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We know a public inquiry does not happen everyday, and some of the key terms used are not common or used in daily conversation. The Commission team wants to ensure everyone has the tools to understand and engage with the inquiry process. The below provides definitions of common terms you may hear through our work.

Review answers to frequently asked questions on our FAQ page.

If you don’t see what you're looking for, please send your question to or phone 902-407-7532 (local) or 1 833-635-2501 (toll-free).

Key term What this means


The formal name of the independent public inquiry is the Joint Federal/ Provincial Commission into the April 2020 Nova Scotia mass casualty. Through out work, we will often shorten this to ‘Mass Casualty Commission’ or ‘Commission.’ The Commission is independent, objective, and unbiased, and serves the public interest.


The three individuals leading the Commission are Chief Commissioner the Honourable J. Michael MacDonald, Commissioner Leanne J. Fitch (M.O.M.) and Commissioner Dr. Kim Stanton.

Commission Counsel

These are lawyers who work for the Commission. Their primary responsibility is to ensure that all issues that bear on the public interest are brought to the attention of the Commissioners. Commission Counsel are not criminal prosecutors nor is their role similar to lawyers who represent plaintiffs or defendants in civil proceedings because the Commission is an investigative as opposed to an adversarial body. Commission Counsel will assist the Commissioners throughout the public inquiry in fulfilling their mandate and will help to ensure the organized management of the inquiry process.

Commissioner Decisions

These are official decisions from the Commissioners that relate to our process like the Participation Decision or witnessed to be called during a proceeding.

Community Meetings

These are engagement sessions where the Commission will be sharing information and seeking input on different aspects of its work from various groups and members of the public in affected communities.

Evidence-Gathering Interviews

Interviews with people who have knowledge about the facts or context leading up to and during the 2020 mass casualty in Nova Scotia. People interviewed may do so voluntarily. The Commissioners can also compel people to provide oral testimony and documents by using subpoenas.

Final Report

As outlined in the mandate, the Commission must produce a final report that includes findings, lessons learned, and recommendations to help keep communities safer in the future. The final report will be completed in November 2022. The Commission does not have the power to require governments, institutions, or other organizations to implement the recommendations. Ultimately, it is up to the federal and Nova Scotia governments and other organizations and institutions to accept and implement the recommendations.

First Responders and Service Providers

These are law enforcement and emergency service providers, including police, emergency health service professionals, firefighters, and others providing front-line service, like tow-truck drivers and medical examiners.

Foundational Documents

The Commission uses Foundational Documents to share key facts and events leading up to and during the April 2020 mass casualty in Nova Scotia. We are now sharing with the Participants what we are learning (i.e. our Foundational Documents) and asking if they have further questions or if there are areas they feel need further investigation. Following this consultation process, the Foundational Documents will be shared with the public through hearings and online. This factual record will form the basis for our work on understanding how and why the mass casualty happened, and to develop findings and recommendations to keep communities safe in the future.

Gender-based Violence

Any act of violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to people on the basis of their sex or gender, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. The term “violence against women” has also frequently been used to describe what we refer to as “gender-based violence.”


These are public sessions where Commission Counsel present evidence to the Commissioners and to the public. Participants, witnesses, experts, and others are also invited to share their experiences and may be asked by the Commissioners to confirm facts and provide additional information.

Interim Report

This will be a shorter report sharing information and insights, to be completed in May 2022. The Interim Report will be followed by the Final Report in November 2022.

Intimate Partner Violence

Any act or behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.


This work of the Commission involves interviewing witnesses, reviewing information and documents, and carrying out site visits with respect to the Commission’s mandate specified in the Orders in Council. Please see the definition for Orders in Council.

Mass Casualty

Many people refer to the events of April 18-19, 2020 as the mass shootings or Portapique shootings. However, the events of April 18-19, 2020 resulted in many types of harm in addition to the gun-related deaths and they occurred in different communities over a large area of Nova Scotia. This is why we are using the term “mass casualty.”


The Commission’s mandate assigns specific tasks to direct the work of the Commission and to let the public know what to expect. The Commission is required to establish what happened leading up to, during and after the mass casualty of April 18-19, 2020 in Nova Scotia. The Commission must also investigate and examine certain defined issues that provide context to understand why and how the mass casualty occurred. The Commission must also produce a report to the federal and Nova Scotia governments that includes these findings, lessons learned, and recommendations to help keep communities safer in the future.

Mental Health

A state of well-being in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Certain biological or psycho-social stressors can impact an individual’s well-being and ability to cope. This does not necessarily mean someone has a “mental Illness” or “mental disorder.”

