Skip to content

Notes from the Trail: We need to look at root causes

An intense week of learning
Family, friends and supporters of the victims of the mass killings in rural Nova Scotia in 2020 gather following the release of the Mass Casualty Commission inquiry’s final report in Truro, N.S. on Thursday, March 30. The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

Last week was a week of dramatic root causes which cost so many their lives.

To begin. the inquiry studying the mass shooting in Nova Scotia in April 2020 released its almost three-year investigation of how the RCMP conducted itself during a killing spree which left 22 dead. In addition to lives lost, many families were left without loved ones murdered by a mentally ill shooter dressed as an RCMP officer and driving what appeared to be a police cruiser.

The rampage, as we all know, went through the night lasting 13 hours before RCMP felled the perpetrator. Though innocent victims were killed at the outset, the public was not notified that a killer was on the loose until several more lives were taken.

No one was given mercy by this individual who killed indiscriminately and left a trail of blood and 16 burned-out buildings behind him. The country watched in horror.

The commission interviewed everyone from the families of the victims to RCMP who worked the frontlines to Brenda Lucki, the former chief commissioner.

And yet, while the report heavily criticized how the Nova Scotia RCMP handled this incident, there was too often a failure to find the root cause.

Some suggest that the warning signs were there years before the incident. It was whispered that the dentist responsible for the murders was also the perpetrator of domestic violence. His partner had reported that there was abuse in the home but believing her and acting on the situation was not done. This woman, in fact, his first victim but who survived, was not taken seriously when she reported the abuse and in fact, was even considered a suspect in the early stages of the investigation.

If her stories of violence, and those of some of the patients this “dentist” treated, would have been taken seriously and if she had received appropriate support, perhaps this rampage would not have happened.

All too often, in domestic abuse, we still blame the victims or fail to take their concerns seriously. The result was that this “dentist” was allowed to go on and murder 22 people because no one dealt with the root cause – his mental illness and the domestic violence

Yes, the RCMP dropped the ball but so did we as a society. We did not listen when the first cries for help went out nor did people act. The man’s behaviour was allowed to escalate until it turned into one of Canada’s greatest mass shootings. We need to take some of the heat off the RCMP who are often overworked and overstressed in an incredibly difficult job and put it on our shoulders for failing to listen and act in a way that could have prevented this from happening at all.

The second root cause which was treated last week was the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery – the root cause of a policy of legitimized colonialism that led to land theft and genocide. The Doctrine by its very nature gave colonial governments the apparent right to claim land that was not theirs and annihilate a culture that had existed pre-first contact for centuries.

The Doctrine, which the Roman Catholic Church finally dispelled last week, gave not only governments but European colonialists the twisted idea that they were somehow entitled to land and resources that were not theirs. We stole from an entire established culture because the Doctrine of Discovery justified bad behaviour. It was the root cause not only of the genocide but of the traumatized first nations people we see on our streets today. We can apply all the band-aids we like, including the new alcohol strategy announced by the GNWT, but until the root causes are dealt with, the problems will persist.

The Roman Catholic Church took a crucial step in the right direction by eliminating some roots of genocide.

What should we have learned? We should have learned to listen when someone suggests there are problems at home. We should have learned that no culture is more worthy than any other. We should have learned that behind most unhealthy conditions, there is a root cause, and we must dig it out instead of applying band-aids or ignoring it. Finally, we should have learned that it is contingent on all of us to dig deep and root out the first causes before their festering leads to mayhem.

Indeed, what an intense week of learning last week was.