Commissioner Michael MacDonald, chair, leaves the stage after delivering the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry’s final report into the mass murders in rural Nova Scotia in Truro, N.S., on Thursday, March 30, 2023.
The problem begins with the self-serving decision by Ottawa and the province to make the committee that’s supposed to be publicly accountable for the implementation of the commission’s report operate behind closed doors. And then it gets worse.
Something about this does not compute.
Let’s start at the end of the beginning.
On March 30, 2023, the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission — after listening to 230 witnesses over 76 days of public sessions — delivered its double-doorstopper 2,964-page report into the rampage that led up to the murders of 22 Nova Scotians and one unborn child on April 18 and 19, 2020.
The commissioners detailed 130 recommendations, 70 of them aimed at police agencies, especially the RCMP, whose abysmal failures before, during and after the massacre the commission had eviscerated in excruciating detail.
But one of its most important recommendations was Number 125 — that Ottawa and the Nova Scotia government jointly establish an “implementation and accountability body” to make sure the other 129 recommendations didn’t end up on some shelf somewhere gathering cobwebs. Among its mandates: to monitor the implementation of those recommendations and “provide public information about the process of implementing the recommendations [and] public updates on progress on the implementation plan every three months and publish an annual report on the status of implementation of each recommendation.”
What made Recommendation 125 so critical is the track record of the players, especially the RCMP, when it comes to responding to the recommendations in other reports.
As the Canadian Press noted in a report:
During a[n MCC]hearing in September 2022, the inquiry heard from a former assistant commissioner of the RCMP who said the police force has a history of ignoring calls for change. Cal Corley said the RCMP has long resisted outside advice because of its deep-rooted paramilitary culture, lack of diverse views and dearth of what he called “transformational leadership.”
“It’s been an organization that’s been historically very slow to adapt to its external environment,” Corley said. “There’s an institutional culture that has been rather closed for many years.”
The former senior Mountie, who also served as head of the Canadian Police College, cited a 2017 study that included a 41-page list of recommendations for change that he said were largely ignored by the RCMP.
Fast forward to May 31. The federal and provincial governments followed through on the recommendation to establish the accountability committee and named retired judge Linda Lee Oland as its founding chair.
Here is, in retrospect, the key sentence in their joint news release: “Governments will work closely with her to finalize the funding and terms of reference to establish the monitoring body.”
We’ll come back to those terms of reference.
Over the summer, the chair — in consultation with all the players, including governments, Mounties, gender-based violence advocates and families of the victims — came up with a proposed list of members of the “Implementation and Mutual Accountability Body.” So many family members of victims were keen to participate that a decision was made that seven of them would serve in rotation in the two slots reserved for “those most affected by the mass casualty.”
The committee held its first official meeting on September 26 and 27. It later released what it called a “meeting summary,” which summarized almost nothing of substance for which anyone could be held accountable.
The Government of Nova Scotia, for example, presented “an update on work undertaken since the release of the MCC Final Report in four areas: community safety and wellbeing, public health, policing, and gender-based and intimate partner violence.”
The federal government “presented a high-level overview of initiatives that the Government of Canada has undertaken to date to respond to the recommendations under the themes of violence, community and policing, noting that these are merely a representation of work underway, and that there are many findings that will be unpacked in the coming months.”
Specifics, if any… un-summarized.
The RCMP’s “Director General, Strategic Implementation Team,” David Janzen, “spoke to the new sector established within the RCMP, which is dedicated to advancing complex reforms and external reviews of the RCMP.” Uh … “He spoke to the themes and sub-themes that the RCMP is using to address the recommendations, in line with the federal whole-of-government approach. To date, the focus of the work has been on in-depth ‘deep dives,’ which bring together subject matter experts from diverse areas across the country to inform the overall action plan of the RCMP.”
Yes, but … what are you doing?
At a September 28 news conference, Oland seemed to acknowledge the questions. “Everyone is well aware” previous inquires failed to bring about substantive change within the RCMP, she said, but “there is a strong desire at the table … that there will be action taken … While we may not have a stick to make governments react, we do have a role in asking what they are doing and in reporting clearly to the public so that they can judge… When we report on the progress, the public will know and react.”
Here’s the rub. While the committee is supposed to “publicly report on the initiatives that Canada and Nova Scotia are undertaking in response to the MCC Report, including a rationale for these initiatives,” what happens behind closed doors in the monitoring committee is supposed to stay behind those locked and guarded doors.
In order to encourage frank and open discussion at the PMC, discussions and meeting materials are confidential and must not be disclosed to external parties without prior discussion and approval by the PMC as a whole. Sharing of information related to the PMC will be through the Secretariat.
Whose interests, do you think, are served when a governments-appointed committee to monitor and be accountable conducts its business in secret? No need to answer.
This brings us to early December 2023 when the committee held another day-and-a-half behind-closed-doors meeting. Apparently, they heard from representatives of the federal and provincial governments, as well as the RCMP who reported “on their work to implement the MCC’s recommendations.”
Apparently… Conversations are confidential.
During a post-meeting news conference, Oland was asked specifically about whether the RCMP was working toward implementing one key recommendation — that it replace its current six-and-a-half-month training program at Depot in Saskatchewan with a university-based three-year policing training program. She deflected.
“We don’t have info I can share directly,” she said. “I can say we have not heard any of the recommendations have been rejected.”
And she was quick to offer a blandly upbeat general and generic report on everyone’s progress to date in implementing the commission’s recommendations: “I don’t have any complaints. I don’t see anyone dragging their feet.”
That was December 12, 2023.
Fast forward to January 9, 2024.
When the mass casualty commission report was released last March, the RCMP brass seemed woefully unprepared to address its sweeping recommendations. Senior Mounties hadn’t even cracked the report’s executive summary or thumbed through its summary of recommendations.
The RCMP soon promised it would release what it called “an implementation strategy” and a progress report on its actions to date before the end of 2023.
January 1, 2024.
… issued a brief statement confirming it “was not in a position to release its action plan and strategy by the end of the calendar year as it had previously intended.”
The statement went on to say the plan would be released as soon as possible, though a deadline was not specified.
“The [Mass Casualty Commission] made it clear that the RCMP needs to take its time to get this right and properly address the recommendations,” the statement said. “To this end, the organization has been working diligently at advancing both documents, working with subject matter experts throughout the organization and across the policing community, as well as government of Canada partners.”
Commanding Officer Dennis Daley also released a message on Tuesday, saying the force had been “anxious to learn whether the work we had underway to strengthen our response to critical incidents, our collaboration with partners, and our service to communities, would align with the recommendations and vision for the future of public safety.”
Does that really sound like no one is “dragging their feet.”
Lee’s monitoring committee is supposed to release another “general public update” sometime this month.
But if Lee and her committee are not more forthcoming, not more accountable, what is the point?
Something about this does not compute.
A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner.
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