Orders in Council

The details of the mandate are written in official documents known as Orders in Council (OICs), issued by the federal and Nova Scotia governments, which provide the direction, guidelines, and parameters for the Mass Casualty Commission to proceed with its work and the authority it can exercise in doing so.


These are individuals and groups who applied for and have been granted the opportunity for appropriate participation in the Commission’s proceedings. Participants are individuals or groups with a substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry. In total, there are 61 individuals and groups granted the opportunity for formal participation.

Participant Submissions

Participants will be invited to provide their input in writing and in oral submissions regarding any remaining gaps in the factual record related to the events in the Foundational Documents presented (including witnesses they suggest should be heard by the Commission). Participants will also be invited to make submissions on other matters at other points in the Commission process.


To remain trauma-informed and focused on those most affected the Commission does not refer to the perpetrator by name or use words such as ‘gunman’ or ‘shooter.’


The proceedings contribute to the Commission’s fact-finding, research, policy and analytical work as we learn what happened leading up to and during the April 2020 mass casualty. The information gathered will inform the findings, lessons and recommendations.

Production and Disclosure

This is a legal process where individuals, organizations and institutions are compelled to share information. Through the production process, the Commission can subpoena documents and information from various sources. When documents are provided to the Commission and shared with Participants, this is called disclosure. Some disclosed documents will be used to create Foundational Documents.

Public Inquiry

An official independent process designed to examine issues or events that have had a significant impact on the public. It is arm’s length from government and has the power to call witnesses to testify and to subpoena documents (i.e. require relevant information to be produced to the inquiry). The goal of a public inquiry is to gather and investigate the facts, to better understand the causes and consequences of the subject of its mandate, and to make recommendations to government to keep communities safer in the future.


Commission Counsel will lead the questioning of witnesses. Commission Counsel will consult with Participant counsel to determine questions and, where the Commissioners decide it is appropriate, Participant counsel may also question witnesses themselves.

Research and Policy

This is the Commission’s work to understand the broader set of issues including existing research, policy and legislation.

Restorative Principles

This is an approach that seeks to bring people together to help determine what happened. Restorative principles are intended to create the conditions to encourage people to cooperate and participate in efforts to establish the facts about what happened and how to keep communities safer in the future. The Commission is guided by restorative principles in order to do no further harm.


These are sessions where experts and other individuals with helpful knowledge are invited to share their perspective, experience and research on a specific theme, issue or topic.

Rules of Practice and Procedure ("the Rules”)

The Rules of Practice and Procedure are developed collaboratively with Participants and ensure everyone has a common understanding of the roles, processes and approach for public proceedings—including public hearings, roundtables, witness panels and community meetings.


These are legal documents that order a named individual, institution or organization to produce documents or to appear before the Commission to provide evidence or testimony. Subpoenas are a typical legal process for obtaining necessary information. The Commission has the same powers as a court in civil matters to compel witnesses to testify. Refusal to do so without a valid reason could result in punishment for contempt of court.

Those Most Affected

This language is used in place of “victims,” “witnesses,” “families,” etc. to ensure inclusivity for all. Note, there are instances, such as in the Notice to Potential Participants, where the use of the word “victim” is required, as it aligns with the formal language in the Orders in Council.


A term used to describe the challenging emotional consequences that living through a distressing event can have for an individual. Traumatic events can be difficult to define because the same event may be more traumatic for some people than for others. Traumatic events experienced early in life, such as abuse, neglect and disrupted attachment, can be devastating. Equally challenging can be later life experiences that are out of one’s control, such as a serious accident, being impacted by violence, living through a natural disaster or mass casualty, or sudden unexpected loss.

Trauma-informed Approach

The focus of a trauma-informed approach is to minimize the potential for further harm and re-traumatization, and to enhance safety, control and resilience. For example, that is why the Commission does not refer to the Perpetrator by name.

Wellness Supports

These are mental health, addictions, and other supports and resources that are available. The wellness services listed on the Commission’s Support page can be contacted if community members are in need of support.

Witness (individual)

Some people will appear individually to provide sworn or affirmed testimony. This may include representatives of institutions, subject matter experts or people with technical expertise who can explain how a particular system works.

Witness panel

When two or more witnesses provide sworn or affirmed testimony at the same time. This format can improve understanding and better assist the inquiry in a professional and respectful manner.

Content Warning: The following video contains scenes including the discharging of firearms causing death. There is a “quick exit” button at the top of the website if you need it, and Wellness Supports are also listed.

Some of the information within this website may be disturbing or upsetting for some visitors. This website deals with information about events that include gun and other violence, including gender-based violence and intimate partner violence. If you need to leave at any point, there is a “quick exit” button at the top of the website. This website also includes some suggested resources, should you be in need of support.

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