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Commission Directors

  • Ronda Bessner
    Senior Legal Advisor
    Ronda Bessner

    Ronda Bessner has taught for many years at law school, done extensive policy work, worked in law reform, served as an adjudicator at the Consent and Capacity Board, and has played key roles in several public inquiries. Her public inquiry work includes serving in senior positions at six public inquiries, including the Walkerton Inquiry, the Ipperwash Inquiry, the Collingwood Inquiry, and the Royal Commission on the Blood System in Canada. Her law school teaching has been in the areas of public inquiries, evidence, criminal law, and youth justice. Ronda is the co-author of Public Inquiries in Canada: Law and Practice, published in 2017, and she is currently at work with her co-author on the second edition of the book. Ronda received her Bachelor of Civil Law and her Bachelor of Common Law from McGill Law School and a Masters of Law from Harvard Law School. In 2016, Ronda was awarded the Law Society of Upper Canada medal for outstanding service in the legal profession.

  • Thomas Cromwell
    Commission Counsel Director
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    The Honourable Thomas Cromwell, Companion of the Order of Canada, served as Executive Legal Officer to then-Chief Justice Antonio Lamer between 1992 and 1995, before going on to serve in the judiciary himself. In 1997, he was appointed by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien directly to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal where he served until 2008. In 2008, Justice Cromwell was elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada as the Atlantic representative by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He sat on the Supreme Court until 2016, where he played a significant and active role on the bench, championing access to justice in civil courts. From 2008 until 2018, he chaired the Chief Justice of Canada’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He is currently senior counsel at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and an active advisor and mediator in the public and private sectors.

    Justice Cromwell earned degrees in Music and in Law from Queens University, an ARCT Diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music, and a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University. While not appearing before the Commission, he will be supervising and directing the work of the counsel team.

  • Dr. Emma Cunliffe
    Research and Policy Director
    Emma Cunliffe BW

    Dr. Emma Cunliffe is a professor at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia and a Visiting Professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. Her research focuses on the investigation and fact-finding process in complex criminal matters, particularly those regarding violence against women and Indigenous people. Dr. Cunliffe is also a member of the Evidence Based Forensics Initiative, a multi-disciplinary group of scholars and practitioners who are interested in improving the reliability and effectiveness of forensic science and medicine. She is an award-winning teacher and researcher.

    Dr. Cunliffe is a co-author of well-regarded casebooks in criminal law and evidence, and has authored, edited and co-edited three other books about the legal system. Her research on expert evidence and factual reasoning is published in leading Canadian and international law journals and has also informed law reform measures, judicial education, and government reports.

  • Christine Hanson
    Executive Director and Chief Administrative Officer
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    Christine Hanson has joined the Mass Casualty Commission from her role as the Director and CEO of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. She was appointed Chair of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies in 2019. Prior to returning to Nova Scotia, Christine worked as an international lawyer and diplomat in a variety of roles with Global Affairs Canada. She was a senior diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. where she worked in the Office of the Ambassador and subsequently led the team managing Canada’s relationship with the US Congress. Christine also served at Canada’s Mission to the United Nations in New York. She completed a graduate degree in international law from Georgetown University in Washington. She also earned degrees in law, public administration and political science from Dalhousie University in Halifax. Christine was an International Women’s Forum Global Leadership Foundation Fellow in 2015-2016.

  • Barbara McLean (M.O.M.)
    Investigations Director
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    As Deputy Chief, Toronto Police Service, Barbara McLean is a senior police leader with over 31 years of experience with the Toronto Police Service. She has extensive experience and a proven track record in policing, public safety, community engagement, policy development, strategic planning, fiscal accountability, and leadership development. These skills are a result of applied experience and leadership in areas including front-line policing, marine policing, criminal investigation, human resources, training and development, incident command, and through her commitment to lifelong learning and community involvement. Originally from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Barbara holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (St. Francis Xavier University), a Master of Business Administration (York University), a Master of Industrial Relations and Human Resources (University of Toronto), and Certificates in Criminology (University of Toronto) and Teaching Effectiveness (Humber College). She is also a Certified Municipal Manager - Level 3 Police Executive.

