We were provided with many people’s thoughts and views on matters that were outside the scope of our Terms of Reference.
Although the Terms of Reference prevented us from making findings or recommendations on these issues, there was nothing preventing us from recording them as having been raised. These included concerns about the Terms of Reference, New Zealand Police’s response to the terrorist attack, the identification processes, changes to the Arms Act following the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack and the individual’s interaction with the criminal justice system.
Our Terms of Reference and our inquiry
Many people had views that they wanted to share with us about our Terms of Reference and process. Some of these views covered matters that were beyond our influence, such as the composition of the Royal Commission and our Terms of Reference. Some views revealed that some people were not aware of all aspects of our inquiry process, as much of it was largely conducted in private.
Most of the views people shared with us about our Terms of Reference were about their scope. In summary, we were told that:
- our Terms of Reference were limited, or too narrowly focused on specific operational questions, so some submitters concluded that they could not comment on broader aspects of the performance of Public sector agencies such as organisational culture;
- our Terms of Reference did not articulate the subject of our inquiry and could be interpreted in a number of ways;
- our scope was insufficient, so would not achieve proper scrutiny of Public sector agencies and not adequately explain to the public what happened, to allow remedy and provide assurance through our findings and recommendations;
- our scope should have extended to the response of Public sector agencies to the terrorist attack, to allow for a full review of the appropriateness of Public sector agency actions;
- our credibility would be damaged if we could not inquire into the government’s changes to firearms legislation following the terrorist attack and the activities of organisations outside the Public sector, such as the media; and
- the development of the Terms of Reference should have involved wide engagement with the affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack and with Muslim communities more generally before they were finalised.
In relation to our process, we heard that:
- our restrictive timeline would limit our ability to acquire the intellectual capability to undertake the necessary analysis, which was particularly important given the lack of professional experience that we had in security studies;
- the timeline would limit the breadth and depth of our analysis;
- there were some reservations about the extent and scope of our non-publication orders and their effect on the transparency of, and the public confidence in, our process;
- there were inadequate formal, public instructions to heads of Public sector agencies to fully cooperate with all aspects of our inquiry so that we could ask challenging questions without being prevented from exercising our powers;
- our inquiry would be “a sham” that would find and disclose nothing or would be unlikely to result in any meaningful action or change and would instead seek to absolve Public sector agencies and recommend further powers, including surveillance of citizens and information-sharing;
- we would not be able to reveal any evidence that we could find of a cover-up or corruption;
- we would not be able to publish our findings and recommendations, some of which could be embargoed or suppressed by Public sector agencies, so we would not be able to assure the public of a transparent process; and
- legislation, particularly relating to firearms, should not be amended before we deliver our report, as our findings should be fundamental in determining what laws need changing.
A few people wanted to let us know that they were not happy with how we consulted communities. For them, our engagement with Muslim communities in Christchurch seemed characterised at many stages by a slowness, clumsiness and insensitivity towards the effects of grief and the ways in which different belief systems respond.
Some people told us that we failed to place victims at the centre of the inquiry, which created a further sense of disempowerment and victimisation. They told us that people should be placed at the centre of our processes, particularly to ensure there is transparency, trust and that communities who were directly impacted have meaningful opportunities to be involved and heard.
We also heard that an appropriate expert representative from the Muslim community should have co-led the Royal Commission and that we should have enlisted other expertise, such as from Māori, to facilitate discussions and engagement with communities. There was concern about the short timing and process of our engagement. One submitter took the time to provide us with suggestions for how we should engage with Māori during the course of our inquiry, including consultation with the Iwi Chairs Forum, public meetings, a combination of approaches such as face-to-face or online meetings, panels, surveys and employing and including Māori at all levels of the inquiry.
Many of the affected whānau, survivors and witnesses we met with felt that the process for identifying their deceased or injured loved ones, particularly in hospital, caused them additional and unnecessary grief. Some people said they received conflicting and inconsistent information from New Zealand Police officers and hospital staff in the first 24 hours after the terrorist attack. We were told that whānau members were asked to describe their loved ones over and over again by different New Zealand Police and hospital staff. In one case, a whānau member who had witnessed their loved one being killed was told by New Zealand Police and hospital staff not to lose hope, and that their loved one could be being treated in another hospital. This false hope caused considerable additional grief.
