There were less than two hours of proceedings on Day 7 of the Mass Casualty Commission. The process that was cut short by the winter weather last Thursday continued this morning, whereby lawyers for the various participants argued over whether, and if so when, certain officers might give testimony in the MCC.
Today was dedicated mainly to discussing RCMP supervisors, including Staff Sergeants Halliday, MacCallum, Rehill, West, and O’Brien, along with Cpl. Mills, who was the supervisor for the Emergency Response Team (ERT). Each of the Staff Sergeants were involved in supervisory roles throughout the relevant timeframe, and the ERT squad (aka – the SWAT team) was called in to assist with the search for the killer.
Unlike with the ‘regular’ members of the RCMP, Commissioner MacDonald stated that for these supervisors, the question was not whether they would testify, but when. He said that there is expected to be a further Foundational Document prepared which deals with the ‘RCMP Command Decision Narrative’, and that we can expect to hear from the officers who were calling the shots at that later (the exact time was not stated) time.
Patterson Law’s Sandra McCulloch submitted that while these officers may be called at a later stage, she was concerned that they would be then limited to questions pertaining only to the specific ‘Command Decision’ Foundational Document, rather than being open to answering any question counsel may wish to ask from earlier documents such as those released last week dealing with the initial few hours in Portapique.
This will be important for the Commissioners to properly resolve, as neither limiting questioning nor jumping around in the narrative will serve the public interest in the MCC.
The wide potential scope of what ‘trauma-informed’ was again a source of disagreement during today’s proceedings. The two lawyers speaking on behalf of the RCMP, the federal Department of Justice along with the National Police Federation, took offence to a suggestion made by Ms. McCulloch that officers in supervisor roles would likely have experienced a lesser form of trauma as compared to the ‘front line’ officers who were directly on the scene. Ms. Ward and Ms. Najhawan both commented that the weight of responsibility bourne by the supervisors, coupled with the inherent intensity of the situation, meant that all officers experienced similar degrees of trauma.
Given the Commissioners’ rejection of the NPF’s expert last week, who was planning to argue for a blanket ‘trauma-informed’ exemption from testifying for all officers, it seems unlikely the MCC will be inclined to make many broad statements about trauma experiences among police officers. They seem inclined, rather, to look at each individual on a case-by-case basis. That said, it also does not seem illogical in any way to suggest that there are distinctions between trauma directly experienced, and that which results from supervising the experiences of others. The (somewhat-manufactured) offence from the federal lawyers is unlikely to persuade the Commissioners otherwise.
These questions around witnesses are key decisions for the Commissioners to make, and though Chief Justice MacDonald said they would be making them as soon as possible, he tempered expectations somewhat as well, and so I do not necessarily expect those decisions to be made public on Wednesday when the MCC proceedings continue.
Instead, the plan for Wednesday is to have Commission Counsel, Roger Burrill, continue his presentations of the Foundational Documents, this one dealing with the overnight movements of the perpetrator. We will also hear from lawyers for the parties who have questions arising from that Foundational Document, and will recommend particular witnesses to address any gaps they identify or other questions they may have.