  • Mary Pyche
    Mental Health Director
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    Mary has worked in the field of Mental Health and Addictions for more than thirty ‎years and her passion remains for this work. She obtained a Master of Social Work Degree and since 2009 has taught part-time at the Dalhousie School of Social Work. Mary has worked as an Addictions Clinical Therapist and held leadership roles in Mental Health and Addictions for Nova Scotia Health, Central Zone, including Crisis and Psychiatric Emergency Services, Mental Health Acute Care and Addictions Intensive Treatment Services. She has worked specifically in Mental Health Crisis Response for sixteen years. During this time, she has also worked as a co-lead with psychiatry for the Nova Scotia Health Provincial Task Force on Suicide Risk Assessment and Intervention. Most recently, she has been the Program Leader and Site Lead at the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and the Provincial Lead for Mental Health and Addiction Bed Management Program of Care Access and Flow. In 2006 Mary and a colleague developed and implemented the Nova Scotia Health 24/7 Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team. This team is a partnered co-response model of mental health and policing. In 2012 Mary worked with the Nova Scotia Department of Health to expand that service to the Provincial Crisis Service it is today.

  • Maureen Wheller
    Community Liaison Director
    Maureen Wheller

    With over 13 years of experience in developing and leading public engagement strategies working in Mental Health and Addictions communications, Maureen Wheller brings unique insight into the complexities of the topic and ways to build understanding. She builds relationships with community-based organizations, public and private sector partners, individuals, families, and healthcare providers to promote understanding through dialogue and encourages hope for recovery. Maureen co-chaired Nova Scotia Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Program’s first Public Advisory Group (PAG) with a community support group leader, creating the foundation for the four PAGs now covering the province. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Saint Mary’s University and worked for the former Children’s Aid Society in Halifax. As VP of Marketing for Cochran Entertainment Inc., she developed and licensed award-winning children, family, and documentary programming and products worldwide.

  • Sarah Young
    Chief Engagement Officer
    Sarah Young

    Sarah Young has been providing communications leadership and counsel for private and public organizations across Canada for over 25 years. She has a strong background in community building, and brings to the Mass Casualty Commission the experience of her previous role as Managing Partner, NATIONAL Public Relations (responsible for Atlantic Canada). She serves on numerous boards, including for the Trans Canada Trail, Develop Nova Scotia, and YMCA for Greater Halifax/Dartmouth Honourary Trustees. She is an Associate with the Creative Destruction Lab-Atlantic and was part of the founding group behind Halifax’s Blue Nose Marathon. She has also served on the boards for Mount Allison University, Nova Scotia Community College, Halifax Partnership, and Phoenix Youth.

    Sarah grew up in small town Nova Scotia and is a proud Atlantic Canadian. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Mount Allison University and a Master of Arts degree in media studies from Concordia University.

Commission Team

  • Roger A. Burrill
    Commission Counsel
    Roger Burrill

    Nova Scotia is home for Roger A. Burrill. Since admission to the Nova Scotia bar, he has worked exclusively with the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission providing criminal legal services to Nova Scotians unable to afford a lawyer. He comes to the Mass Casualty Commission with extensive experience in both trial and appellate proceedings. In 2011, he initiated the criminal appeals section within the Nova Scotia Legal Aid program.

  • Brian Corbett
    Brian Corbett

    Brian Corbett is a seasoned intelligence analyst having spent 14 years with the Canadian Army. He has a background in Psychological Operations, Intelligence Collection, and Intelligence Production. Brian spent 10 years of his career at the 5th Canadian Division HQ in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he oversaw intelligence production, and advised on security, training, and doctrine.

    In 2016, Brian was deployed to Kuwait as part of Operation Impact, Canada’s mission against ISIL. During this time, he coordinated intelligence collection and surveillance for Canada’s deployed intelligence centre. He was also the subject matter expert on high altitude collection.

