September 13, 2021

A Public Inquiry Can Help Nova Scotians Process Our Collective Trauma

As difficult as it is to see such suffering in others, like many around the time of the tragedy and since, I felt compelled to read the articles and learn what I can about the community of Portapique and the people involved in the horrific killings. There is something deeply human about being a witness the sadness and pain, and to share the burden of this suffering.
This is normally done in a collective way, through memorials and informal gatherings. That helps us all collectively process whatever has taken place. In this time of isolation, when even funerals had to be skipped or limited, processing this tragedy has taken on a different character, much of it through online contact, which is better than nothing, but lacks the energy that in-person gatherings generate.
In the Desmond Inquiry, we learned that for post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers, the most effective treatment is some form of exposure therapy. You need to delve into the content and face it head on in order to be able to get rid of the memories, or else at least properly live with the traumatic memories. This mass shooting was traumatic for many people, whether directly or indirectly affected. It shook the foundation of what we consider our state of general public safety to be.
For Nova Scotians collectively to process what has take place, it is important that the public be told the truth in a fulsome manner. That will be our exposure therapy.
We need to know what the police and others knew and did as events unfolded. We need this so that we can collectively reflect upon and process what took place throughout this whole traumatic situation, and also so that we may contribute constructive suggestions. Police communications, crisis tactics, the police memorabilia market, and domestic violence warning signs are all likely areas where such suggestions can be expected to improve public safety.
Nova Scotians have joined together to grieve with the communities affected, the family and friends of the victims, and the brave men and women of the RCMP, who really do it all.
Any notoriety for the killer, Gabriel Wortman, will be as a misogynistic coward. It takes no courage to shatter the fragile peace in which we live. Courage is getting up every day, accepting your responsibilities, and doing your best in an imperfect world. To know courage, one need only read the heartbreaking stories about the victims, about integrated and loving family units, surviving cancer, caring for those in need, instinctively walking towards a house fire, and being a good friend during isolation. Courage is personified by Cst. Heidi Stevenson, heroically facing a situation and a killer nobody could have expected, acting decisively and fighting and sacrificing yourself trying to save lives and protect your community.
It will be important for the public to engage with the stories of courage that emerge from this tragedy as well. There are brave and wonderful people among us, setting examples we would do well to follow. We will see ourselves in these ordinary people, who faced such an extraordinary situation.
Part of what we have learned about PTSD in the Desmond Inquiry is that for the best results, you need to address the trauma as soon as possible. When people initially started to push for a public inquiry into these killings, I was concerned that this would give cover to some to withhold critical, and especially damaging, information about the killings. Unfortunately, this has indeed come to pass, with the RCMP in particular withholding information, refusing to answer media inquiries, and fighting very hard in Provincial Court to keep information sealed that is presumably going to emerge during the Inquiry. It is not the kind of approach that inspires confidence or trust. While an inquiry is a good way to do take a thorough review of a complex scenario, the possibility of an inquiry did not need to preclude early public disclosure.
There are many big questions to be raised, and dramatic personal choices to understand. Hearing this through the Inquiry process will allow Nova Scotians to process, to grieve, and ultimately to grow stronger.