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Lawyers for victims’ families call for more testimony in N.S. shooting inquiry

Lawyers for the families of the victims of Nova Scotia’s mass shooting are raising concerns about the ongoing public inquiry, saying more live testimony is needed to demonstrate transparency and keep public trust.

The Mass Casualty Commission leading the inquiry has now laid out the full timeline of what it believes happened across April 18 and 19, 2020, based on interviews, 911 calls, police radio logs and other evidence.

But lawyers for the victims’ families said Wednesday that written accounts are simply not enough, because they need the ability to ask followup questions and clarify important details to make sure the inquiry’s working with the best evidence.

“It leaves the inference, rightly or wrongly, that there is an avoidance to call a witness,” said Tara Miller, who represents family members of Aaron Tuck and Kristen Beaton, who were killed by the gunman.

“That necessary questions are not being asked, and that information is not being disclosed and difficult truths may not be uncovered.”

lawyers for victims families call for more testimony in n s shooting inquiry
Twenty-two people died on April 18 and 19, 2020. Top row from left: Gina Goulet, Dawn Gulenchyn, Jolene Oliver, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins. Second row: John Zahl, Lisa McCully, Joey Webber, Heidi Stevenson, Heather O’Brien and Jamie Blair. Third row from top: Kristen Beaton, Lillian Campbell, Joanne Thomas, Peter Bond, Tom Bagley and Greg Blair. Bottom row: Emily Tuck, Joy Bond, Corrie Ellison and Aaron Tuck. (CBC)

The commission had asked to hear from participants about gaps and errors in the record they’ve noticed so far, or comment on emerging themes.

In the past five weeks of the inquiry, there have been eight witnesses called in person. Two more officers testified Thursday, bringing the total to 10.

Miller also said there’s an impression the inquiry is running out of time to hear from witnesses, as the spring schedule leaves little time for testimony, which is “unsettling for our client and further assists in the erosion of confidence in the process.”

The commission’s interim report is due May 1, but Miller said it’s clear they cannot yet make any factual findings of what happened over the two days of the massacre “as this information is still not complete.”

Joshua Bryson, who represents the family of victims Joy and Peter Bond, said getting to hear earlier this week directly from two firefighters and a victim’s father about being at the Onslow fire hall when police mistakenly thought they spotted the gunman and opened fire was “moving and very informative.”

lawyers for victims families call for more testimony in n s shooting inquiry 1
Greg Muise, Onslow fire chief, Darrell Currie, deputy chief, and Portapique, N.S., resident Richard Ellison, left to right, field questions about the incident at the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade Hall at the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry in Halifax on Monday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Bryson said based on that testimony, he heard details he “certainly didn’t glean” from any of the previous documents or interviews provided by the commission.

While the commission has a trauma-informed approach that aims to make witnesses comfortable when sharing their information, Bryson said this mandate should not “blunt” the inquiry’s search for answers.

“There is a great concern by my clients that the trauma-informed approach will continue to be attempted … as a measure to curtail witness testimony and curtail the commission’s mandate to make findings,” Bryson said. 

Lawyer Sandra McCulloch, whose firm represents many victims’ families, said she was especially disappointed to see the police union’s recent request to have an officer give evidence by written affidavit.

McCulloch said the National Police Federation’s request for the officer to use a question-and-answer document, drafted by commission lawyers, is taking a “narrow” view of testimony on specific topics that won’t be able to illustrate why the officer took certain actions.

Union says other ways of testifying must come first

Brian Sauvé, president of the union, said Wednesday it is always open to having Mounties testify — when necessary.

“We should be exhausting every other available opportunity to gather that evidence,” he said. 

Lawyers said they are still unclear on when multiple people they have requested might testify, including key witnesses such as the gunman’s partner, Lisa Banfield.

The inquiry will take a break from public hearings next week to honour the second anniversary of the massacre. It will resume on April 25.


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