    Brian has instructed and been a standards representative on national military intelligence courses, and mentored many intelligence operators and officers during collective and individual training events. 

    Brian is originally from Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, and currently resides in Halifax. Most of his family live in Nova Scotia, including family in Truro and Bible Hill.

  • Jennifer Cox, QC
    Commission Counsel
    Jennifer Cox

    Jennifer Cox was born and raised in Truro, Nova Scotia and has been a practising lawyer in both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan for the past 25 years. She has spent most of her career practising in the areas of family and criminal law as well as working on two public inquiries; the Inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Jennifer’s previous public inquiry experience, her criminal law experience and her residence in the Truro area will assist the Commission team in fulfilling its mandate.

  • Will Crews
    Will Crews

    A native of North Sydney, Will Crews is a recently retired Toronto police officer, with 33 years of experience predominantly in the investigative fields. With a strong investigative and surveillance background, he was a Detective (Staff) Sergeant of the Major Crime Task Force in Toronto, responsible for kidnapping and murder-for-hire investigations, including surveillance on organized crime members. He was also a Detective (Staff) Sergeant in charge of the Professional Standards and Anti-Corruption Unit, responsible for investigating police officers allegedly involved in organized crime. Will also spent time as a divisional detective where he investigated numerous incidents involving intimate partner and gender-based violence.

  • Nichole Elizabeth
    Policy Advisor
    Nichole Elizabeth

    Nichole Elizabeth was born and raised on the South Shore of Nova Scotia and has experience working as a registered nurse in emergency medicine in Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories. She joins the Commission as a policy advisor with the Research and Policy team, and is also admitted as a lawyer with the Law Society of New Brunswick. Informed by her experience in healthcare, Nichole remains interested in health policy as the intersection between individual and community health and the law.

    Nichole clerked for a semester with the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and has received prizes in health law and policy, Indigenous law, and contracts. She also holds a Masters in Health Administration and is a Certified Health Executive with the Canadian College of Health Leaders.

  • Wayne Fowler
    Wayne Fowler

    Wayne Fowler retired from the Toronto Police Service with just over 30 years of policing experience. His career includes over 20 years in the investigative field with seven of those years working in homicide investigation, including the Homicide Cold Case Unit. Wayne has investigated numerous Criminal Code violations including, but not limited to, acts of violence, sexual assaults, intimate partner and gender-based violence, arsons, extortions linked to organized crime, robberies, and break and enters. Wayne is originally from Newfoundland and his wife is from the Truro area.

  • Stephen Henkel
    Stephen Henkel

    Stephen Henkel is a decorated, bilingual law enforcement professional with 32 years of experience with the Toronto Police Service. Recognized for his investigative excellence and victim/witness management expertise, Stephen’s extensive experience as a supervisor spans homicide, international peacekeeping, human trafficking, counter terrorism, transnational organized crime, and Professional Standards. During his long-standing experience, Stephen has had exposure to intimate partner and gender-based violence as part of his human trafficking and homicide investigations. His awards include the Canadian and UN Peacekeeping Medals, Teamwork Commendations, Chief of Police Excellence Award, as well as Outstanding Achievements in Law Enforcement.

  • Emily Hill
    Commission Counsel
    Emily Hill

    Emily Hill joins the Mass Casualty Commission most recently as the Senior Staff Lawyer at Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS) in Ontario. Since joining ALS in 2011, she has appeared at the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. She has represented victims of crime in administrative hearings and families at inquests, including representing ALS at the inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair in Winnipeg.

  • Gillian Hnatiw
    Commission Counsel
    Gillian Hnatiw

    Gillian Hnatiw comes to the Mass Casualty Commission as the Principal of Gillian Hnatiw & Co. in Toronto. Since her call to the bar in 2003, Gillian has built a broad civil litigation practice focused on health, employment, and administrative law, including professional regulation, professional negligence and human rights disputes. Most notably, she has emerged as one of the country’s foremost practitioners in claims for sexual assault, abuse and exploitation. She has represented both plaintiff/claimants and defendants/respondents before all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. She has also appeared and before various administrative bodies and been involved as counsel in a number of lengthy inquiry processes, including the Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Ashley Smith.

