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Background: The Commission

  • Why is it called the Mass Casualty Commission?

    The events in April 2020 took the lives of many innocent people and left others with serious physical and emotional injuries. The scale of the loss and trauma caused fear, anger and grief in our communities, province and country. While many people refer to those events as the mass “shooting”, in addition to the gun-related deaths, there were many types of harms. While others refer to those events as the “Portapique shootings”, the impact spanned a wide geographic area of Nova Scotia. This is why we are using the term “mass casualty”.

  • What is a public inquiry?

    A public inquiry is 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 it 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 the facts, to better understand the causes and consequences of the situation, and to make recommendations to government to help protect Canadians in the future.

    The Government of Canada and the Nova Scotia Government established the Joint Federal/Provincial Commission pursuant to the federal and Nova Scotia public inquiry statutes:

    Inquiries Act, Government of Canada

    Public Inquiries Act, Nova Scotia

  • What is this inquiry about?

    The Joint Federal/Provincial Commission into the April 2020 Nova Scotia Mass Casualty is a public inquiry established by the Government of Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia to conduct a full review into the mass casualty of April 18-19, 2020. There are three members of the independent Commission, and they have been provided with Orders in Council (OIC) that clearly identify the mandate of the Inquiry. Within this mandate, the Commissioners will gather the information they need to better understand what happened, and they will make meaningful recommendations to help protect Canadians in the future.

    Both levels of government passed special orders to create the Commission and determine what is to be investigated:

    Government of Nova Scotia

    Government of Canada

  • When was it set up?

    The Government of Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia announced their intention to establish a public inquiry in July 2020. On October 21, 2020 each government issued an Order in Council (OIC) officially establishing the Commission and announcing the appointment of the three Commissioners and the beginning of this important work.

  • What does it hope to achieve?

    The Orders in Council (OICs) set out the Commission’s mandate. The Commissioners will listen, ask questions, and gather information as part of their investigation. At the end of the mandate, in November 2022, they will submit a report containing their findings, lessons learned, and meaningful recommendations to help protect Canadians in the future.

  • What is the difference between a public inquiry and a trial?

    The goal of a public inquiry is to examine an issue or event and to make recommendations to the government in a manner that is open and transparent. A public inquiry is not a criminal trial or a civil lawsuit and the Commission is not a court of law. It cannot determine whether individuals are to be found guilty of a criminal offence or whether damages should be awarded. A public inquiry is not adversarial. Unlike criminal and civil trials, which focus on narrow issues between the parties, a public inquiry is concerned with broader issues. A public inquiry has many purposes including fact-finding and making recommendations for changes in policy and legislation.

  • To whom do the Commissioners report?

    The Mass Casualty Commission is arm’s length from government, which means it is a separate and independent body. The Commissioners will submit two reports (an interim report and a final report) to the federal and Nova Scotia governments over the course of the next two years, which according to the Orders in Council (OICs) must be made public by the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in coordination with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Nova Scotia. The reports will contain their findings, lessons learned, and meaningful recommendations to help protect Canadians in the future.

  • Who is paying for the Commission?

    The Commission is funded jointly by the Province of Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada.

  • What is the role of Commission Counsel?

    Commission Counsel are the lawyers who provide advice to the Commissioners. Commission Counsel, like the Commissioners, are objective and impartial. However, they report to and act under the direction of Commissioners. The Commission must serve the public interest in achieving its mandate and the primary role of Commission Counsel is to represent the public interest. They are responsible for ensuring that all issues that bear on the public interest are brought to the attention of the Commissioners.

    Commission Counsel are not adversarial nor are they partisan. They are not criminal prosecutors nor is their role similar to lawyers who represent plaintiffs or defendants in civil proceedings. Commission Counsel will assist the Commissioners throughout the public inquiry in discharging their mandate and will ensure the orderly conduct of the inquiry process.


  • Who are the Commissioners?

    The three individuals jointly selected to lead the Commission are the Honourable J. Michael MacDonald, Leanne J. Fitch and Dr. Kim Stanton.

    The Honourable J. Michael MacDonald, the Commission’s chair, served as Chief Justice of Nova Scotia until his retirement in 2019. As Chief Justice, he championed judicial outreach initiatives with Nova Scotia’s Mi’kmaw and Black communities.

    Leanne J. Fitch retired from 34 years in municipal policing in 2019. She served seven of those years as Chief of Police for the Fredericton Police Force. She has expertise on intimate partner violence, community safety and wellbeing, policing and organizational change.

    Dr. Kim Stanton is a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLP in Toronto. She has extensive experience in social justice, Indigenous and equality rights and constitutional law, and publishes in the areas of constitutional law, transitional justice, and public inquiries.

    Read full biographies of the Commissioners here.

  • Does the Commission have an office?

    The Commission has established two offices: one in Truro and one in Halifax. However, subject to COVID-19 restrictions, the Commissioners also expect to hold hearings and community meetings within the areas most affected.

Inquiry Process

  • What are the terms of reference for the Commission?

    The Government of Canada and the Province of Nova Scotia established the Commission’s mandate. The purpose of the terms of reference is to establish guidelines and boundaries for the work of the Commission. They identify the areas for investigation and establish timelines.

    Read more about the mandate here.

  • What will the process look like?

    The process will involve two aspects. Firstly, it will uncover all relevant evidence in order to determine exactly what happened in the lead up, during, and in the aftermath of the April 2020 mass casualty. Secondly, it will broadly examine the various dynamics that motivated the perpetrator. The duration of the public inquiry is two years. The Commission’s final report is scheduled to be submitted in November 2022.

