Written by Megan McDermott
In April 2020, a man impersonating an RCMP officer killed 22 people in various locations in Nova Scotia. The public has been asking questions ever since, wanting to understand whether the state – especially police – could have better protected the communities harmed. The failure of the RCMP to send an emergency alert through cellular phones to warn Nova Scotians that a killer was at large and driving an RCMP replica vehicle is the most well-known example of police actions (or inactions) that have perplexed and angered the public.
Seeking to ask such questions and to make findings on the causes, context and circumstances giving rise to the mass casualty as well as the responses of police, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia created the Mass Casualty Commission, an independent public inquiry that is currently underway.
The BCCLA has joined forces with the East Coast Prison Justice Society to participate in this important inquiry due to our shared interest in human rights and police accountability. The East Coast Prison Justice Society works to raise awareness of the socio-economic, political, and institutional inequalities impacting marginalized people and communities in Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Region.
The record before the Mass Casualty Commission has revealed a devastating policing failure, on April 18 – 19, 2020, and long before, that contributed to the mass casualty. One of the most disturbing aspects of this catastrophe is that the evidentiary record has revealed that some police were either unwilling or unable to perceive the perpetrator as a threat to public safety and properly investigate him. Even after receiving tips from the public about illegal weapons and violent intentions, the police failed to take appropriate action against the man whose own character reflected and exemplified many of the core characteristics of police culture itself.
Our participation has been largely limited to the third and final phase of the inquiry where recommendations for the future were developed. Our submissions drew attention to the systemic and cultural nature of policing problems, stressing that current oversight mechanisms are ineffective and leave communities vulnerable. We need strong and independent civilian oversight of police rather than the current labyrinth of weak processes that consistently favour police. We have also recommended that some policing resources be redirected to develop and enhance non-policing community-based services.
As the Mass Casualty Inquiry continues through to 2023, we will strive alongside East Coast Prison Justice Society to ensure that the Commission does not inadvertently cause further harm to marginalized people and communities through its recommendations to the Canadian and Nova Scotian governments. Should any final recommendations echo those of our coalition, we will be sure to take advantage of the momentum and advocate all relevant governments in Canada to implement them without delay.