GUYSBOROUGH — In April, 2020, Nova Scotia was the site of the largest mass casualty event perpetrated by a lone gunman in Canada’s history. In a 13-hour time span, the perpetrator travelled to several locations across the province, killing 22 people.
A public inquiry was struck to understand the causes, context and circumstances of the mass casualty, including but not limited to examination of the RCMP response during and after the event and the role gender-based and intimate partner violence played in the incident.
The Mass Causality Commission (MCC) released its final report – Turning the Tide Together – on March 30 in Truro. Through seven volumes, the commission detailed its main findings, recommendations and lessons learned. A large portion of the report deals with policing and the resources available to those facing gender-based and intimate partner violence in rural Nova Scotia.
In the executive summary of the MCC report, commissioners J. Michael MacDonald, Leanne J. Fitch and Kim Stanton wrote, “Our recommendations are designed with two objectives in mind: prevention of violence and ensuring effective critical incident response by police, other public safety partners, health and victim service providers, and communities. Crucially, we also consider the broader root causes of violence, how such violence can be prevented, and how we can all help to improve community safety and well-being.”
The summary went on to state, “The future of the RCMP and of provincial policing requires focused re-evaluation. We need to rethink the role of the police in a wider ecosystem of public safety. Significant changes are needed to address various community safety and well-being needs of the 21st century.”
Recommendations put forward by the commission were summarized as falling under the following key areas: how to strengthen community safety and well-being, including through focusing more on gender-based, intimate partner, and family violence; best practices for critical incident responses; how to improve public communication during an emergency; how to better support individuals, families, emergency responders, service providers, and communities after a mass casualty; how the RCMP can rebuild public trust and deliver effective, rights-regarding policing services in Canadian communities; how policing in Nova Scotia may be improved in the near term, and how the Nova Scotian community should be engaged in imagining the future structure of police services in the province; how to improve everyday policing practices in Canada; and how to more safely manage access to firearms and police paraphernalia.
The report made 75 recommendations regarding the RCMP and policing in rural areas addressing issues as wide ranging as changing the training model from the depot-based system in Regina to a three-year, degree-based model, to reviewing the RCMP’s critical incident response training.
Stephen Schneider, a Saint Mary’s University criminology professor, who spoke with The Journal on the issue of rural policing last June provided the following comments via email regarding the commission’s recommendations.
“The MCC’s damning critiques of the RCMP are a continuation of previous commissions (Robert Dziekański, murdered and missing indigenous women, etc.) as well as class action lawsuits launched by racialized and female members regarding a toxic work culture, all of which have prompted calls for radical changes by the RCMP, most of which have been ignored by the Force,” wrote Schneider.
He added, “Skepticism that the RCMP will finally make the fundamental changes needed, combined with the severe staffing shortages and ongoing recruitment challenges that will plague most police forces across Canada only reinforces the need for alternatives to public policing.”
Providing an example of the reason for public skepticism, during a press conference held on March 30 – the day the MCC report was officially released – the interim commissioner of the RCMP Mike Duheme and Assistant Commissioner Dennis Daley, Commanding Officer of the Nova Scotia RCMP, said they had not read the report despite being given advanced copies.
Duheme also said, “We fully recognize the importance of reviewing lessons learned and continuing to improve our operations…The RCMP will follow the advice of the Mass Casualty Commission to take the time to read and process the report.”
In regard to gender-based violence, the commission recommended, among other points, that “The federal government initiate and support a collaborative process that brings together the gender-based violence advocacy and support sector, policy-makers, the legal community, community safety and law enforcement agencies, and other interested parties to develop a national framework for a women-centred approach to responding to intimate partner violence, including structured decision-making by police that focuses on violence prevention.”
Anita Stewart, executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association (AWRC-SASA) spoke to The Journal about the MCC report on March 31.
“Several things stood out for me in the report, one of those addressed project funding; it’s insufficient to address gender-based violence. The second thing that I noted was that the gender-based violence sector was not resourced properly. It was really nice to see that those two particular points were addressed.
“It’s also important to note that in volume three of the report it stated, and I quote, ‘Our collective and systemic failures are attributable to the fact we underfund women’s safety.’ I guess from our perspective here at the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services, we really need our funders to hear that message that project-based funding is an insufficient way to address gender-based violence. We need stable core funding to allow us to do the work that we do without having to invent short-term projects to address gender-based violence,” said Stewart.
She continued, “Don’t get me wrong, these short-term projects can do great work in the short term but we’re really missing the mark to address the epidemic of gender-based violence.”
Stewart said access to programs and services was lacking in rural Nova Scotia and, “We need to become more preventative rather than reactive.”
And how do you prevent gender-based violence? Stewart points to a program the AWRC-SASA facilitates called Healthy Relationships for Youth, which is a school-based program.
“It’s peer facilitated and it’s basically violence prevention. We offer it to schools in the Strait Regional Centre for Education, as well as CSAP schools across the province. The goal of the program is to reduce the risk of violence for youth through developing their skills and knowledge about creating and maintaining healthy relationships.
“Within that program they receive training, if you will, of 12 sessions which inform students about things like personal boundaries and consent, gender norms and stereotypes in media, communication and conflict resolution, diversity and inclusion, privilege, power and violence, and decision making,” explained Stewart.
Stewart added, “When I was being interviewed by someone with the mass casualty commission, that’s what I noted, that it would be really nice to see [the program] Healthy Relationships for Youth be extended to the younger grades [currently delivered to Grade 9 students by peers in Grades 11 and 12], being mindful that the curriculum would need to change to be age appropriate…We need to start engaging with boys and men at younger ages to teach them about consent and teach them about violence, and teach them about healthy relationships. And not just men, but women as well.”
Asked what recommendations stood out for her in the report, Stewart said, “I really liked the piece that is in there…about collaboration; collaboration with the local RCMP, collaboration between all the community-based organizations and the RCMP. We are the boots on the ground doing the work, seeing the end result of gender-based violence…It’s no longer acceptable to keep things behind closed doors. There needs to be a societal change regarding gender-based violence.”
The Mass Casualty Commission report is available online at https://masscasualtycommission.ca.