February 22, 2022

MCC Day 1 – Commissioners Remarks and Human Impact Panel

After months of delay, the Mass Casualty Commission (MCC) has begun their public proceedings. The Commissioners and parties were in Halifax at the new Convention Centre, while many family members watched from a viewing site in Truro. I was watching the livestream, which features closed captioning and French-English translation services.

It was not a full day. There was about two and a half hours of content in total. For the first hour of the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings, the Commissioners took turns making opening remarks. Notably, there were no opportunity provided to the other participants to make opening remarks, which is consistent with some of the criticism of the Commission that they are overly controlling of information, and of the proceedings more generally.

It was clear from the opening remarks that the Commissioners are conscious of some of the public criticism that has emerged, most prominently in recent weeks. They used much of their introductory remarks to ‘sell’ the intended inquiry process, and Commissioner Kim Stanton specifically made a point of noting that her newly-released inquiries book was written before the MCC was established.

Commissioner Michael MacDonald, who is the former Chief Justice of Nova Scotia (but was referred to here only as “Commissioner” MacDonald, and is not wearing judicial robes nor appearing in an official judicial capacity) put his judicial reputation on the line, in a sense, using his remarks to stress his commitment to independence from government and police.

On the important question of whether witnesses might be called, Commissioner MacDonald says they will be called if needed, and suggested the possibility of “robust” cross-examination. This scenario was presented by him as something of a last resort option, to be utilized only if other processes, such as witness interviews and discussions among the parties, fail to otherwise elicit the ‘true’ facts.

On the Foundational Documents, which are the ‘agreed statement of fact’ documents the MCC has developed, Commissioner MacDonald indicated that the participants have had a significant role in their formation, or at least the opportunity to contribute to their formation. That is somewhat difficult to square with the recent criticism from the parties, that they do not feel they have a good sense of what is going to happen during the MCC proceedings.

In the afternoon, a spokesperson for the Commission walked everyone through the MCC website contents. The website is quite user-friendly, and so this presentation seemed superfluous.

The other part of the afternoon involved a panel, which was called Human Impact. This was a discussion of the mental health impacts of the shootings on the people of the communities affected, as well as beyond that.

Starr Cunningham was the moderator of the panel, which included Crystal John from Adsum House, Robin Cann, a therapist in Cumberland County, Susan Henderson from the Colchester CMHA, Cheryl Myers from the Along the Shore Community Health Board, Katherine Hay from Kids Help Phone, and Dr. Keith Dobson from the University of Calgary.

They spoke about how the shootings have deeply shaken people’s sense of safety in the area around Portapique, and how this effect has reverberated to other rural areas in Nova Scotia and beyond. Ms. Hay noted that their typical call volume doubled in Nova Scotia after the shootings, with a large percentage of those calls coming from rural homes. She saw this as both a sign of the deep impact on young people, but also of their resilience.

Collectively, the guidance from the panelists for those suffering were to re-establish (or establish) social bonds, as a way to regain that sense of safety. Everyone has to go at their own speed, and you never know what someone else has had for a pandemic experience, so the process may take a while.

Certainly, it was a deliberate choice to put this at the beginning. The Commission was making an attempt to orient the wider public to the particular effects an event like this can have on a community, and to alert people that the content may have effects on them as a participant or viewer, and so should be mindful of any symptoms and make sure to take breaks and get fresh air.

Nothing ground-breaking, but perhaps a good way to ease into things.