Preliminary figures from the joint provincial and federal investigation into the April 2020 massacre in rural Nova Scotia show costs have soared to more than $20 million with six months left in the mandate of the Commission.
The Nova Scotia Department of Justice has confirmed that it has spent $12.8 million to date on the Mass Casualty Commission. This represents an increase from the $5.9 million at the end of January, although the province was unable to say whether the difference of $6.9 million was fully incurred in the last quarter. of the 2021-2022 fiscal year which ended on March 31.
The federal portion of the costs has not yet been finalized and a breakdown of expenditures will be released later this year, according to Pierre-Alain Bujold, who speaks on behalf of the Privy Council. At beginning of the yearthe federal government had spent $7.1 million.
Since Ottawa is cost sharing the investigation, the total costs to date are likely to be well over $20 million.
Emily Hill, lead commission counsel, said more details may be available next week after the federal government closes the books.
Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, has followed the commission’s work closely and said it’s hard not to think that the $20 million-plus estimate represents a lot of money.
But MacKay said the complexity and breadth of the commission’s mandate, its emphasis on a trauma-informed approach and on developing foundational documents that set out its preliminary findings, rather than focusing primarily on testimonials, make it a unique type of investigation.
“It’s kind of a startling number, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s completely unwarranted because it’s hard to know what we should expect, what should we have expected for this particular survey?” he said.
“Will the public and families get their money’s worth? This is clearly going to be, and already is, a very costly exercise. But at the end of the day, will there be any recommendations, tips, and insights that will help the company move forward? and therefore worth the investment?
Hearings started in February
Part of the increase in overall costs may be related to the public hearings which began in late February. The commission rents meeting and ballroom space at the Halifax Convention Center and several hotels in the Halifax area. It covers the costs of security, catering and support staff at the sites.
The commission also has a staff of about 60 people. Thanks to his work, they are collecting dozens of documents summarizing the information collected on the various crime scenes and specific issues such as public alerts, a report of which will be published on Tuesday.
The survey also hired researchers to prepare about 20 expert reports that examine policies and lessons learned from past events.
Some expenditure information is already publicly available. The three commissioners, for example, can claim travel and accommodation expenses. Records of paid claims are posted online. Commissioners Leanne Fitch and Kim Stanton were approved for $10,248 and $9,926 for expenses incurred in January and February respectively.
In addition to these expenses, Chief Commissioner Michael MacDonald has a daily rate of $2,000, and Stanton and Fitch each receive $1,800 a day. Based on the 26 days they have spent overseeing public proceedings since Feb. 22, MacDonald won at least $52,000, and Fitch and Stanton won $46,800. These figures do not include the days they spent in meetings behind the scenes.
Legal fees major part of expenses
There are 61 groups and individuals participating in the investigation, including families of those killed, those closely affected by the violence, as well as police, firearms and intimate partner violence organizations.
MacKay said fees can “add up very quickly” when lawyers and other people at the top of their field are involved. Commission staff include Thomas Cromwell, former Supreme Court justice, and Christine Hansen, former chair of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. More than half a dozen commission investigators earned over six figures working as police officers.
“Any time you have… competent professionals performing, they have competent professional fees to go with it…. It’s not a pro bono exercise,” MacKay said.
“It’s not just the lawyer presenting, although that in itself is an important thing, but also all the preparation, their preparation time, the clerks who work with them or other lawyers in their law firms. lawyers who work with them.”
the orders in council setting out the terms of the survey stipulate that funding is to be provided to participants who would otherwise not be able to participate in the survey.
Hill said a “significant part” of the commission’s budget is dedicated to this.
Nearly $5 million in grants for participants’ legal advisors
The Privy Council released information about the nearly $5 million in federal contributions it approved for about two-thirds of the participants, many of which went to lawyers and firms representing nonprofits, charities and 29 individuals.
Here are the largest grants approved for the period between March 1, 2021 and December 15, 2022, which will cover the remainder of the hearings and the weeks following the final report:
$2,086,350 for 22 anonymous participants.
$1,177,035 for six anonymous participants.
$395,052 for Sullivan Breen Defense and/or MacKillop Pictou Law Group eventually split between three groups: Wellness Within, Women’s Legal Education Fund and Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.
$311,560 for an anonymous participant.
$214,397 for David W. Fisher on behalf of the Atlantic Police Association.
$214,397 for Burchell Macdougall on behalf of Truro Police Services.
$210,866 for Suzan E. Fraser on behalf of the Canadian Coalition for Gun Control.
$129,521 for Megan Stephens Law on behalf of Women’s Shelters Canada.
Five other groups received less than $130,000 each.
The Desmond investigation cost $3 million
By comparison, the Nova Scotia government spent a total of $3 million on the Desmond Inquest, the provincial death inquiry that investigated the circumstances that led to an Afghan veteran shooting his wife. , his mother, his daughter, and then on himself in 2017 at their home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.
The hearings spanned two years and concluded last month. It has only one commission and one-fifth of the participants.
But MacKay said while it wasn’t a national survey, some of the issues he was exploring – domestic abuse, access to guns and the experience of Lionel Desmond leaving the military and struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder – are still relevant to people outside of Nova Scotia, so the difference in cost in the survey is a bit “shocking”.
“Both were primarily focused on domestic violence situations in Nova Scotia, but also applied across the country and even beyond, so there are many parallels in many ways,” he said. .
Watch: Families of victims frustrated with Nova Scotia mass shooting investigation: