‘There’s a lot more work that needs to be done’: Families, lawyers, observers watching Mass Casualty Commission process carefully

Bonnie Oliver and her family are among a number of those affected by Nova Scotia’s April 2020 tragedy who live outside of the province.

She says she’s fighting for a legacy for her loved ones as best she can, all the way from her Red Deer, Alta., home.

That’s where she’s been following the work of the Mass Casualty Commission, which is tasked with finding answers about what happened during the mass shooting and recommending changes to ensure it can never happen again.

“The changes will create a legacy for all the 23 that were part of that horrible night and lost their lives,” says Oliver.

Her daughter, Jolene Oliver, was killed in Portapique, NS, along with her granddaughter Emily Tuck, and son-in-law Aaron Tuck. They were among the first 13 people killed by the gunman in a rampage that began in the small community the night of April 18, 2020.

He went on to evade police overnight, murdering nine more people the next day, including a pregnant mother.

Worrying whether key witnesses to those events would testify at the inquiry has been stressful for Oliver and her family.

The commission’s decision Wednesday to subpoena the killer’s spouse, Mounties on the ground, and RCMP officials has brought some hope.

“But there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” she adds.

Lawyers for families say they’re also “cautiously optimistic.”

But when public proceedings adjourned Wednesday, they also expressed concern over the commission’s process for questioning witnesses.

“And whether we will have an opportunity to ask any of our own questions is really for a decision for the commissioners to make down the road,” said Sandra McCulloch, one lawyer for families.

That’s because lawyers must first give their questions to commission attorneys to be asked for them, rather than directly questioning witnesses themselves to start.

“But we will continue to push for our ability to ask cross examination questions we believe are relevant and ask them in our own voices,” said lawyer Tara Miller, who represents two families.

Commission Senior Counsel Emily Hill told reporters that the process is about efficiency and avoiding the repetition of lawyers asking the same questions of a particular witness.

“But if there are follow up questions, participants have the opportunity to ask those questions,” she added.

But some outside observers are also questioning the procedures used by the commission.

“It’s difficult for the participants to be really effective if they’re constrained that way,” says lawyer Adam Rodgers, who has been most recently involved in the Desmond Fatality Inquiry in Nova Scotia.

He says the Mass Casualty Commission’s process isn’t something he’s encountered before, and it’s very different from the Desmond inquiry – in which witnesses were determined beforehand and are directly cross-examined.

“There’s a lot of questions about this process,” he adds. “It’s an experiment in many ways as to how to run an inquiry, and only time will tell how well that experiment is going.”

One Bonnie Oliver – and all those affected by the tragedy – are counting on.

Leave a Comment