In the First United Church in Truro, Nova Scotia, little has changed after an extraordinarily painful year. Parishioners are still wearing masks, physically distancing, and only a few dozen are allowed inside to worship.
But as the sounds of the Mi’kmaq Honour Song of Millbrook First Nation filled the church Sunday, family and friends of the 22 victims of Canada’s worst-ever mass killing are painfully aware that some things will never be the same again.
“One year ago, 22 Canadians were senselessly killed and three more were injured when a gunman went on a rampage in small towns across Nova Scotia,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement ahead of the church ceremony to commemorate the tragedy.
“Even a year later I know there is no comfort for the anguish of having an adored parent or precious child torn away. I know there are no words for losing a beloved constable and teacher. For mourning respected nurses and corrections officers,” he said in a separate recorded message.
“So all I can say is this: you are not alone. All Canadians stand with you and grieve with you today and always.”
A horrific rampage
Over 12 hours beginning on April 18 and continuing to April 19, Gabriel Wortman set out on a murderous rampage in rural Nova Scotia, killing 22 people – some of whom he knew, others were strangers.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said 13 were fatally shot and nine others died in house fires set by the gunman.
Wortman, 51, was shot dead by police after an hours-long manhunt during which, police say, he posed as one of them, including wearing an RCMP uniform and driving what looked like a police cruiser.
Police say the gunman did not have a firearms license and his weapons were illegally obtained, likely from the United States.
Swift legislative action
Less than two weeks after the massacre, Trudeau’s government banned more than 1,500 models and variants of assault-style weapons, making their use, sale or import illegal.
“These weapons were designed for one purpose, and one purpose only, to kill the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time,” Trudeau said at the time.
In 2019, Trudeau’s Liberal party ran on a promise of stricter gun control, but the Nova Scotia tragedy stiffened that resolve.
Trudeau’s government introduced more gun control legislation earlier this year, promising to beef up the regulation of guns and their owners.
For decades polls have shown that a majority of Canadians support stricter gun control, but the Trudeau government’s effort to pass more legislation has been met with some skepticism from both gun control advocates and detractors.
Canada’s opposition leader, Conservative party leader Erin O’Toole, says Trudeau’s new and proposed gun bans and buy-back schemes will punish law-abiding gun owners, while doing little to solve the growing problem of gun violence in Canadian cities.
And some gun control advocates and big city mayors say they’re disappointed that Trudeau’s government has not proposed a national handgun ban.
Federal-provincial inquiry will look into the tragedy
How and why this massacre happened in the one of the safest and most unlikely places in Canada will now be the subject of an inquiry in the province of Nova Scotia, but a final report isn’t expected for more than a year.
The RCMP acknowledge there are many questions about how the gunman obtained so many firearms and his motivation, as well as what the RCMP knew of his ability to impersonate an officer with uniforms and police cars.
“We understand people have questions and want to know as much as possible about the incidents. Charges related to the investigation are currently before the courts and we are participating fully in the Mass Casualty Commission, which is underway. It is our hope that the Mass Casualty Commission will provide a full accounting of what happened for the families of the victims and the public,” said Lee Bergerman, Nova Scotia RCMP commanding officer, in a statement released this weekend.
As friends and family members placed flowers before the altar in church Sunday, a bouquet for each victim, they await more legal reform that can assure them that no community will ever again have to endure this kind of gun violence.
“We have all suffered so much this year,” said Jenny Kierstead, the sister of victim Lisa McCully, adding the actions of one armed man has “shattered” many lives.