  • Kate Kehoe
    Senior Policy Advisor
    Kate Kehoe

    Kate Kehoe joins the Mass Casualty Commission as a lawyer and consultant with experience in gender-based violence, victims, restorative justice, and the integrity of police investigations. From 1999 to 2007, she was counsel to the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, where she was responsible for a large caseload involving families struggling with family violence, mental illness, addictions, poverty and other challenges. From 2008 to 2017 she was Senior Advisor and Managing Senior Advisor at the National Judicial Institute, working with judges from all levels of court to develop educational programs and resources on topics such as gender-based violence, victims, restorative justice, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, preventing wrongful convictions, self-represented litigants, and Indigenous law and legal systems. Since 2017, she has provided legal and policy analysis for several reviews and commissions of inquiry, and has investigated potential wrongful convictions for the Criminal Convictions Review Group at the Department of Justice.

  • Dwayne King
    Dwayne King

    Dwayne King has 27 years of experience in law enforcement with more than eight years investigating money laundering and proceeds of crime as part of the Financial Crimes Unit of the Toronto Police Service. As a uniformed officer, Dwayne faced numerous incidents involving intimate partner and gender-based violence. As an investigator, he probed the abusive financial dynamics of sexual exploitation, which often involved the controlling of finances and the infliction of long-lasting suffering, an often overlooked consequence for victims.

    After leaving law enforcement, Dwayne managed a team of 26 investigators as part of the Global Anti-Money Laundering Department for TD Bank and for the past two years has been a Senior Manager as part of Grant Thornton’s Forensics Team. Dwayne has many family ties to Nova Scotia including his wife, who is from Sydney.

  • Christopher Lussow
    Christopher Lussow

    Christopher Lussow is a decorated 33-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service, with twenty years dedicated to the Emergency Task Force (ETF/SWAT). He was a Team Leader and Senior Instructor for a 90-member tactical response unit. In these roles he led major project planning, intelligence support, operational response, and tactical training. The successes he brought to these positions were borne from his organizational skills and interoperability development that created essential Joint Forces Operations and Hostage Rescue training programs for domestic and international tactical law enforcement officers.

    Christopher’s professional experiences led him to create a national peer-support program for officer-involved shootings, providing direct officer-to-officer connection and mentorship that focuses on mental well-being, post-incident investigation, and inquest expectations. Christopher has extensive family ties in Nova Scotia.

  • Anna Mancini
    Commission Counsel
    Anna Mancini

    Anna Mancini was born and raised in Cape Breton and was called to the Nova Scotia bar in 2017. She comes to the Mass Casualty Commission as a criminal defence lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid, representing clients in Halifax Provincial Court, Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and Nova Scotia Youth Court. Her work involves grappling with the complex interplay between legal and societal issues, including systemic racism, access to mental health and addictions services, poverty, and police services.

  • Elizabeth Montgomery
    Team Lead, Investigations
    Liz Montgomery

    Liz Montgomery was born and raised in the Annapolis Valley.

    She is a seasoned investigator, spanning 30 years of law enforcement experience, with over 10 years specializing in sexual assault investigations, child exploitation, threat and risk assessment, and high-risk offender management. As the lead of the threat assessment section, the majority of Liz's casework related to assessing and analyzing threat and risk in intimate partner and gender-based violence investigations.

    She is qualified in advanced threat assessment for intimate partner violence, stalking, general violence (including cases with the existence of a mental health component), sexual violence, and school threat assessment. Liz was recognized for her exceptional investigative skills by the Ambassador of the United States and the Department of Homeland Security for linking a high-profile child exploitation case to a known sexual offender, who was subsequently brought to justice and convicted.

