February 17, 2022

Previewing the Opening Week of the Mass Casualty Commission Proceedings

After two delays, and nearly two years after the tragic events, the Mass Casualty Commission is set to begin public proceedings on Tuesday, February 22nd. There has been considerable anticipation, and more than a little consternation, as the opening moments approach.

The first day will feature opening remarks from the Commissioners, followed by a panel on mental health and wellness. The stated goal of this panel is to “normalize and validate” emotions that people involved may be experiencing, and to help people prepare for what is to come.

It is noteworthy that there will not be an opportunity for any of the other parties involved to give opening statements. In other Inquiries, including the recent Desmond Inquiry, that has been the case, and such statements can be valuable ways for those watching to get a sense of who is involved and what the important issues will be, rather than just those of the government-appointed Commissioners. To have the participants sidelined at the very beginning like this does not bode well.

On day two, there will be a further panel, this one on “life in rural Nova Scotia”. As with the mental health panel, the schedule does not indicate who will be participating in the panel. This panel will be followed by a presentation on the structure of policing in Nova Scotia. (You can read my post, or watch my video, for a discussion on that topic.)

I will be closely watching the opening remarks from the Commissioners. There has been considerable criticism in recent weeks directed at the MCC from participants, who feel they have not been provided with clear guidance as to how the MCC will unfold, what witnesses will be called, or whether the parties will have a chance to cross examine those witnesses who do testify.

We should have a good sense of how the MCC will deal with these criticisms either from those opening remarks, or else certainly during week two of the proceedings, when the schedule indicates Commission Counsel will give a “Presentation” dealing with the events in and around Portapique on April 18-19, 2020. This should give us a clear sense of whether the MCC is going to allow the parties to challenge the police narrative in a meaningful way.

I was asked earlier this week in an interview what I thought would be three things we can expect to learn in the MCC proceedings. One is certainly going to be how Nova Scotia is (and should be) policed. Second is going to be the emergency alert system, and how that should be used during an active shooter incident. I have written about that issue as well. We will no doubt hear some evidence on those issues early on.

The third thing we should learn is how effective the “trauma-informed” approach that the MCC is taking will be. I wrote about what I think this could mean (supports for witnesses and loved ones of the deceased, while still asking the tough questions in open court), but the MCC has not been particularly clear on what they intend this to mean. I would expect that during their opening statement, as well as during the panel on mental health and wellness, that we will get some clarity on their approach will be.