People we met with were frustrated about how long it took for their deceased loved ones to be moved from the scene and to be formally identified. In one case, a close whānau member read about the death of their loved one in a newspaper article rather than being informed by New Zealand Police.
People were also frustrated about how long it took for people being treated in hospital to be identified. They questioned whether inexperience and lack of understanding about traditional Muslim naming conventions, and variations in how Muslim names are spelled, may have contributed to these delays. This also led to confusion for whānau members who were trying to find their loved ones and understand what had happened to them.
Some whānau members were also unable to personally identify and see their loved ones. One submitter told us that they were aware of survivors of the terrorist attack who viewed the individual’s video of the terrorist attack repeatedly for at least two days in an effort to identify deceased friends and whānau. This was due to no reliable sources of information following the terrorist attack and a lack of clear communication from Public sector agencies.
I didn’t see anything, I don’t know nothing. How much you know, that’s how much I know. When my son washed his body...he took the photo and showed me the photo... I felt like they killed me not him.
– Whānau member
Changes to firearms legislation after the terrorist attack
On 21 March 2019, the Government announced it would ban military style semi-automatics and assault rifles. This included related parts used to convert firearms into military style semi-automatics and high-capacity magazines. The Government also put in place an amnesty for such weapons to be handed in and a buy-back scheme to recompense owners.
Most submissions we received on the changes to the Arms Act were highly critical of the reforms undertaken by the Government in 2019 and the then proposed changes, which were enacted in 2020.
One submitter commented that it was a “knee-jerk reaction” penalising responsible licenced firearms owners, resulting in increased compliance costs and not impacting on criminals.
On a personal note, I find it really sad that I own a .22 lever action rifle that my wife bought me for my 21st birthday 50 years ago which is now classified as illegal because it holds 15 rounds. The chances of this rifle ever being a threat to New Zealanders is just a nonsense.
– Licensed firearms owner
We heard further from many others who felt the law change had the effect of blaming the 250,000 legal firearms owners for the actions of one person and that it would not necessarily make New Zealand a safer place. People felt “distressed” that they were no longer considered to be fit and proper enough to own some of their firearms.
[T]he actions of one lunatic does not reflect a community and therefore pause for thought is necessary to ensure that punishment for one man’s actions does not punish everyone.
– Licensed firearms owner
There were many comments on the speed of the current law change, which a number of submitters considered undemocratic, allowing for little or no public consultation and considered by a select committee for only a week. They felt the rushed nature of the law change did not allow New Zealanders to have their say to make the law more effective.
Of particular concern is that these actions were taken setting long held democratic law‑making process aside and without waiting for a considered response after examination of the matter by the Royal Commission. There was no consideration yet deliberate haste to disallow opportunity for views against the quickly planned legislation to be expressed. The reach of the changes to the Arms Act, far beyond the issue that is said to have triggered it, has greatly reduced the credibility of all involved.
– Licensed firearms owner
Some people noted that the illegal trade and importation of firearms was rife in New Zealand and believed banning legally-owned firearms would not change this nor make the general public safer. We received statistics from some submitters, who pointed out that the majority of firearm offences are committed by non-firearms-licence-holders. These submitters thought the focus should be on gangs, burglary and firearms theft with the proposal to increase the penalties for firearms offences.
In recent times firearms have been used to commit crimes. These crimes were not committed by your ordinary family man who goes out in the weekend to get a bit of exercise and meat for the freezer. Clean up the gang problem and I believe most of the firearm crimes will be cleaned up at the same time.
– Licensed firearms owner
We were advised by a submitter that since 15 March 2019, New Zealand Police have issued a new directive informing vetting staff to take precautions regarding right-wing extremism, including warning signs such as “tattoos, Celtic or Norse symbolism, books on the Third Reich, confederate flags, and references to [an individual who committed a terrorist attack in Oslo and Utøya, Norway on 22 July 2011]”. The submitter believed it could and should have been standard practice prior to the terrorist attack, particularly as there was no impediment under existing legislation for vetting staff to consider these factors when determining whether an applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a licence.
In relation to the specific changes to firearms legislation introduced by the government following 15 March 2019, we received many views, which we have summarised below.
