A makeshift memorial appeared at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police headquarters in Dartmouth, N.S., April 20, a day after a man went on a 13-hour rampage that left 22 dead. CNS photo/John Morris, Reuters

Francis Campbell: Public pressure works

  • August 14, 2020

Persistence pays off.

That theme is often summoned when a person who has stumbled or struggled in pursuit of a goal finally achieves success or when a sports team overcomes the seemingly ubiquitous sting of adversity to score the big victory.

The if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again dictum reared its head in Nova Scotia recently in the call for a fully transparent and public inquiry into the 13-hour April shooting and arson rampage that took the lives of 22 people and an unborn baby.

Questions arose immediately about the response of the RCMP and the lack of an emergency alert that would have warned citizens of at least two counties to stay indoors until given the all clear.

Later, the activities of the killer came under heavy criticism. How was someone able to bring weapons across the border from the United States, how did it happen that a person who had previously threatened others avoid being placed on a police watch list, how was the perpetrator able to own and register several replica RCMP vehicles, and how was the killer able to slip through a police perimeter after the initial killings in rural Colchester County.

The families of the victims demanded a public inquiry and were supported by a group of Nova Scotia-led senators. Law professors and newspaper columnists joined the cacophony of voices requesting an inquiry.

But an inquiry did not seem to be in the cards. Instead, the federal and Nova Scotia governments jointly announced on July 23 that a three-person independent review panel had been struck to delve into the mass shooting.

The victims’ families had already filed class-action lawsuits in Nova Scotia Supreme Court against the gunman’s estate and against Nova Scotia RCMP, claiming the Mounties “breached the standard of care expected of them” during the mass shooting and acted in a “high-handed, self-serving and disrespectful manner” in its aftermath.

Their lawsuit criticizes the RCMP’s communication with the families and public during and after the rampage, staffing levels and how the force handled evidence.

In the immediate aftermath of the review announcement, a statement released on behalf of the families said the review is “wholly insufficient” to meet the objectives of providing full and transparent answers to the families and the public, identifying deficiencies in responses and providing meaningful lessons to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

Nova Scotia persistence came into play in the form of rallies, media articles and online missives. That persistence paid off five days after the review was announced when the federal government bowed to public pressure and called a full inquiry.

“We have heard the call from families, survivors, advocates and Nova Scotia Members of Parliament for more transparency,” said a July 28 Twitter statement from Bill Blair, federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

The never-give-up attitude dates back to biblical times.

Jesus shared a parable of persistence with His disciples, relating a story of an unjust judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. In the same town, a widow kept coming to the judge pleading for justice against an adversary.

For the longest time, the judge refused but he finally relented, saying to himself, “even though I do not fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she will not eventually wear me out.”

In contrast to the unjust judge, God’s justice will be swift for His chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night, Jesus explained.

Next up in Nova Scotia is the push for a public inquiry into the province’s long-term care facilities, particularly Northwood in Halifax, where 53 of the province’s 64 COVID-related deaths have taken place.

Premier Stephen McNeil has called a review into the Northwood situation to be completed out of the public eye. Those who testify have been told that they cannot, by penalty of hefty fines, reveal their testimony to the public.

As was the case with the initial mass killing review, members of the families of those who died and opposition politicians say the review and its restrictive parameters smack of cover-up.

There is no hint yet that government will bow to public pressure on the Northwood file, but the experience of families of the mass killing victims and the widow of parable fame show that persistence can pay dividends.

(Campbell is a reporter at the Halifax Chronicle Herald.)

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