IT TAKES A SHOOTING? Public Inquiry into RCMP Was Overdue Even Before Nova Scotia Murders

Protestors carry signs outside the office of Nova Scotia MPP Mark Furey, himself a former RCMP officer, to urge him to get on board with a full inquiry into the April 18 deadly shootings in Nova Scotia. (Image Credit -- Global News)

EDITORIAL / By AWN Staff

By late July, it was clear that many Canadians were hopping mad over the mere suggestion that there would be only a limited “public review” of April’s tragic and deadly multiple shooting in Nova Scotia. The public’s palpable anger was strong enough to prevail in convincing the usually inert federal government to take action and hold a more detailed public inquiry.

The distinction is important: An inquiry, unlike a review, allows for calling forth witnesses, gathering testimony and securing documentation to determine what happened in the province on the fateful day of April 18, resulting in the deaths of 22 people, with three injured. Questions abound about the RCMP’s actions and/or inactions in the event, since the shooter, in an unusual twist, reportedly wore an RCMP-type uniform.

According to the official account, the motive of the apparent shooter, Gabriel Wortman, is still under investigation and of course will be part of the inquiry. He reportedly used a handgun and a long gun, while setting fires at multiple locations, before being killed by the RCMP in the town of Enfield. There are suspicions Wortman was a police informant. For part of what became a 13-hour crime spree, Wortman not only wore a police uniform; he also drove what Wikipedia’s account called “a replica police car.” Critics maintain that police officers, besides not issuing an Amber Alert, also had failed to respond to reports of past instances of Wortman’s violent behaviour.

The Conservative Party of Canada is among those that have praised the decision to conduct a full inquiry. “For months, the families of the victims have been calling for a public inquiry to get answers.  Those calls were shamefully ignored by the Trudeau and McNeil Liberals,” a party statement signed by West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont noted. He chided the Liberals, especially Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for having recently called for a mere public review  “As many Nova Scotians have pointed out, the public review fell far short of what was expected and deserved,” the party’s statement added.

MPP FUREY HEARS SOME FURY

But the real outrage came from the people themselves. Indeed, public fury could be keenly felt when concerned citizens recently gathered outside an office of former RCMP police officer and current Nova Scotia House of Assembly member Mark Furey (Liberal-Lunenburg West). The citizens held signs saying things like, “Public Inquiry Now: End the Cone of Silence,” “Fix This, Furey,” and “Truth Not Politics.”

Interestingly, the “Cone of Silence” remark is an apparent reference to the 1960’s American TV spy comedy “Get Smart,” which featured a device that enabled spies to huddle to talk but not be heard. This creative reference is ironically accurate, especially when one considers what AWN calls “The Time Machine” in Canadian politics.

That metaphor represents the long-standing political process in Canada whereby countless issues are swept under the rug until they’re all-but-forgotten—almost as if they never happened. This involves treating recent history like ancient history. As the famous British novelist George Orwell (born 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair, who died 70 years ago this year) wrote: “Who controls the past controls the future”—meaning that future plans are hard to make if past achievements, mistakes, crimes or general failures within the governing system are not accurately and faithfully documented in a way that they can be known and understood.

Orwell added, “Who controls the present controls the past,” meaning that whatever is done in the present, or left undone, quickly becomes history, and if due diligence is not observed and, once again, if the real facts are neither obtained nor recorded, then the past becomes a kind of mythology.

Let’s face it: The disturbing history of Canada’s residential schools, a system of government-funded boarding schools that lasted roughly 100 years, has long haunted Canadians because, at the time the abuses of the indigenous students in those schools happened, the matter was not dealt with head-on through a real-time inquiry. Instead, the matter was cast into “the time machine” in order to “pass the buck,” leaving it to future generations to pick up the widely scattered pieces.

Eventually, Canada did form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission—way after the fact—to “look into,” or some might dare say “whitewash,” the residential schools issue. But the general consensus was and still is: “Too little, too late.” Perhaps, deep down, Canadian citizens, regarding the NS tragedy, fear a repeat of the process of delayed justice.

