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Public inquiry in Nova Scotia seeking explanation from Ottawa about withheld notes

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HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the Nova Scotia mass shooting wants to know why the federal Justice Department withheld notes written by a senior Mountie for several months — and if there’s more revelations to come.

“The commission sought an explanation … about why four pages were missing from the original disclosure,” Barbara McLean, the inquiry’s director of investigations, said in an email Friday.

“The commission is also demanding an explanation for any further material that has been held back.”

On Tuesday, the inquiry released internal RCMP documents that include notes taken by Supt. Darren Campbell during a meeting with senior officers and staff on April 28, 2020 — nine days after a gunman killed 22 people in northern and central Nova Scotia.

At the meeting, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, said she was disappointed that details about the firearms used by the killer had not been released at previous news conferences in Halifax, according to Campbell’s notes.

Campbell alleges that Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the Mounties would release the descriptions, adding that the information would be “tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”

The superintendent’s notes sparked controversy in Ottawa earlier this week, when the opposition Tories  and New Democrats accused the governing Liberals of interfering in a police investigation for political gain — assertions denied by the government and Lucki.

Meanwhile, the commission of inquiry confirmed Friday that the Justice Department sent 132 pages of Campbell’s notes in February 2022, but they did not include his entries about the April meeting.

The missing notes were submitted to commission on May 31.

McLean says the commission is seeking assurance that nothing else has been held back, and she complained about RCMP documents that had already been disclosed.

“These documents have often been provided in a disjointed manner that has required extensive commission team review,” McLean wrote in her email. “Our team continues to review all disclosure carefully for any gaps or additional information required to fulfil our mandate.”

Michael Scott, a lawyer whose firm represents 14 of the victims’ families, said he’s concerned about the document delay.

“Any time documents are either vetted, redacted or withheld in a way that’s not entirely appropriate, it entirely undermines the process as a whole,” he said in an interview Friday.

Scott said that on top of having to read thousands of pages of records, transcripts and notes submitted to the inquiry, “now we have to be concerned we’re not getting all the documents.”

The Conservatives released a statement Friday, alleging a federal coverup.

“Canadians will find it hard to believe that the (justice) minister’s department just happened to miss those four critical pages of evidence,” the statement said. “This is no coincidence. This was no accident.”

Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, said delays in receiving information from the RCMP means the inquiry is left to grapple with important issues late in its mandate. The inquiry’s final report is due Nov. 1 and all submissions are expected by September.

“It’s unfortunate because public inquiries need the full documentary record as quickly as possible so they can make decisions on what to look at and what to not look at,” said Roach, author of “Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change.”

“If the mass casualty commission had known about this earlier, it might have decided to conduct its hearings and research in a different way,” he said Friday.

The professor said the comments from Campbell raise questions about the structure of the RCMP, and its competing mandates of being both a local and nation police force whose commissioner serves “at the pleasure” of the minister of public safety.

“My concern is that the citizens (of Nova Scotia) seem to be on the sidelines while there is tension and squabbling between RCMP Nova Scotia and RCMP Ottawa,” he said.

The Canadian Press requested comment from the RCMP, but a response was not immediately available.

Campbell said in an email that he would not comment. He said he is waiting to be interviewed by the commission.

“My interview has been scheduled and it will take place in the very near future,” he wrote.

“I also expect to be called to the Mass Casualty Commission as a witness sometime near the end of July and I look forward to both opportunities.  As such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comments prior to giving evidence under oath.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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Canadian army veteran charged with murder after mass shooting in Belize nightclub – CTV News

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A Canadian Armed Forces veteran has been charged with murder in connection to a mass shooting in Belize that left two people dead and eight others injured.

J.R. Smith, who served with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Afghanistan as part of Operation Medusa in 2006, is accused of driving the getaway vehicle following the July 31 shooting at a nightclub.

Police in Belize allege that three local men who were with Smith got into an argument over a woman in the club. They left, but allegedly returned later with guns and opened fire.

Smith and the three other men were arrested and paraded in handcuffs.

Smith’s partner, Denise Hepburn, told CTV News that he was not involved in the shooting, and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hepburn also alleged that Smith was repeatedly beaten by police after his arrest, which resulted in the black eye seen in his arrest photo.

“He defended this country. He is a decorated soldier,” she said. “He’s a good person … he would never do something like this.”

Smith, originally from Newfoundland, moved to Ontario after he left the CAF. He studied woodworking and later opened a cabinetry business. He was profiled by CTV News five years ago as part of a Remembrance Day feature on veteran entrepreneurship.

Global Affairs Canada says it’s “aware of a Canadian who has been detained in Belize” and stands ready to provide consular assistance. Smith remains in custody in a Belize prison and is due back in court in November. 

With files from CTV Barrie’s Mike Arsalides

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Little change to Vancouver downtown street encampment as residents wonder where to go

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VANCOUVER — It was difficult to see any difference had been made to the tent encampment in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside on Wednesday, a day after city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process to remove the structures.

That’s for good reason, said a resident who goes by the name Edith Elizabeth — the people who live in the tents have nowhere else to go.

She said previously, residents would relocate their structures nearby so city staff could clean the street.

“It’s just like, ‘Okay, cool, take down our structures and move down the block so they can wash it,’ and that’s it,” said Elizabeth. “But here, now, it’s just like we have to disappear or something.”

Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents along the stretch of Hastings Street dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.

The city has said staff would concentrate their efforts on the “highest risk” areas, but several structures in those areas remained in place on Wednesday.

The neighbourhood struggles with many complex challenges including drug use, crime, homelessness, housing issues, and unemployment.

It was tense on Tuesday, Elizabeth said, with a heavy police presence on the street.

The Vancouver Police Department released a statement Tuesday saying multiple people were arrested after officers were assaulted during a “melee.”

