Nova Scotia Remembers memorial ceremony marks 1st anniversary of mass shootings

Nova Scotia is honouring the victims of last year’s mass killing with a memorial race, special ceremony and moment of silence on Sunday — exactly one year after the tragedy.

“It’s going to be a hard one, but there’s a lot of us here who are doing it to remember the people,” Jillian Arany, a marathon runner from Bible Hill, said from Portapique, N.S., on Sunday morning.

“It will be good, and I think it’s going to help a lot of people as well, just showing the community and the strength.”

On April 18-19, 2020, a gunman disguised as a Mountie torched homes and killed neighbours, acquaintances and strangers in what would become one of the worst mass killings in Canadian history.

Twenty-two people were killed over a period of 13 hours — including a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, a pregnant continuing-care assistant and a 17-year-old girl.

The rampage started in the rural community of Portapique, located about 95 kilometres north of Halifax, before the shooter was killed by police at a gas station in Enfield, south of Portapique and about 32 kilometres north of the capital.

The tragedy has weighed heavily on Nova Scotians, as questions have gone unanswered as to what happened during that fateful weekend.

But on the one-year anniversary, Nova Scotians are coming together — virtually and in-person — to remember the lives that were lost.

The Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society, a volunteer group formed in the aftermath of the killings, organized the memorial race, which started in Portapique at 7 a.m. on Sunday. 

Jill Arany ran in the memorial marathon on Sunday as a way to honour the victims of last year’s mass killing. Among the 22 people killed on April 18-19, 2020, were a 23-year veteran of the RCMP, a pregnant continuing-care assistant and a 17-year-old girl. (CBC)

About 30 runners participated in the full marathon, including Arany, who wore a Nova Scotia Strong sweater decorated with the names of the victims.

Arany said she ran the marathon as a way to honour those who died, their families and loved ones.

“Each mile is dedicated to someone, so the first one I’m dedicating to the families, the 13th mile I’m dedicating to the friends and loved ones and the last one is for Nova Scotia,” she said.

Dennis Mbelenzi of Halifax was the first person to finish the full marathon.

He said he decided to run the marathon as a way to express his sympathies and love for the victims and to remind the families that they will never be forgotten.

Arany ran the marathon wearing a Nova Scotia Strong sweater with the names of the victims on hearts attached to her back. (CBC)

Before the race, Mbelenzi said he learned that a woman who had lost her mother during the shootings was running in the marathon.

“We draw strength from people like those,” he said. 

“When I was running, sometimes it gets hard … and I always said, ‘Behind me is somebody who had to lose her mom and she’s running for the first time — let me keep going. Not only for myself but for her and for people in her position.'”

Proceeds from Sunday’s road races will go toward installing a permanent memorial for the victims.

‘Lost faith in our police force’

About 400 people attended a peaceful march to the local RCMP detachment in Bible Hill on Sunday afternoon to honour the victims and the police officers who were on duty during the rampage, but also to highlight the many questions that still remain one year after the killings.

The RCMP continues to face scrutiny and questions about why it took police 13 hours to stop the gunman.

“We will not go away until we find out what happened. We are here in peace because violence is what caused us to lose our families,” said Tara Long, the sister of Aaron Tuck, one of the victims.

“We want to make sure that everybody here is acknowledged, everyone here matters. A lot of us lost our family, but a lot more of us lost faith in our police force.”

Dennis Mbelenzi of Halifax was the first person to finish the full marathon on Sunday morning. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

The Nova Scotia RCMP issued a statement earlier Sunday acknowledging that people still have questions.

“We understand people have questions and want to know as much as possible about the incidents,” Lee Bergerman, the Nova Scotia RCMP’s assistant commissioner, said in a news release.

“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.”

A public inquiry is also underway, in an effort to to examine issues such as the response of police, steps taken to inform victims, their families and the public, the role of gender-based violence and whether there was any specific relationship between the gunman and RCMP.

About 400 people attended the march to the Bible Hill, N.S., RCMP detachment on Sunday. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair acknowledged the pain the families of the victims and Nova Scotians have felt over the past year.

“The joint public inquiry into the Nova Scotia April 2020 tragedy will continue to seek answers about these tragic events, and will examine the role of gender-based and intimate partner violence,” Blair said in a release on Sunday. “I want to thank all those who have spent thousands of hours working on this investigation for their dedication and resolve.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also offered condolences to the families of the victims and to all Nova Scotians.

“I hope all Canadians take a moment today to remember those whose lives were forever changed on April 18 and 19, 2020,” he said in a news release. 

“To all Nova Scotians: No person or community should ever have to experience such senseless violence and loss. In the last year, you have met unimaginable tragedy with unimaginable strength, and have kept going. You are truly Nova Scotia Strong.”

The march concluded at Bible Hill’s RCMP detachment, where people were invited to speak with RCMP members. (Paul Légère/Radio-Canada)

The Nova Scotia Remembers Legacy Society has organized a private gathering for the families of the victims and special guests on Sunday afternoon.

The private ceremony, featuring political leaders, spiritual teachers and musicians, will begin at 3 p.m. AT with a province-wide two minutes of silence.

Although the ceremony is closed to the public, a livestream of the event will be available on the CBC Nova Scotia website, CBC Nova Scotia’s Facebook page, on CBC Gem and on CBC Radio One and CBC Listen.

Coverage will continue with a CBC News special called Stronger Together, which will explore how the people and communities most affected are moving forward after the tragedy. 

The special will be carried live starting at 6 p.m. AT on CBC TV throughout Atlantic Canada, the CBC Nova Scotia website, CBC Nova Scotia’s Facebook page, on CBC Gem and on CBC Radio One and CBC Listen.

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