Thus, a mere review of the NS event might have resulted in a little “window dressing” to project the image of a semi-serious probe, yet the matter likely would have gone nowhere and soon would have “hardened into cement,” so to speak, and placed in “the vault” of history, without public access. So, it’s a good thing the citizenry made some noise to force a full inquiry.

But it’s too bad it had to come to that. The NS shooting, obviously, was a serious enough event to warrant a full-blown inquiry right away. No major public outcry should have been needed. Harry Bond, who lost his parents, Peter and Joy, in the shooting, said having an inquiry meant that the families of victims were finally being heard after protests and rallies.

“This should’ve been [done] right from the get-go. We never should have had to fight for it,” Bond told Global News at 6 Halifax anchor Sarah Ritchie. Furthermore, two Halifax lawyers, Robert Pineo and Sandra McCulloch, representing some of the victims’ family members in a proposed class-action lawsuit against the RCMP, also welcomed the inquiry.

In a statement on behalf of the families they represent, these attorneys noted: “The public inquiry will ensure that the people who need to speak will speak, that the documents that need to be seen will be seen, and that a full and complete understanding about what happened, and how it can be avoided in the future, will be achieved.”

RUMOURS? WE DON’T KNOW YET

According to the government-run CBC, Senators Kim Pate and Paula Simons said that a public inquiry with a “full examination of the facts” is necessary “to dispel rumours” about the shooter and learn lessons “that will better prepare the RCMP for the next incident,” as the CBC oddly phrased it in a July 20 report.

“It screams for a very public transparent process that examines all the issues surrounding violence against women, surrounding how someone could do this, why the police didn’t notify as soon as possible that this was happening, why there wasn’t at the very least an Amber Alert [and] why there wasn’t a notice that this man was impersonating a police officer as soon as they knew,” Sen. Pate told the CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. “All of those questions need to be answered, in large part, so that we can prevent these sorts of things from happening in the future for sure.”

All things considered, however, it might be a good idea not to automatically regard anything as a “rumour to dispel” because, until the inquiry happens—and we hope it’s a thorough, honest and transparent process—the public cannot know yet whether the rumours floating around might turn out to be factual (or not). Therefore, while the inquiry itself will help separate fact from rumour, it’s best not to make presuppositions either way. In other words, anything short of waiting for the inquiry to take place is to pre-judge the process.

The well-known Maclean’s Magazine article that probed the NS shooting does make some compelling observations that, frankly, most Canadian media have downplayed but which deserve to be objectively explored. Everything should be on the table. The chips must be allowed to fall where they may.

And, as AWN has learned through its reporting, experiences and investigations, an inquiry into the RCMP itself is arguably long overdue—given the national police agency’s tendency to function like the lazy, ineffective bureaucracy that many believe it to be, however fair or unfair that opinion may be. Yet, the RCMP has tried to claim that international money laundering in British Columbia, affecting most of Canada, was somehow “not the RCMP’s jurisdiction.”

That “not our jurisdiction” claim has been heard before. It’s is the same thing the RCMP has told AWN (and our predecessor publication “World’s Apart”) regarding several matters. **

CONSIDER THE ‘COVID FACTOR’

A final thought: Covid-19, having resulted in slow-downs and some lockdowns of the business sector, and of parts of the democratic process, is like flood waters which, when they recede, reveal shortcomings and fault lines that before Covid-19 were either invisible or safe to ignore. But the public, having been marooned at home much of the time, perhaps has had time to think about the state of their nation and is showing a little more resolve than normal.

That’s a good thing, although the people may find that Canada’s democratic process has been on the ropes longer than many may suspect (See our **“20 Years of Obstruction” standing item along the top bar of our home page here at www.AwakeningNews.ca) If that realization about democracy, or the lack thereof, is made, along with a deeper look at the state of the RCMP, then perhaps the public inquiry will pay more dividends than just getting to the bottom of the NS shooting—though that’s undeniably the first and primary order of business.

As our AWN motto says, “If the people lead, the leaders may follow.”