Inquiry plans frank account of N.S. mass shooting


HALIFAX, N.S. – Canadians are being advised to brace Monday for the retelling of the horrors of the country’s worst mass shooting in modern history as a public inquiry provides a chronological description of the tragedy that began in Portapique, N.S.

Barbara McLean, the lead investigator for the federal-provincial inquiry, told journalists last week that the account to be heard of the April 18-19, 2020, killings is the result of over a year of interviews with witnesses.

It will also make use of 911 calls that desperate residents made as the gunman moved through the community.

“It’s my hope that in the coming days, people will … prepare themselves for what they’re about to hear Monday,” McLean said.

Thirteen of the 22 victims were murdered in Portapique by a gunman driving a replica RCMP vehicle and wearing an RCMP uniform, and a number of homes were set on fire.

The gunman went on to kill nine other people, including a pregnant woman and an RCMP officer, after he escaped Portapique, committing murders in Debert, Shubenacadie and Wentworth.

Some details of the first night have been revealed in police briefings and witness statements filed to obtain search warrants after the rampage.

However, the inquiry’s investigators conducted interviews with more than 150 witnesses, viewed photos and videos and listened to calls made to emergency services to put together their description. The result is a “foundational document” that includes links to transcripts and other source material.

“We’re about to reveal the events in a sequential way that makes sense of all the things that were going on, as well as the sources of that information,” said McLean.

The information, particularly the frightened calls of residents as the gunman moved through the community, will be difficult to read and hear, the veteran investigator said.

“To be real here, the information we’re going to start sharing on Monday is disturbing. It’s awful,” she said.

Issues that have remained unclear since the killings include what was reported during 911 calls; what the shooter’s precise route was; when exactly the shooter killed his victims; and how he managed to escape across a field and carry on his killings the next day.

In the early weeks after the shooting, the RCMP had said about nine minutes elapsed between when police officers first reached the scene after 10 p.m., and the time the shooter left the community. However, the Mounties told Global News in a later email the time was closer to 19 minutes.

Some outstanding issues may be dealt with in Monday’s documents, while others may be addressed in documents on first responders and on efforts to contain the area, expected to be released later in the week.

Tom Taggart, the member of the provincial legislature for the area, said in an interview he’s heard from community members who are anxious about revisiting the painful memories that the shooting and its aftermath evokes.

He said he received four calls from community members worried after recently receiving letters from the inquiry indicating their testimony would be released as part of the foundational documents.

“It hurts. So when they got those letters, memories came flooding back,” he said, adding he felt the notifications should have come sooner.

Taggart said that after the attacks, relatively few residents sought counselling or assistance with the trauma, though it was made available by the province.

“People in the community have mostly carried this burden themselves,” he said. “They’ve continued to hold this thing in.”