04/20/2020 17:05 EDT | Updated 04/22/2020 12:29 EDT

Mourning For Nova Scotia Right Now Is ‘Going To Be Tough’: Canada’s Top Doctor

The prime minister called the situation “heartbreak on top of other heartbreaks.”

OTTAWA — Canada’s top doctor says it’s up to local communities and public health authorities to find ways for people to safely grieve, while respecting physical distancing measures, after at least 19 people were killed in a weekend shooting spree in Nova Scotia.

Dr. Theresa Tam said Monday the ways in which people choose to express their sadness and share their condolences “in a more virtual way” may differ from how people mourned before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is going to be tough, there is no doubt about it, but I think people will find a way,” the chief public health officer said during her daily press conference. “People in Nova Scotia will, in their own way, be able to mourn together.”

The violence began in the small rural community of Portapique, N.S. late Saturday when a gunman impersonated a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer and went on a deadly rampage that lasted until Sunday.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam is seen during a news conference in Ottawa on April 20, 2020.

Nova Scotia RCMP Criminal Operations Officer Chief Supt. Chris Leather confirmed Monday that at least 19 people, all adults, are among the dead. Const. Heidi Stevenson, a 23-year-old veteran of the force, was among those killed Sunday. 

Leather hesitated to give a final number of victims, explaining he expects the death toll to rise in the coming days as authorities investigate 16 crime scenes in the rural community.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on Sunday urged communities to take care of each other, encouraging people to reach out to family, friends, and neighbours for support.

“It’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be angry, and it’s also OK to feel helpless. But what’s not OK is to bear all those feelings alone,” McNeil said.

“It may change us a little, but it cannot define us,” he said of the tragedy. 

Physical-distancing measures have been in place across the country for more than a month to curb the transmission of COVID-19, a contagious respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus.

The impact of the public health measures have disproportionately gutted certain industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality, causing widespread financial and emotional hardship among Canadians.

Tim Krochak via Getty Images
Local resident Juanita Corbett delivers food and drinks to police on Portapique Beach Road after Sunday's deadly shooting rampage on April 20, 2020 in Portapique, N.S.

When asked if physical-distancing measures could be relaxed to allow friends and families to give their loved ones a proper burial in Nova Scotia, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s a situation familiar to “thousands and thousands” of other Canadians.

“We understand how incredibly painful it is for families who’ve lost loved ones in Nova Scotia this past day,” he said. 

Trudeau explained the dilemma isn’t unique to those who have “lost family members to cancer and to other causes who haven’t been able to gather to mourn, to grieve, to attend funerals.”

Everyone will be looking for ways to show solidarity without increasing the risk of COVID-19 to first responders, health care professionals, and seniors, he said.

“This is something that we are dealing with right now that is heartbreak on top of other heartbreaks.”

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