Nova Scotia Shooting Inquiry Exceeds Its Mandate

Recent demand for a public enquiry into Chinese election interference has revealed a great gap between what the public (and the Opposition) expect from a public commission, and the reality of what can be done with the findings. In the Nova Scotia situation, a public enquiry has started out with good people and good intentions and gone completely out of control. Here’s how it came down.

Three people in Nova Scotia sat down to interview everyone involved in the largest mass shooting in Canadian history, worse than the Riel Rebellion, the Bute Inlet massacre, or the Cypress Hills Massacre (have you even heard of the last two?).

The report came out last week, and the scope of the inquiry seems to have widened to include the whole of the country: 3,000 pages long, with 130 recommendations. Reporters and the Opposition are having a field day, demanding immediate action and twitting the government for not following up on recommendations from previous inquiries.

Not a Chance

Sorry, folks. Legislation in a democracy doesn’t work that way.

The thoroughness of the commission cannot be faulted, and their findings about the shortcomings of the RCMP response must be taken seriously. However, no matter how much they have discovered, somewhere about the point of discovery their mandate stops. The moment they start predicting what should be done by the federal government in the future we have to wonder at the width of their knowledge of the whole situation.


“The RCMP’s national communications policies should be revised to state clearly that the objective of the RCMP’s public communications is to provide accurate information about the RCMP’s operations, and in particular to respond to media questions in a timely and complete manner.”

It is quite acceptable to suggest the communications policies should be revised. What the new policies should be is not in the committee’s mandate.

“The RCMP and Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office should review call-taker recruitment and training to ensure that 911 call-takers are trained to capture all information shared by a community member as fully and accurately as possible, and to listen for background noises or information that may also be important for first responders.”

If responders aren’t getting all the information they could get, that’s fair game. Discussing the details of what they should be taught to listen for is outside the expertise of the legal professions. If I wanted to reform the RCMP and their training methods, a former chief justice, a former police chief and a lawyer would be well down the list of the people I would want on the committee.

No matter how wide the mandate of any enquiry, the scope cannot include any binding recommendations on how the federal government should create legislation. That’s what we elect politicians for: to look at the situation on a nation-wide scope, taking into account every factor. It’s a thankless job, because the better you perform, the longer it takes, and the more heat you take for not acting. Sort of like sitting at a crosswalk watching a wheelchair cross, and some idiot ten cars back is laying on his horn.

Regional Differences

In a country as large and diverse as Canada the biggest difficulty the federal government has is creating legislation that applies to all Canadians in as equal a way as possible. The last thing we want is to allow a small group from one aspect of life in one part of the country, no matter how intelligent and well-meaning, to create rules we all have to live by.


The moment we lay blame on one member of a hierarchy, we dump all legislative solutions into the realm of “what if.” Legislation must take into account the general actions of groups of people.

If we say, “He wasn’t the right man for the job,” we can suggest that the selection process may be flawed, but that’s all. We cannot go further and make suggestions as to how the selection process should work.

Likewise with training. If we say, “He wasn’t trained properly,” we might, just might, be able to make some suggestions as to what was missing in his training, but we have no mandate to change the training system.

After all, it’s quite possible that the training was faulty because the leader of the training system wasn’t the man for the job. Now we’re really into pie-in-the-sky speculation. I suggest that this is what happened with the Nova Scotia enquiry.

This is part of the reason why governments have such a bad record of following up on the recommendations of public enquiries. For any problem of this complexity, there are a myriad of solutions. Those on an enquiry panel in Nova Scotia have a deep but narrow picture of what happened in Nova Scotia. Presuming to predict the policing needs of the people of British Columbia or Nunavut would seem to be a bit of a stretch for them.

The Bottom Line

If the system works the way it is supposed to, the ruling party takes the ideas of all stakeholders into account, presents legislation to parliament to consult with the other parties, sends that result to the senate for a sober second look, and then makes a law. By the time that exhaustive process is complete, the enthusiastic opinions of three members of the Nova Scotian legal system are going to make a very small contribution. Which is as it should be.

No matter how knowledgeable and thoughtful the 130 recommendations are, and no matter how much political hay the Opposition will make of them, I would be very surprised to see half of the recommendations followed.  It seems certain (note I say “seems,”) that the RCMP needs more adjustment than yet another change of commissioner. The present stand-in is not likely to be the man, since he had the gall to sit on the report for a full day and then appear before the people of Canada and admit he hadn’t looked at it.

This report is only one small set of data in the huge amount of material the government needs to consider before making major changes to a 100-year-old country-wide institution.

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