Mass Casualty Commission misses the mark

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After three years and more than $25-million, it is inexplicable that the commissioners did not do a deeper dive into how the RCMP was structured.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 3, 2023.

OTTAWA–The final report of the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission came up with 130 recommendations to prevent a future massacre.

Not a single recommendation was costed. Nor was there any advice on whether the current contracting system of the RCMP is effective.

According to the commissioners, it is the job of governments to cost and deliver on their recommendations. It is also the job of governments to review contractual arrangements that provide the basis for RCMP operations in Nova Scotia.

Solutions that have no cost attached to them are going to be somewhat problematic to implement, and refusing to weigh in on the RCMP structure is inexplicable.

There was also much attention paid to gender-based violence and the need for society to tackle it.

The commission chair suggested at the press conference that men need to be humble and seek help.

He spoke about educating the perpetrators. But that is a question that is much deeper and broader than anything that can be accomplished by police forces, and it certainly did not need three years of study to reach a vapid conclusion on gender-based violence.

The commission blamed the slaughter on an inexcusable lack of communication prompted by a systemic failure in the RCMP.

There was a tweet sent out by police during the attacks, but it did not mention anything about the replica police vehicle. It also underplayed the incident, claiming police were dealing with a firearms issue.

The commission also recommended that there should be a national alert system to inform all citizens if, God forbid, a similar massacre should happen again.

Apparently, local police forces knew how to activate an alert-ready emergency, but the RCMP said it did not know how to operate the messaging system.

The commission also focused on changing the culture at the RCMP.

Likewise, this isn’t the first time that an outside body has asked for a change to the culture of the RCMP.

Former RCMP commissioner Brenda Lucki made culture change her top priority, and she was knee-capped from within her own organization. Some of her colleagues appeared quite happy to publicly and regularly undercut the first woman to head the RCMP.

One report finding was a criticism that the RCMP didn’t make efforts to alert residents of threat. They were too focused on finding the gunman.

In retrospect, that is an obvious conclusion. But the reality of tracking a killer is that police are supposed to be focused on finding and neutralizing the gunman.

At the time, the police were also dealing with fires that had been set by the gunman, and houses burning down while the assailant moved through communities in a fake police vehicle on his murderous mission.

The communications gaps in the police handling of the massacre were widely documented.

The most glaring error is that the police did not let citizens know that a fake police vehicle was being used by the assailant.

The lack of that information undoubtedly led to many victims assuming that an approaching police vehicle was there to help them avoid the assailant.

Instead, they were slaughtered.

But at the end of the day, the key question is all about the sharing of information. In normal police operations, secrecy is paramount. In many instances, less communication is considered better.

So, it may be understandable that public communication of the situation was not the top priority of those few police officers who were in the field trying to track down the attacker.

The commission did not make any recommendations on changing the system of contract policing under which the Nova Scotia RCMP currently operates.

At the March 30 press conference, they defended that omission, saying that decision was a political one and they felt it should be made by politicians.

But after three years and more than $25-million, it is inexplicable that the commissioners did not do a deeper dive into how the RCMP was structured.

The commission roundly condemned the RCMP and suggested their historical RCMP Depot training system should be replaced by university degrees in policing within a few years. Again, no cost on that.

The messages on gender and domestic violence have been repeated ad nauseum, but do not necessarily lead to solutions.

Asking violent men to “seek help” sounds like a great idea, but when you are dealing with a crazed gunman, he is probably not going to follow that advice.

The commission delivered decent recommendations on bullets and gun ownership changes, but it did little to prevent future massacres.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.