The MCC’s short week of proceedings continued and concluded today with two further ‘small group’ sessions. The morning session featured service providers from Victim’s Services, the Medical Examiners office, and a funeral director. In the afternoon session, we heard from MLA Tom Taggart, and Mayor Christine Blair.
It is in the mandate of the MCC to look at the services that were available and provided to victims, their families, and the community, and so it was necessary, in a way, to hear from these individuals. I suspect the audience numbers for today and yesterday’s sessions were considerably lower than for days where there were factual witnesses testifying about the events of the mass casualty itself.
The morning session, in particular, was not exactly riveting television. The speakers, following the lead to the (two, for some reason) moderators, spoke slowly, and in low tones. Similar to the paramedics and 911 call takers from yesterday, these participants were trying to convey what it is like to be them, or to be in their role, during an event such as this. They were not being called as witnesses, per se, to provide factual narratives of what took place, but rather to give us a window into their worlds, and to comment on any changes that they may recommend.
The medical examiner nurses, victim services providers, and Mr. Varner each spoke about the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. People could not gather for meetings or funerals, which would have been important mechanisms for healing. Family members from out of province were unable to be on hand to deal with the service providers. Mr. Varner, in particular, was quite respectful of the families and victims, and would not even adopt the language of something being a “challenge”. He said he was honoured to work with the families in this most difficult time.
I have had experience working with the NS Medical Examiners office, and with workers from Victim’s Services. Doctors from the Medical Examiners office and workers from Victims Services were involved in the Desmond Inquiry, and I was impressed by their qualifications and professionalism.
Victims Services workers often accompany individuals to court, which is a valuable service, though as a defense lawyer I sometimes had an issue with workers accompanying people into the courtroom itself. Especially in rural areas, the workers are known to everyone, and their presence can have the subtly bolstering the credibility of someone claiming to be a victim, and thereby undermine the presumption of innocence.
Most of the issues identified by the participants today related to the pandemic, and the sheer volume of trauma and grief involved in the mass casualty, neither of which can really be mitigated by recommendations. The goal for today seemed to be to simply demonstrate to the public what these various organizations do.
The afternoon session was moderated by Leo Artalejo, who I believe we are meeting for the first time. He is the (or perhaps ‘a’) Strategic Engagement Advisor for the MCC. It is unclear what that title might mean.
Mayor Christine Blair was clearly quite prepared to speak. She had notes, and was well able to articulate what she wanted to say. She described having media inquiries from all over the world, and that whereas early on she felt she did not have all of the facts, she said it was her role to speak “from the heart”, and talk about the families. She said that the media was respectful of the families, though the municipality also put up signs asking people to respect the privacy of member of the community.
MLA Taggart was a municipal counselor at the time of the shootings. He says that he lives four miles from the Orchard Beach subdivision. Mr. Taggart initially helped with local logistical issues like setting up the community hall for use. Both witnesses spoke about lost trust in the area, and the difficulty in getting information from officials. The afternoon session was just over an hour long, with not a great deal of substance added to our understanding of what took place.
As was the case yesterday, the question of the Big Stop surveillance videos and their disclosure was not raised in any way. The videos are still not posted on the MCC website.
Next Monday the MCC will be back, and will hear from Cst. Nick Dorrington, who gave Wortman a speeding ticket prior to the shootings, and was able to circulate a photo of him from that interaction as events were unfolding. There will also be panels or discussions on communications and support post-event, and Cst. Wayne Bent will testify.