Nova Scotia's mass shooting inquiry has submitted subpoenas to the RCMP: spokeswoman

Barbara McLean, investigations director of the Mass Casualty Commission, visits the Portapique, N.S. community as part of their fact finding work on Friday, June 4, 2021. The independent public inquiry, created to examine the April 18-19, 2020 mass casualty in Nova Scotia, will submit a report containing their findings, lessons learned, and recommendations at the end of their mandate in November 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The commission of inquiry investigating the mass killing in Nova Scotia that claimed 22 lives last year has filed almost 50 subpoenas to compel the release of information from several organizations, including the RCMP.

All the agencies and institutions involved have been "very responsive," Barbara McLean, the inquiry's director of investigations, told a news conference Thursday.

McLean said the commission, which started its work 11 months ago, has also used subpoenas for information from the Canada Border Services Agency and "community services" that interacted with the perpetrator.

She did not provide details, but McLean's disclosure reveals the commission is using its legal powers to obtain evidence that might otherwise be beyond its reach.

The provincial and federal governments had initially said the killings on April 18-19, 2020, would be the subject of a less rigorous review, but they changed course and agreed to a joint inquiry in July 2020 after the families of victims launched a series of protests to demand more accountability.

"We will continue to use the subpoena powers of the commission any time we feel agencies or institutions have information that we require to do our work," McLean said.

She also encouraged people who may have information about the killings to share what they know with the commission. She said that includes people who haven't already spoken to the police.

"No fact is too small," McLean said, adding that the commission is an independent body that is gathering its own evidence rather than relying on the work of other agencies. "We are following up on leads."

The commission, led by former Nova Scotia chief justice Michael MacDonald, is scheduled to begin public hearings next month. An interim report is expected by next May, and a final report is due by November 2022.

MacDonald said the inquiry, which is formally known as the Mass Casualty Commission, is on schedule and has made good progress.

"The memories of those who lost their lives, their families and all those affected by this mass casualty are the driving force behind all of our efforts," MacDonald told the virtual briefing.

"The scale of the loss and the trauma caused fear, anger and grief in Nova Scotia, across Canada and beyond. Together, we will get the answers that Nova Scotians and Canadians seek."

MacDonald said the commission's role is not to lay blame or find criminal or civil liability. Instead, he said the inquiry is mainly a fact-finding exercise that will determine how to prevent similar tragedies and ensure the safety of Canadian communities.

The inquiry, however, can make findings of misconduct, Emily Hill, the commission's main lawyer, told reporters.

"That is something that public inquiries can do," she said. "If we find information that points us in that direction, we will follow those leads. The legislation that sets up public inquiries and our rules of procedure both point to ways we can deal with notices of misconduct."

When asked if the killer's spouse or the head of the RCMP's investigation would be asked to testify at the hearings, Hill said she was unable to talk about witness lists.

The Mounties have confirmed that on the night of April 18, 2020, a lone gunman set fire to several homes and killed 13 people in Portapique, N.S., before evading police while disguised as an RCMP officer and driving a vehicle that looked exactly like a police cruiser.

The next morning, he resumed killing people he knew and others at random before he was fatally shot by a Mountie at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., north of Halifax.

The killer drove more than 100 kilometres during the 13 hours he was at large.

About 60 people and organizations have been given standing to participate in the inquiry.

The commission has confirmed it will be hosting a series of open houses later this month to share information with the residents of Debert, Truro, Millbrook and Wentworth.

"We know having these discussions may bring up many emotions for people," Hill said, adding that the meetings will include those who can provide mental health support. "We know that our work will bring up hard topics again."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2021.