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Portapique and the Mass Casualty Commission

Posted on December 19, 2022 by admin

In the summer of 2022, SSN ran a story called Portapique and the benefit of hindsight and the author was skeptical about writing about ‘old news.’ As it turns out the story still had punch. Just to refresh your memory, over an abomination of a 2020 weekend in Nova Scotia, a denturist armed with guns and a fake RCMP car went on a killing and burning spree that snuffed out 22 lives.

Two and half years later, the story lives on. Last summer, the CBC gave us an empathetic and deeply troubling interview with Lisa Banfield, the shooter’s ex-partner. Prior to that, the Canadian government issued a mandate for a Mass Casualty Commission (MCC) to assemble; to investigate what went wrong and suggest how get it right next time, because there’s always a next time.   

The MCC, a coalition of mostly legal types—police, lawyers, and psychologists—has racked up $22.7 million in expenditures from 2020-22 and was expected to deliver a final report in early Nov. 2022. What they delivered was a webcast of closing updates, with a promise to have the report ready by March of 2023. With over 7,000 pages of documentation, that’s a handful, and that’s the MCC’s job. They’re running behind schedule, but how much can we reasonably expect from a $22.7 million+ report? Will it tell us what we already know: that we’ve got to keep a close eye on the folks that are bending and about to break, and that Twitter is not a legitimate emergency alert system?   

The MCC’s agenda was this, according to their website: To identify “the causes, context and circumstances giving rise to the April 2020 mass casualty, the responses of (law enforcement agencies), and the steps taken to inform, support and engage those most affected.”

Also on their agenda, “To examine related issues including: The role of gender-based and intimate partner violence, access to firearms, the relationship of the perpetrator with the police and social services, communications with the public during and after the event, and communications within law enforcement agencies and other services.”

The MCC has been tasked to “produce a report that sets out lessons learned as well as recommendations that could help (us) prevent and respond to similar incidents.” The documents listed on the MCC website included some critical topics like, “communications interoperability in the alert ready system, police and first responder decision-making during mass casualty events, and managing unique and high consequence events.”

Other topics seemed less tangible. For example, “Mass shootings and masculinity, conceptions of masculinity in violence towards a healthier evolution of men and boys, and the health and safety of survival sex workers in Halifax and Truro, NS.” We can neither praise nor condemn the findings of the committee until they release a cohesive and readable report. Also, in good faith we should probably trust that the commission’s specialists are undoubtedly very competent.

Fact-finding is always a noble and worthwhile mission, and any attempt to rectify and develop better future models is fine, but it begs much deeper philosophical questions about the human condition, questions that the MCC may not have answers for. For example, what drives humans to become so volatile in their actions and reactions? What factors makes families dysfunctional? If we want to talk about the “healthier evolution of men and boys,” shouldn’t the impetus be placed on every father to be a kind, stable, and helpful role model to his sons? How do we enforce that? We don’t and we can’t.

The MCC might make some noteworthy contributions to our nation’s well-being. The one thing it won’t do and cannot do is create idyllic safe havens, where peace and harmony are the new absolutes. Towns and cities are chaotic to varying degrees. Families are dysfunctional, sometimes even abusive to varying degrees. People are troubled, stressed, or mentally unstable to varying degrees. But there’s no lap dog yapping at the front window to warn us when the big, bad wolf is about to strike. Trouble often goes—and will continue to go—undetected. There are no ‘thought police’ running around monitoring people’s dark fantasies.

In a similar but unrelated event this past Labour Day weekend, a Saskatchewan man went on a stabbing spree on the James Smith Cree Nation that once again, shocked everyone. Thankfully, we did learn something from the Nova Scotia nightmare: Emergency alerts that go straight to everyone’s cell phones are effective. Everyone in Alberta and Saskatchewan knew what was happening.

How strange though. A stabbing spree. When has that ever happened before? Same thing with Portapique; when has a guy ever owned a replica RCMP car and gear and then used it to commit a killing spree? People aren’t running out of new and inventive ways of expressing their hostility for life, themselves, or humanity. It’s truly frightening if one dwells upon it.

For a directly related story, read the CBC’s article on Leon Joudrey, a survivor and the man Lisa Banfield ran to for help on when the massacre began. No exact date or cause of death have been given, but Joudrey recently passed away at 54 after going through immense struggles following the massacre.

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