How citizens can force inquiries into Northwood and Portapique

The Short Version

Nova Scotians who want inquiries into the tragedies at Northwood and the RCMP’s response to psychopathic killer Gabriel Wortman should contact our chief medical examiner, Dr. Matthew Bowes. The address is NOTE: I’ve received conflicting advice from varying sources about the correct email address. I recommend using the one above and addressing your message to Dr. Bowes. Justice Dept. staff will redirect it to the right mailbox.

Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service
Dr. William D. Finn Centre for Forensic Medicine

51 Garland Avenue
Dartmouth NS B3B 0J2

Phone: 902 424-2722
Toll Free Phone (NS): 888-424-4336 Fax: 902 424-0607
Toll Free Fax (NS): 866-603-4074 


The Long Version

Over 35 days beginning April 17 Nova Scotia endured two mass casualties that killed 75 people. Fifty-three victims were residents of Northwood’s long-term care home in Halifax. Even more helpless were the 22 who died in Gabriel Wortman’s insane shooting and fire-setting rampage.

Northwood’s management of COVID-19 and the RCMP’s response to Wortman both need public inquiries. We are already past the point where memories begin to change and records mysteriously disappear. Still, Premier Stephen McNeil — who is surfing a wave of popularity and has two years before he has to call an election — has done nothing.

But Nova Scotians are barking up the wrong tree if they want those inquiries. Instead we need to demand action from Dr. Matt Bowes, our chief medical examiner.

Bowes has the legal authority to launch inquiries and, I would argue, two ethical imperatives for doing so: the Canadian Medical Association’s professional code and the oath he took on accepting his job “to faithfully perform all such duties as devolve upon me in the office of chief medical examiner … for the Province of Nova Scotia without fear, favour or partiality and according to the best of my knowledge and ability”.

Those duties include Section 26 of the Fatality Investigation Act, which says Bowes can “recommend” that his minister launch a “fatality inquiry”. And in very next section the law says that upon receipt of Bowes’ recommendation the minster “shall” make the inquiries happen.

This means Citizens contacting the CME could create a lot of consternation for the premier. True, McNeil could probably find a way to shut Bowes down, but recent experience shows a heavy-handed response to a well-intentioned civil servant can be a highly visible and politically ugly business.

Further, Bowes’ minister is Mark Furey, a retired RCMP officer, which is akin to being a retired priest — you’re never really off the force. If he buries a recommendation from Bowes he’ll have to explain to us not only why he’s breaking the law, but also why he is not in a conflict of interest.

The one person I feel a little sorry for in this scenario is Bowes. If he gets enough demands for an inquiry from Nova Scotians, he’ll be caught between his duty as CME and a couple of very angry political bosses. But that’s why he gets the big bucks. Very big, actually, by Nova Scotia standards.

Happily, there’s an easy way out: the premier can publicly commit to holding both inquiries as soon as possible, without musing about whether the RCMP is a federal responsibility. Nova Scotia has a 20-year contract for RCMP services worth roughly $2 billion, so we’ll do our own inquiry, thanks very much.


Sadly, although I can read statutes, I am not a lawyer. Don’t let that stop you. Tell your friends.