Families of Nova Scotia shooting victims disappointed in inquiry's interim report

The joint provincial-federal commission examining Canada’s worst mass killing has completed its interim report as mandated, but its 171 pages contain little new information.

The Mass Casualty Commission has always said the report wouldn’t contain any recommendations or findings of fact, as its work is ongoing.

But some of those most affected by the process say it’s still disappointing.

Nick Beaton, whose pregnant wife Kristen was among the 22 Nova Scotians killed in Gabriel Wortman’s murderous rampage in April 2020, says at this point he has lost faith in the inquiry he and others fought for.

"At the end of the day, I don't know how anyone at the upper levels of the inquiry, or ‘review’, are sleeping at night," he says.

He says the Commission hasn't told him anything about his wife’s murder that he didn't already know by now.

Beaton says the Commission's public summaries of evidence and release of thousands of pages of source documents isn't the investigation he wanted.

"And if they don't want to do it, step aside and let someone in there that actually gives a sh-- and actually wants to care and wants to make a change for Canada, Nova Scotia and the 23 people that we lost."

"Like, the main key witness that can tell anything, they supposedly interviewed Lisa Banfield, but we've heard zero from it," he adds.

"They don’t mind splashing the personal stuff about us out there, and we understand that’s going to happen, and we accepted that to move forward. We’re doing everything we can do."

Ever since public proceedings began in late February, the inquiry has faced harsh criticism from families, their lawyers, and observers.

"The interim report is quite lengthy but from our perspective it doesn't really say a whole lot," says Sandra McCulloch, one of the lawyers representing many of the families affected by the mass shootings.

"That there is nothing said about the evidence of the information or what's been collected and handled to date in any meaningful way is something that's missing," she says.

McCulloch has been among several lawyers who have repeatedly called on the inquiry to bring more witnesses to the stand in a process they say has had far too little in-person testimony so far.

She’s raised questions over the Commission’s temporary removal of some documents from the public website, which the Commission has said is done to update the material to address privacy issues. The Commission has said that material is then reposted.

"Certainly it makes sense that documents need to come back," she says, "I think the concern that I have expressed is that I don’t know specifically what coming down and for what purpose."

"That that information isn’t shared in an open way leads people to speculate," McCulloch adds, "I’m not saying it’s necessarily of a concern or indicative of anything people should worry about, but the fact that we don’t know is problematic."

For its part, the Commission says its work is still ongoing, and there are still many questions to be answered.

"The interim report is an opportunity to share the Commission's approach and next steps. The work to answer what happened leading up to, during, and after the mass casualty in Nova Scotia continues as we turn to addressing the questions of 'how and why'," said Emily Hill, Senior Commission Counsel in a news release. "We are committed to doing this work in a comprehensive and transparent manner."

"Obviously this is a very challenging and important task," says Wayne MacKay, Dalhousie University professor emeritus of law.

MacKay says the process hasn’t been perfect, and that affects how the public perceives the Commission and its work.

"The findings of the commission are only useful if the public is confident that they've done a fair and independent and transparent assessment of the situation," he says.

When it comes certain documents being temporarily removed from the Commission’s website, he says that can have an impact public trust.

"If things are taken down, then I think it really is incumbent on the Commission to make it clear why that’s happening, and also very clear about what changes they’re making and why they’re making to that document," he continues.

"And one of the challenges the Mass Casualty Commission has had from the very beginning is that there has been some concern in terms of the public trust, certainly of the RCMP response, whether or not that’s right, and to some extent government responses as well."

Nick Beaton maintains that his trust in the inquiry’s work has been eroded.

"If we learn nothing from this, it's much more than Canada’s worst tragedy, it's beyond that," he says. They are the ones that have the power."

Beaton says all he and other families wanted was an investigation to make sure such a tragedy never happens again.