February 23, 2022

MCC Day 2 Introducing the Communities and the Structure of Policing

The second day of the Mass Casualty Commission proceedings consisted of two presentations. One was a panel on rural living, and the other was a presentation from one of the lawyers for the Commission on policing in Nova Scotia. Outside of the Commission proceedings, we have also heard from the lawyer for the gunman’s spouse, Lisa Banfield, on his advice to her about cooperation with the MCC.

The proceedings started with a panel discussion on life in the communities affected. Alana Hirtle, from the Rotary Club of Truro, was the moderator, and the panel included Chief Sidney Peters from Glooscap First Nation, Mary Teed from the Colchester Adult Learning Association, Nicole Uzans from the Anglican parish of Northumberland, and Dr. Ernest Korankye, who is a plant biologist living in Truro.

The panel was light on insightful commentary on life in a rural community, and there were no specifics offered about Portapique itself. Mostly, the discussion centered around the typical pros and cons of rural living, such as not locking your doors, waving to passing cars, and sharing meals. Having grown up on a rural community, I can identify with the scene of all heads turning when someone new walks into a community dinner, or with the issues of cell service and slow internet connectivity. Perhaps some will find this helpful in terms of setting context.

It would have been more on point, I would suggest to have discussed what happens in a tight-knit rural area when there is a known criminal element in the area. There have been times over my life in my part of Guysborough when there have been a series of vehicle or camp break-ins, and there was always a reaction within the community, in addition to any police involvement. That would include calls to others to make sure things are locked up, and some amateur investigation steps in support of, or in lieu of, any police involvement.

Policing in rural areas is different as well, as officers live in the area and are usually more integrated into community life, and also residents would know that police are unlikely to be close by when there is a crime in progress. How that may have affected the dynamic in and around Portapique would have made for an interesting discussion.

Later in the morning, one of the lawyers for the Commission, Rachel Young, presented on the structure of policing in Nova Scotia. I have posted about this previously. Basically, though policing in Provincial jurisdiction, NS is policed by municipal forces and by RCMP forces contracted to police rural areas. Whenever they overlap jurisdictions, or are needed for backup, there are contractual relationships that address budgetary issues.

Outside of the Commission proceedings, there were news reports that Ms. Banfield’s lawyer has advised her not to cooperate with the Commission, while her related criminal charges remain outstanding. Ms. Banfield was charged with what would normally be considered a minor offence of illegally supplying ammunition to the gunman.

I have written on this issue, which was also raised during the Westray Inquiry, where two mine managers were charged with criminal negligence causing death, and manslaughter. The Supreme Court of Canada said that they were still compellable witnesses for the inquiry, given the public interest in an inquiry, and also considering the protections available to them as accused not to have testimony in other forums being used against them. It will be interesting to see what the Commission does with this. A spokesperson for the Commission hinted that they may let the issue go until after Ms. Banfield’s trial has concluded, which is now scheduled for early April. The families are very interested in having Ms. Banfield testify, and be subject to cross-examination. It would seriously undermine the credibility of the Commission were she not to do so at some stage.

The first two days of the Commission seemed designed to very slowly ease into the topics that will ultimately be covered. The first specific findings will be released next Monday, in Foundational Documents and a presentation of the evidence by Roger Burrill, a lawyer for the Commission.