  • With whom will the Commissioners be speaking?

    The Commissioners have the authority to speak with as many people as they require to fully understand the impact and events surrounding the April 2020 mass casualty. This could include conversations with and/ testimony from victims and victims’ families as well as community members, witnesses and first responders, government and non-government organizations.

  • How will the Commission manage the impact on survivors and other victims?

    The Commission will be operating under principles specifically designed to minimize the impact on survivors and victims of traumatic events. The Commissioners will carry out their duties in a way that is sensitive to the needs of those most impacted by the April mass casualty.

  • How long will the inquiry take?

    The public inquiry will take approximately two years, with a release date for the final report set for November 2022.

  • When can we expect to see the report and recommendations?

    An interim report will be made available by the Commission in May 2022, and a final report will be released in November 2022.

  • What is the Participation Decision?

    The Participation Decision grants the opportunity for formal participation to individuals or groups with a substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry. This decision marks the first public proceeding of the fully independent Commission, whose priority to date has been building the Commission’s team and approach, and engaging with those most affected by the mass casualty.

    Applicants were asked to explain their connection to the events of April 18 and 19, 2020 or their experience and knowledge in areas that relate to the Commission’s mandate. The mandate includes what happened leading up to and during the events of April 18 to 19, 2020; policing; community safety; and violence, specifically intimate partner violence. Applicants with participation represent individuals and groups with experience or expertise in all of these areas.

  • How many individuals and groups were granted Participation?

    In response to the Call for Participants in March, the Commission received applications from more than 60 individuals and groups interested in participating in all or part of the Commission’s work. Each individual and group that applied has been granted Participation or invited to provide a written submission with more details about how they propose to participate. For a list of the individuals and groups that have been granted Participation status in the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings, please review the full Participation Decision.

  • What is appropriate Participation?

    If the Commission determines that an Applicant is granted the opportunity for formal, or “appropriate” participation, the Commission is satisfied that the Applicant has a substantial and direct interest in the Commission’s work. Participation can vary from a role involving a particular aspect of the Commission’s mandate to participating more frequently across a range of proceedings. The form of participation can also vary from testifying under oath (or a promise to tell the truth), to taking part in roundtable discussions, to providing expert reports and opinion evidence. Groups of Participants can also contribute in coalitions.

  • Do I need to apply for Participation to be involved in the Commission’s proceedings?

    It is not necessary to have applied to be a Participant in order to be involved in the Commission’s work. For example, members of the public may attend community engagement events and public proceedings. They may also follow our website which will contain updated information on our work, including the Rules of Practice and Procedure, various rulings, expert reports, and proceeding schedules. Updates and opportunities to take part will be regularly posted to the Commission’s website and social media.

  • How does the Commission intend to share information about the proceedings?

    In honouring our principles of independence, respect, and transparency, we will regularly post information on the website. This will include the rules that govern our work, expert reports, our schedule of proceedings (including community engagement events), transcripts of the public hearings (in both official languages), the schedule and content of the roundtables, and other policy meetings. We invite everyone to consult our website and social channels which will be updated regularly and will provide timely information on the work of the Commission.

  • What is the Applications for Participation process?

    The Applications for Participation (sometimes referred to as “standing”) process is the way that individuals and groups could apply for an opportunity to participate in the Commission’s proceedings and to indicate if they need funding to enable them to participate. To participate in Commission proceedings, individuals and groups must demonstrate they have a substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the Commission with regard to the Commission’s mandate. This process closed on April 12, 2021. The decisions by Commissioners on applications to participate will be posted on the Commission’s website. Each applicant will be notified when the decisions have been posted. Note that two groups were automatically granted an opportunity to participate: (1) victims and families of victims and (2) the federal and Nova Scotia governments.

Inquiry Format

The Report

  • What type of recommendations will be in the final report?

    While it is too early to determine the exact nature of the recommendations that will be made in the final report, the Commission intends to review:

    • Contributing and contextual factors, including the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence;
    • Access to firearms;
    • Interactions with police, including any specific relationship between the perpetrator and the RCMP and between the perpetrator and social services, including mental health services, prior to the event and the outcomes of those interactions;
    • Police actions, including operational tactics, response, decision-making and supervision;
    • Communications with the public during and after the event, including the appropriate use of the public alerting system established under the Alert Ready program;
    • Communications between and within the RCMP, municipal police forces, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Criminal Intelligence Service Nova Scotia, the Canadian Firearms Program and the Alert Ready program;
    • Police policies, procedures and training in respect of gender-based and intimate partner violence;
    • Police policies, procedures and training in respect of active shooter incidents;
    • Policies with respect to the disposal of police vehicles and any associated equipment, kit and clothing;
    • Policies with respect to police response to reports of the possession of prohibited firearms, including communications between law enforcement agencies, and;
    • Information and support provided to the families of victims, affected citizens, police personnel and the community; findings, as appropriate, of previous examinations or investigations.
  • What will the final report contain?

    The final report will contain the Commission's findings, lessons learned, and meaningful recommendations to help protect Canadians in the future.

  • Will there be an interim report?

    Yes. The Commission will deliver an interim report in May 2022.

  • Does the government have to accept the recommendations?

    The Commission is an independent body, tasked by the federal and Nova Scotia Governments to conduct a public Inquiry and provide recommendations, but it does not have the power to require their implementation. Ultimately, it is up to the federal and Nova Scotia Governments and other organizations and institutions to accept and implement these recommendations.

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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