June 30, 2022

MCC Day 42 – Key Witness Schedule Released, and Further Discussion Panels

On the second day of proceedings this week before the Canada Day long weekend, there were three featured items on the MCC agenda. First, there was an announcement on a schedule of significant witnesses who have been subpoenaed to appear over the summer. Then, there were two roundtable discussions, one on mental health impacts on first responders, and one on policing rural communities.

To start the day, Commissioner MacDonald read from a statement that the MCC has released on their website this morning, regarding significant witnesses from whom the Commission will hear over the summer months. They include Lisa Banfield (July 15), Supt. Darren Campell (July 25-26), Chief Supt. Chris Leather (July 27-28), Assistant Commissioner Lee Bergerman (August 22-23), and Commissioner Brenda Lucki (August 23-24).

We will also hear from Cst. Greg Wiley (an officer who has stated that he visited with Wortman over 15 times over the course of a few years), Cst. Troy Maxwell, and Wortman’s former Portapique neighbour Brenda Forbes, though the dates have not been published. Cpl. Rodney Peterson will not testify, but will rather submit a sworn affidavit.

The most notable part of that announcement is with respect to Ms. Banfield. One contrast is immediately notable – officers who participated in press conferences are testifying for two days, while the person who lived with the killer for 19 years, and spent the day with him before he went on his killing spree, is going to testify for only one.

The relatively short timeframe does not bode well for an in-depth examination of their lives together, or any hope that we will get a thorough examination of what lead to Wortman killing 22 people. In the midst of approximately 7-8 hours of available time, there will be breaks for lunch, two lawyer meetings to discuss what further questions should be asked, and perhaps additional breaks for Ms. Banfield to gather her strength.

Just as significantly (and perhaps more so), there will be no cross examination of Ms. Banfield by lawyers for other participants. Instead, questions will need to be submitted to Commission lawyers in advance, who will decide what questions will be asked.

Interestingly, in his statement this morning, Commissioner MacDonald seemed to be attempting to deflect blame in advance, for what will likely be a process that is subject to criticism. He made a point of noting (not for the first time) that Commission lawyers represent the public interest and are there to ask the questions that are relevant to the MCC mandate to get to the truth. In other words, if things do not go well, Commissioner MacDonald wants you to know it is the fault of the MCC lawyers, not the three Commissioners themselves.

Criticism of the decision was quickly forthcoming from Patterson Law, which represents many of the family participants. They released a statement saying that not allowing anyone other than MCC lawyers to question Ms. Banfield undermines the legitimacy of the process. This is undoubtedly true. We have already witnessed the manner in which MCC lawyers question witnesses. They seem to have a set list of questions, from which they do not depart, nor do they follow up on answers even when it seems obvious that such follow up is appropriate.

The MCC statement makes an odd attempt to take a “glass half full” approach to the situation. They say that despite Ms. Banfield having given five interviews to MCC staff, they think it is “necessary to hear from her directly”, as though being interviewed by staff and testifying in the inquiry were mutually exclusive options. There is no direct statement in the MCC statement that there will be no cross examination, but rather a subtle note that MCC lawyers will questions Ms. Banfield “in their role representing the public interest and on behalf of Participant counsel”.

This arrangement is presumably the result of (not very tough) negotiations with Ms. Banfield’s Toronto-based lawyer, James Lockyer. The MCC did not need to negotiate this generous arrangement with Ms. Banfield. She has no real leverage, as she could simply be subpoenaed and then subject to full cross examination. This may all be a result of not having a sitting trial judge as a Commissioner. Commissioners more experienced in managing a courtroom may have decided differently, and been comfortable allowing questioning by all parties, limited only by relevance.

There will be tremendous pressure on whichever MCC lawyer is chosen to examine Ms. Banfield. The fact that she is not going to be cross examined may seem to suggest that the one lawyer asking questions will go tougher on her, but I suspect the ‘trauma-informed’ motivations behind this decision will mean a series of soft, predictable questions will be asked, with any and all answers uncritically accepted by the lawyer asking questions.

In the proceedings themselves today, there was little insight of note. As has been the case with other discussion panels, they were broad introductions to the stated topics, rather than a specific examination of anything that actually happened during the events of the mass shooting. It is an inefficient use of time by the MCC, who could be probing some of the issues around what actually happened on April 18-19, 2020 through these witnesses.

The morning panel was entitled “Needs of First Responders After Mass Casualty Incidents”. It was facilitated by Krista Smith, Legal Policy Officer, with the MCC. Panelists included Dr. Arija Birze, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Better Health, Trillium Health Partners, Robin Campbell, PhD Candidate at Dalhousie University, Dr. Julie MacMillan-Devlin, former Program Evaluation Officer of the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton, New Brunswick and manager of Psychological Services with the Ontario Provincial Police, Mary Fetchet, President and Executive Director of Voices Center for Resilience, an organization she founded following the death of her 24 year-old son on 9/11, Dr. Alexandra Heber, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University and the inaugural Chief of Psychiatry for Veterans Affairs Canada, Dr. Megan McElheran, CEO & Chief Clinical Psychologist, Wayfound Mental Health Group, and Dr. Deborah Norris, Professor, Department of Family Studies and Gerontology at Mount Saint Vincent University.

Ms. Fetchet and Dr. McElheran were featured on Tuesday’s panel on supporting community members after a mass shooting. Like that panel discussion, this one featured broad discussions of first responder mental health needs, without making any reference or connection to the actual events of the April 18-19, 2020 mass shooting.

Dr. Heber was involved in a small but significant way in the Desmond Inquiry. She was the head of psychiatry for Veterans Affairs when the Desmond family tragedy took place in January, 2017, and travelled to Lincolnville to meet with the family that November. Dr. Heber was criticized for promising that VAC help line callers would be familiar with the Desmond family tragedy should any family members decide to call, which turned out not to be the case.

The afternoon was a panel on Rural Communities, Policing and Crime. It was facilitated by Dr. Emma Cunliffe, Research and Policy Director for the MCC. The speakers were Dr. Karen Foster, Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department Sociology and Social Anthropology, Dalhousie University, Dr. Jane McMillan, Chair of the Department of Anthropology, St. Francis Xavier University, Supt. Dan Morrow, Southwest Nova District Policing Officer, Dr. Anna Souhami, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Head of Criminology at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh, Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli is Professor (PhD, Sociology) in the School of Maritime Studies and Research Chair in Safety, Security, and Wellness, at Memorial University’s Fisheries and Marine Institute, Dr. Rick Ruddell, Law Foundation of Saskatchewan Chair in Police Studies, University of Regina, and Dr. Signa Daum Shanks, Associate Professor, University of Ottawa.

The disconnect between the discussions and the actual events of the mass casualty greatly detracted from the usefulness of the panel discussions. The procedural issues surrounding these discussion panels is, in ways, just as problematic as the MCC approach to witnesses. The goal seems to be to bore the audience into tuning out from the proceedings, which