Parker’s NatPo column on the hobbled Portapique review

I wrote a column for last Friday’s National Post:

The flimsy review announced Thursday into the Nova Scotia mass shooting, with none of the powers of an actual inquiry, abdicates responsibility and accountability


RCMP officers killed gunman Gabriel Wortman at the Irving Big Stop in Enfield, N.S. on April 19, 2020. Photo: Tim Krochak/CP

By Parker Donham

The federal-provincial review of the worst mass shooting in Canadian history will have no power to subpoena evidence or compel testimony. Announced Thursday in Halifax, it is required to hold no public hearings, but will conduct its work in camera. It is explicitly ordered to keep secret “all documents and information collected, received and/or considered … during its work.”

It is not mandated to consider whether Nova Scotia, where the faith of many in the Mounties was shaken by the April rampage, should continue using the RCMP as its rural and small-town police force.

This adds up to a disgusting abdication of accountability and responsibility.

The Portapique calamity left 23 people dead, including 21 civilians, one RCMP officer, and the lone gunman. For 13 hours, police fetishist Gabriel Wortman ranged across a wide swath of Nova Scotia, shooting acquaintances and strangers at will.
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The RCMP response was slow, chaotic, and ineffective. The Mounties failed to use a provincial alert system designed to protect citizens from this sort of event. They failed to set up a secondary perimeter around the original crime scene. They failed to enlist nearby municipal police to block highways the gunman used. The officers who did respond were ill-equipped, inexperienced, and ill-trained.

The rampage ended only when a group of RCMP officers bumped into the killer at a gas pump in suburban Halifax.

In the wake of this catastrophic failure, RCMP brass followed a playbook familiar from similar deadly fiascos at Spiritwood SK, Mayerthorpe AB, Vancouver International Airport, and Moncton NB. They bobbed, weaved, delayed, and deflected demands for answers with sentimental pablum about grieving families and a brave, fallen officer.
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Grilled by reporters over his government’s restrictions on the review, Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey sought refuge in the same tactic, pivoting gracelessly to his thoughts and prayers for families of the gunman’s victims.

Furey is a retired RCMP officer. His federal counterpart, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, is a former Toronto cop. If, as some say, it’s a conflict of interest for Justin Trudeau’s mother to have given paid speeches to the WE organization years ago, shouldn’t we be uneasy to have two former cops design a review into the worst policing failure in Canadian history?

Panel Chair Michael MacDonald, a worthy former chief justice of Nova Scotia, should never have agreed to participate in this hobbled excuse for an inquiry. Panel member Anne McLellan, a former Alberta Liberal MP who now serves as an advisor to Trudeau on matters like SNC Lavalin, is an experienced and reliable defender of Liberal governments.

To judge from a backgrounder that accompanied the announcement of the review, the two governments are more interested in questions of sociology than in competent policing and the RCMP’s history of repeated failures. It features a long discourse on the “restorative principles” that “will help guide the panel members to carry out their work in a manner sensitive to the needs of those most impacted.”

There follows an effusion of bulleted phrases from some PowerPoint deck of socio-babble catch phrases: “Comprehensive, holistic/integrative,” “working in integrated, not siloed or fragmented ways,” “inclusive and participatory,” “attentive to first voice,” “trauma-informed,” “culturally aware,” “needs-based,” “inclusive and participatory.” And of course, “proactive.”

Shouldn’t we be uneasy to have two former cops design a review into the worst policing failure in Canadian history?

The backgrounder does not explain how a review can be “inclusive and participatory” when public hearings are not contemplated and release of evidence is explicitly forbidden.

Furey and Blair, who took three months to come up with Thursday’s announcement, cited a need for haste as the reason for calling a “review.” A real inquiry would take too long to set up, Furey said. He also cited the “sensitivities” of the victims’ family members, 300 of whom marched on the Bible Hill, N.S., RCMP office Wednesday demanding ­a public inquiry.

A reporter asked the ministers whether, after taking three months to come up with a “timely” process, and ignoring the wishes of victims’ families, “you worry that you are bringing the general administration of justice in this country into disrepute?”

Blair responded with a paean of praise for the courage of the Mounties — a remarkable display of independence and open-mindedness on the part of the responsible minister.

There is no reason to expect this dentition-challenged review might recommend the RCMP meet the same fate as the ignominiously disbanded Canadian Airborne Regiment.

Furey says Nova Scotia will not be judged by the Portapique horror, but by the government’s response to it. He’s right. The flimsy review announced Thursday, with none of the powers of an actual inquiry, abdicates responsibility and accountability.

In a functioning democracy, it would lead to swift defeat for the government of Premier Stephen McNeil.