'There need to be changes,' Trudeau says as N.S. shooting inquiry slams RCMP

WATCH: Trudeau responds to Nova Scotia mass shooting inquiry, says 'there need to be changes and there will be'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is vowing changes will come after a highly anticipated report into the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting slammed the RCMP’s response to it.

The long-awaited Mass Casualty Commission’s final report was released Thursday, and it touched on a variety of issues, including the police response, the killer’s access to firearms, the role of gender-based violence, and the steps taken to inform the public as the rampage unfolded.

The report detailed the RCMP’s various failures in preventing, responding to, and reacting in the aftermath of the April 2020 killings that saw 22 people die, including a pregnant woman.

“There were many warning signs of the perpetrator’s violence and missed opportunities to intervene in the years before the mass casualty. There were also gaps and errors in the critical incident response to the mass casualty as it unfolded,” the report said.

“Additionally, there were failures in the communications with the public during and in the aftermath of the mass casualty.”

Trudeau, who was in Truro, N.S., alongside Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser for the release of the report, told reporters afterwards that the government will enact changes.

“We will take the time now to properly digest and understand the recommendations and the conclusions and the opportunities that the commission has put forward for us to take up,” Trudeau said.

“There’s no question there need to be changes and there will be, but we will take the time to get those right.”

Mendicino reaffirmed Trudeau’s remarks in a statement of his own Thursday afternoon.

“It is now up to us to begin the next phase of the work that is laid out by the Commission in the final report,” he said.

“As Minister of Public Safety and the Government of Canada, we will do everything in our power to support the families of the victims, implement the reforms that are necessary and do our utmost to ensure this kind of tragedy never happens again.”

Over the course of 13 hours on April 18-19, 2020, the suspect journeyed across three Nova Scotia counties, attacking the victims. He was at times dressed like a Mountie and driving a replica RCMP vehicle. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern Canadian history.

The rampage ended when the perpetrator was fatally shot by two RCMP officers at a gas station in Enfield, north of Halifax.

The commission’s final report included 130 recommendations, 75 of which were about policing.

“We recognize this is not the first report to make findings and recommendations like these, but with your help it could be the last,” Commissioner Michael MacDonald said Thursday.

“Future acts of violence are preventable, if we have the will to do what is necessary.”

One of the recommendations called for the federal minister of public safety to commission an in-depth, external and independent review of the RCMP.

It said the review should “specifically examine the RCMP’s approach to contract policing and work with contract partners, and also its approach to community relations.”

Following the review, it said Public Safety Canada and the public safety minister should establish “clear priorities” for the RCMP, and identify what responsibilities can be reassigned to other agencies – “including, potentially to new policing agencies.”

The report took note of a “long history of efforts” to reform the RCMP’s contract policing services model, but they have “largely failed to resolve long-standing criticisms.”

Commissioners also recommended “modernizing” police education and research by scrapping the current model of RCMP training by 2032, and establishing a three-year degree-based model of police education for all police services in Canada.

The report also examined RCMP communications, and lack thereof, as the event unfolded.

Since the tragedy, the Mounties have faced intense public scrutiny for providing updates exclusively through Twitter.

The report said there are “widespread beliefs” that issuing an emergency alert causes people to panic — beliefs that are not supported by evidence. It urged the RCMP to incorporate material that identifies and counters these beliefs in its training materials. Commissioners also called for a national review and redesign of the public alert system.

The report also said there were “red flags” about the shooter’s violent behaviour before the shooting, and there were “missed opportunities” for prevention.

During a news conference Thursday afternoon, RCMP interim commissioner Mike Duheme said he was “deeply sorry for the unimaginable pain” caused by the mass casualty event, and said the RCMP was committed to learning from the tragedy and rebuilding trust.

He stopped short of apologizing for the mistakes that the report said were made by the RCMP.

Duheme said since the shooting, there have been “significant advancements” in public alerting. He also said the RCMP has put a team in place to study the report, and said police are “committed to learning from the tragedy.” Duheme said he himself did not read the report or its recommendations as of the news conference, despite the RCMP receiving the report Wednesday morning under embargo.

Governments should work with community-based advocacy and support groups “to develop and deliver prevention materials and social awareness programs that counter victim blaming and hyper-responsibilization … of women survivors of gender-based violence,” the report said.

Commissioners also suggested that firearms licences be revoked for those convicted of domestic violence or hate-related offences.

“As a country, we need the commitment to keep going month after month, year after year, making steady improvements and sustained efforts to shift entrenched values, fix broken systems, and make violence prevention our guiding star,” MacDonald said.

“Most important of all, it will take collaboration from all Canadians – including leaders, policy-makers, first responders, service providers, public institutions, community groups, and members of the public.”

Furthermore, the commission said there should be a a clearer definition of the relationship between the federal minister of public safety and the commissioner of the RCMP.

During the inquiry’s public hearings, a number of senior members of the Nova Scotia RCMP accused then-commissioner Brenda Lucki and former public safety minister Bill Blair of political interference in the investigation.

That stemmed from a teleconference 10 days after the massacre in which Lucki referenced federal gun control legislation and expressed frustration with local RCMP over their communication with the public, especially about details of the weapons used in the killing.

It resulted in weeks of political squabbling in Ottawa over whether Blair and Trudeau were interfering in the investigation.

In its report, the commission says there was no interference, but it calls for written policies to set out the roles and responsibilities of the RCMP and the minister.

“I think quite correctly, they’ve concluded that there was no partisanship and certainly no interference in this case, and I know that there had been some speculation and even some innuendo about that at the time but quite frankly, I think that’s a distraction from the real issues,” Blair, now emergency preparedness minister, said Thursday.

“Many people lost their lives. This is a tragic event for the families and the communities in which this took place, and it demands the best response from all orders of government, from the RCMP, from all of us, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

At the end, the commission recommended Ottawa and the provinces establish and fund an implementation and mutual accountability body on an “urgent basis.”

“This body will be responsible for creating an implementation plan and providing regular updates to government and to the public,” it said, adding that this body should produce its first public report by the end of the year.

It asked that its framework, funding and founding chair be in place by May 31, with membership being appointed by Sept. 1.

— with files from Global News’ Alex Cooke and The Canadian Press

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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