The independent panel’s first act? Giving pols cover

The first public act of the independent panel assigned to review the worst mass shooting in Canadian history was to provide political cover for politicians who refused to call a robust public inquiry with judicial powers.

A statement issued in the names of panel chair and retired Chief Justice Michael MacDonald, retired Fredericton police chief Leanne Fitch, and former federal Justice Minister and longtime Liberal Party fixer Anne McLellan was distributed by Communications Nova Scotia, the public relations arm of the Nova Scotia government. It listed as its media contact a provincial government flak. It closely followed political talking points developed in response to the furor that greeted the hamstrung inquiry.

We believe the scope and mandate of the review announced today, July 23, will provide us what we need to do this work effectively and comprehensively. Our approach will be trauma-informed as we undertake this work with care and compassion for those who have been most deeply affected. We are committed to examining the contexts that played a role in these acts of violence, including gender-based and intimate partner violence.

The core purpose of this inquiry ought to be a searching evaluation of the RCMP, including the recent history of successive, catastrophic, deadly failures leading up to the Portapique horror. The panel needs to probe RCMP policies, practices, training methods, discipline, and change management (or mismanagement).

As lawyers, MacDonald and McLellan understand that witnesses are more diligent and more forthcoming when responding to subpoenas and speaking in public under penalty of perjury. They know that, without subpoena power, tribunals such as theirs never know what they’re not getting. Worse still, their panel is explicitly forbidden to release any evidence it does collect.

Chief Justice MacDonald never should have agreed to these straited terms. Having done so, it was unseemly to leap to the defense of the very governments whose policies and actions he must investigate.

Far from shoring up public trust in the inquiry, this lapse in judgment erodes confidence that the panel, as established, is up to the task.