.

Goulet was the 22nd victim, dying at her home on the outskirts of Shubenacadie, N.S., almost 13 hours after the first murder. The gunman was killed by police half an hour later at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

Lenehan said her clients were disturbed by the poor relationship between the RCMP and local police forces, and noted that police testified during the inquiry the relationship has only worsened.

She reminded the commissioners of an email exchange between Truro police Chief David MacNeil and RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather that began slightly before 10 a.m. on the second day of the killings, when MacNeil offered "any support" needed. Leather replied that the RCMP believed it had the suspect pinned down and said he'd be "in touch."

In his testimony before the commission, Leather, the head of criminal operations, said he was too busy to follow up, adding that MacNeil should have contacted a lower-ranking RCMP officer closer to the scene.

Lenehan told the commissioners "this kind of bureaucratic response may make sense to the RCMP, but it made no sense to the families."

"This exchange was an important one to my clients, as the perpetrator was able to drive through Truro, unimpeded, about 15 minutes after it occurred," she told the commissioners. Goulet was killed after that.

She said the commissioners should recommend requirements for co-operation between police forces.

The lawyer also called for a permanent moratorium on the auctioning of decommissioned police vehicles, saying it wasn't worth the risk to public safety. She added the RCMP could instead sell the vehicles for scrap metal and parts.

Steve Topshee, a lawyer whose firm represents the families of victims Lillian Campbell, Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver and Emily Tuck, also raised the need for a system to ensure the inquiry's recommendations are followed.

He said that if there are no reforms, it raises the question of whether the province should continue to contract with RCMP for rural policing.

During a short afternoon session, the inquiry was urged to make strong recommendations to address gender-based and domestic violence.

The commission had previously heard that the killer’s rampage was preceded by an assault on his spouse, Lisa Banfield. Evidence gathered indicated he had used coercive tactics against her throughout their 19-year relationship, as well as against other women.

Lawyer Jamie Goodwin spoke on behalf of a coalition of advocacy and support organizations such as women's shelters. He said the commission needs to use its platform to call out the “false dichotomy” between public and private violence.

“We cannot make sense of the murders of April 2020 without understanding the perpetrator’s history of family, gender-based and intimate partner violence,” Goodwin said.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax with files from Keith Doucette.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2022.

The Canadian Press