  • Lee Seshagiri
    Commission Counsel
    Lee Seshagiri

    Lee Seshagiri joins the legal counsel team at the Mass Casualty Commission on a leave of absence from his appellate practice at Nova Scotia Legal Aid. He was called to the Bar in Ontario in 2007 and in Nova Scotia in 2010. His practice focuses on criminal law and he has appeared at all levels of court in Nova Scotia and at the Supreme Court of Canada. In 2008, he acted as Law Clerk to Madam Justice Louise Charron at the Supreme Court of Canada. Lee has written and lectured on topics including evidence and sentencing law.

  • Krista Smith
    Senior Policy Lawyer
    Krista Smith headshot

    Krista Smith joins the Commission with an abiding interest in how we create psychologically safe and supportive communities and workplaces. Krista practiced labour and employment law for a decade before founding Root & Branch Workplace Conflict Resolutions, which focuses on helping organizations prevent, navigate, and recover from moments of conflict and crisis. Krista has extensive experience designing workplace investigation and assessment processes that are both procedurally fair and trauma-informed. She aims to resolve moments of struggle collaboratively using principles of cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, transformative mediation, and restorative justice. She resides in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

  • Laura Snowdon
    Commission Counsel
    Laura Snowdon

    Laura Snowdon comes to the Mass Casualty Commission as a lawyer at Gillian Hnatiw & Co., where she practices civil litigation focusing on claims arising from sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, as well as harassment and assault. She has experience in trauma-informed approaches to the law and has worked in Canada and abroad on human rights issues, criminal law and constitutional law.

    From 2017-2019, Laura clerked for judges at the Court of Appeal for Ontario and for Justice Abella at the Supreme Court of Canada. She also holds a Masters of Law in International Legal Studies from New York University.

  • Scott Spicer
    Scott Spicer

    Scott Spicer recently retired from the Toronto Police Service following a 30-year career. He spent his last 17 years working in Specialized Operations, where he received ongoing specialized training through police, fire, paramedic, military experts, and national security scientists. Scott was the Team Leader and Training Coordinator of the nationally recognized Toronto Police Emergency Management & Public Safety Unit, the Toronto Joint CBRNE Response Team, the Marine Search and Rescue, and the Emergency Task Force (SWAT) tactical response team.

    During his 10-year tenure with the Emergency Task Force, he was trained and qualified by the Canadian Police College in Crisis Negotiations, responding to many incidences involving intimate partners, persons in crisis, and hostage rescue. Using learned skills from training and operational experience, he effectively managed many evolving and dynamic situations without incident.

  • Paul Thompson
    Paul Tompson

    Paul is a recently retired Detective Sergeant from the Ontario Provincial Police with 33 years combined police experience. Paul’s career accomplishments include criminal investigations and drug enforcement, including joint forces in the Simcoe and Muskoka regions of Ontario. Paul was also a member of the Health Fraud Investigation team of the OPP Anti Rackets Section. Later, he was assigned as team leader of police investigators conducting online intelligence gathering within the Provincial Operations Intelligence Bureau.

    Approximately sixteen years of his career was assigned to the OPP Child Sexual Exploitation Unit, commonly known as ‘Project P’, as a Detective Sergeant. Paul led a team of detectives conducting covert online investigations to detect child sexual exploitation and abuse on the Internet. During his tenure, he was seconded to the RCMP as a National Training Coordinator within the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre (NCECC) in Ottawa.

  • Rachel Young
    Commission Counsel
    Rachel Young

    Rachel Young comes to the Mass Casualty Commission on secondment from the Enforcement Branch of the Ontario Securities Commission, where she prosecutes fraud-related offences. She was called to the Bar in 1999, and spent her first five years in private practice, working in the areas of criminal, securities, and administrative law. She was Associate Commission Counsel to the Walkerton Inquiry, and spent eight years as an Assistant Crown Attorney in Toronto. In addition to her trial work, Rachel has argued criminal appeals at all levels of appellate court in Canada.

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