HALIFAX — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won’t commit to a federal inquiry into the recent Nova Scotia shootings, even as the province’s premier continues to say it’s up to Ottawa to take the lead in examining the tragedy.
Nova Scotia’s premier said this month he would not initiate a public inquiry into the shooting rampage that claimed 22 lives last month, saying the province is waiting to see what Trudeau’s government decides.
Stephen McNeil told reporters the province “will wait to see” what Ottawa commits to beyond the ongoing RCMP investigation, and McNeil has said he believes the key areas of jurisdiction — such as the procedures used by the Mounties — are federal.
However, speaking to reporters Friday in Ottawa, Trudeau said the RCMP is still working on the case, and the federal government will work with Nova Scotia on what to do next. He sidestepped a question on whether his government will launch an inquiry federally.
“People have many questions about what happened in Nova Scotia, and we are encouraging the RCMP to do its work on the initial investigation, but as we move forward there will be of course larger questions to ask, and we will work with the government of Nova Scotia on getting those answers,” Trudeau said.
Family members of victims and legal experts have repeatedly called for more information on the police handling of the rampage, which lasted more than 12 hours.
There have also been questions raised about how the RCMP informed the public of the shootings as they unfolded over five locations. The perpetrator’s prior history of domestic violence has also been raised as a key issue to examine.
The Mounties provided a timeline of the rampage indicating that it began in Portapique, N.S., on April 18 after a domestic assault incident where the gunman, Gabriel Wortman, detained and abused his common law wife. Police have said she managed to escape into nearby woods where she hid until early in the morning of April 19.
Last week, a former neighbour of Wortman said she reported an account of a 2013 incident of domestic violence by Wortman against the common law spouse to the RCMP in Truro. Brenda Forbes said she reported witnesses telling her that Wortman had strangled and beaten his common law partner, and she said she told police there were guns in the house.
The RCMP said in an email Friday it is still looking for the police record of the incident and declined further comment.
Ed Ratushny, the author of “The Conduct of Public Inquiries,” said in an interview that he firmly believes a public inquiry should be called and that it could be a joint federal-provincial effort. He said such an inquiry will be necessary to get to the bottom of what led to the mass shooting.
The University of Ottawa professor emeritus of law said there are overlapping issues of provincial and federal jurisdiction.
He gave the example of the issue of domestic abuse, noting that the way support is provided to abuse victims is largely a provincial responsibility, while changes to relevant Criminal Code offences to prevent abuse would be a federal matter.
“I think there’s much more room for provincial and federal governments for getting their acts together on inquiries, because the problems don’t happen in silos. They’re often very inter-related,” he said.
“If they want to get to bottom of it, just get together and get a really good commissioner who has the trust of the public,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2020.
— With files from Jordan Press in Ottawa
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press