It said staff at a community centre had called police to report a man throwing computers and behaving erratically. The man resisted arrest, police said, as “a large crowd gathered, and became hostile and combative with the officers.”

Elizabeth said police used pepper spray and the incident left people feeling scared.

An update from the city on Wednesday said a big contingent of police at the Main and Hastings intersection in the afternoon “was not as a result of the City’s effort to remove structures”, and instead stemmed from the incident outside the community centre.

The city said staff aimed to approach encampment residents “with respect and sensitivity, encouraging and supporting voluntary removal of tents and belongings through conversation.”

“We recognize that some people believe the city should not do this work, but there are significant safety risks for everyone in the neighbourhood that the city cannot ignore,” it said.

Elizabeth stood near her belongings on the sidewalk where she said she’s been staying for about three weeks after moving from another spot nearby.

“It’s not like this is a forever, permanent place,” she said, although she’s not sure where she might go next.

“As far as options down here, generally there’s been Crab Park, which is like tent city,” she said, referring to tents set up around the park near Vancouver’s waterfront.

Elizabeth said she, like many others living in tents along the street, doesn’t feel comfortable or safe in single-room occupancy buildings with “awful” conditions.

The city said staff have been meeting each week with a community-based working group since May, and more frequently with members of the Overdose Prevention Society and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users over the past two weeks.

Staff spent Wednesday telling residents about storage options for their belongings, the city said.

These included up to two 360-litre storage totes, which staff would seal with tamper-proof labels before placing them in short-term storage. The city said the totes are on wheels, so owners can take them away if they did not want them stored.

A long-term storage container is also being provided nearby, the city said.

Community advocacy groups, including the drug-user network and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.

The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.

The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Draft speech on residential schools edited out blaming Ottawa for abuse: documents

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Ottawa was careful to avoid admitting abuses Indigenous children suffered at residential schools happened “at the hands of the federal government” in remarks prepared for a Liberal cabinet minister after the discovery of unmarked graves last year, documents show.

The Canadian Press obtained documents through the Access to Information Act that show a draft version of a speech written for Carolyn Bennett, who was then minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, originally contained those words before they were edited out.

“It gets to me that they’re still in a place of defending themselves,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

In May 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced ground-penetrating radar had found what are believed to be the unmarked graves of about 200 children on the site of a former residential school near Kamloops, B.C.

The revelation spurred a reckoning across the country about the legacy of residential schools, which were government-funded, church-operated institutions that about 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend in Canada over more than a century. Thousands of children experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, or even died.

The discovery also prompted questions about what Ottawa was going to do about it.

Days later, the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations was drafting a speech for Bennett in anticipation of a possible emergency debate on the matter in the House of Commons.

That never happened. Another form of debate was held and it appears the draft speech, as written in the documents, was not the one that Bennett ended up delivering.

One section of the draft remarks addresses the suffering children endured in residential schools, originally saying “they experienced unthinkable trauma, including physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of the federal government by simply attending school.”

Speech writing can be a lengthy process. Text is often drafted by the department and then sent to staff in the minister’s office and to the minister, and then sometimes back and forth again.

Edits contained in the 17 pages of drafts show the words “at the hands of the federal government” were struck out. The reason for the revision was redacted before the documents were released to The Canadian Press.

“The government, they talk a great deal about reconciliation,” said Eleanore Sunchild, a Saskatchewan lawyer and advocate from Thunderchild First Nation, who has represented many residential school survivors in physical and sexual abuse cases.

“That, however, doesn’t speak of reconciliation at all, taking out those words.”

Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said he found it “disturbing … that Canada keeps trying to minimize its role in residential schools.”

The Crown-Indigenous Relations Department has not yet responded to a request to explain the change. But the office of the current minister, Marc Miller, said in a written statement that the federal government “takes full responsibility” for its role in the residential school system, “including the abuse that Indigenous children suffered at these institutions.”

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper apologized for Canada’s role in residential schools in 2008 as part of the historic Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

In his speech, Harper apologized for the government “failing to protect” children at the institutions, which he said “far too often … gave rise to abuse or neglect.”

He also apologized for the separation of children from families and acknowledged it carried consequences for future generations.

In the speech that Bennett ultimately gave on unmarked graves on June 1, 2021, she said she wanted to give her “profound apologies to the families and survivors,” but she did not mention abuse or assign blame.

Last month, Pope Francis came to Canada to apologize for residential schools on behalf of the Catholic Church, which operated more than 60 per cent of the institutions.

The pontiff asked forgiveness for the “evils” committed by “many Christians” against Indigenous children in residential schools. Many Indigenous leaders said they had hoped for an apology that specifically spoke about the role of the Catholic Church.

Bill Percy, a Winnipeg-based lawyer who has represented survivors seeking compensation for sexual and physical abuse, said it’s possible government took issue with the words “at the hands of” in the draft.

“That implies that they were the physical abusers,” he said.

“Most of the direct abusers would be church-related employees, not federal government employees.”

Regardless, he said Canada has paid out most of the billions of dollars distributed to abuse complainants under the settlement.

“When push comes to shove, in the court cases, the federal government always has taken responsibility.”

Blackstock said she sees where Ottawa has “wiggle room,” given that the federal government did not directly perpetuate abuse.

“What the federal government did is knowingly leave children in situations where this was happening, and were choosing not to intervene to save them from the deaths and save them from the abuse,” she said.

She said whether it’s the Vatican or Canada, institutions have demonstrated a reluctance to take full accountability for residential schools.

“What I’ve been concerned about writ large is the portrayal by the federal government as this is a ‘dark chapter in history,’ and not really owning the fact that they knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew it was leading to children’s deaths.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

— with files from Jim Bronskill

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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