Many queried the accuracy and usefulness of firearms registration and were concerned about privacy breaches. A few supported the idea of a register, which might assist New Zealand Police in the recovery of stolen firearms, noting that certain firearms (including pistols, collector’s items and former E Endorsement firearms) were already required to be registered.
I would add that the intention to try to register all firearms is not only futile, because the ones one really needs to know about are the very ones that will never be registered, but it will cost huge amounts that could be much better spent on staffing Police adequately to carry out their duties vis a vis vetting and licensing as was originally intended in the Arms Act. The abject failure of registration schemes in every country in which it has been attempted is ample proof that although the idea looks attractive, as a measure to prevent criminal misuse of firearms, it simply does not work. That is the reason, of course, why it was abandoned in 1983 and the checking systems changed to the person, rather than the gun, because it is the person that does bad things, not the hardware he/she chooses to employ.
– Licensed firearms owner
A few thought the money spent on the buyback of firearms and new processes such as a register could have been put to better use elsewhere, such as for New Zealand Police’s administration of the firearms licensing process, reducing the numbers of illegally owned firearms or on other community‑based initiatives.
Many did not support the ban on military style semi-automatics and assault rifles, with some believing that it will prevent them from carrying out activities such as competitive shooting. One person told us the ban is akin to banning cars because of the reckless driving of one individual. Others consider that they should have been allowed to retain these firearms with restricted ownership and stringent requirements, such as keeping them at gun clubs and requiring them to be signed in and out one at a time. A few supported this ban, however.
Despite the many protests to the contrary from various rifle clubs and associations, [military style semi-automatic] rifles have no legitimate hunting purpose in New Zealand, beyond culling large herds of deer/tahr/goats.
– Member of the public
A few submitters could not see the benefits from changing the standard firearms licence period from ten to five years, and were concerned about the administration of this process. They advised us that there is already a backlog of licence renewal applications. One submitter advised us that they could have their licence revoked at any time, regardless of the length of the licence period, if they are judged to no longer be a fit and proper person to possess firearms.
New Zealand Police’s response to the terrorist attack
The response to the terrorist attack was commented on by some submitters, including observations on how well responders were equipped to deal with the terrorist attack.
Some submitters were unhappy about aspects of the response. Some of these concerns centred on the time New Zealand Police took to respond to the terrorist attack, why they did not seek to protect other masajid in Christchurch and across New Zealand once they knew one was under attack and the procedure for moving and identifying the deceased.
We were informed by one submitter that bystanders and victims were subjected to inappropriate and even aggressive conduct by New Zealand Police in attendance at the masjidain immediately following the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019. They said that a whānau member arrived at the masjid searching for her husband but was removed by New Zealand Police and a Police officer pushed her with his firearm, saying that “if you don’t leave from here, either I will shoot you or the attacker will”.
One submitter gave us their view on the response to the terrorist attack and told us about their involvement in the response. The submitter made observations and proposed solutions for a future response by New Zealand Police and other agencies should a similar terrorist attack occur in the future. They noted that Public sector agencies were severely lacking in cultural capability, resulting in an absence of leadership at a national level to respond to the terrorist attack. They believed there should be more flexible emergency powers during national crises and under the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 to take account of New Zealand’s diverse ethnic, cultural and religious needs in relation to burial. The submitter considered that the needs of our diverse society in relation to burial needed to be incorporated in the legislation, including allowing for particular burial customs or practices to be recognised and provided for.
Some submitters shared their concerns following the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack, and their observations on how to assist the affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the terror attack. A few submitters asked why the terrorist attack was not treated as a civil defence emergency. Some submitters questioned why the individual’s make and model of car and number plate were not broadcast on every frequency so that sightings could be reported to New Zealand Police.
Some submitters considered our terms of reference were too limited and the response to the terrorist attack should have been investigated by the Royal Commission. A few submitters asked about the review of New Zealand Police’s response that had been announced by the former Police Commissioner and what had happened to it. These submitters felt that New Zealand Police had delayed the release of the review’s findings as they were concerned with what it said.
The individual’s interaction with the criminal justice system
We were told of the deficiencies in support available to affected whānau, survivors and witnesses in relation to the criminal justice system. A submission made on behalf of some of this group spoke of the “deep widespread trauma in being excluded from the criminal process and being unable to have input into or feel any meaningful participation in this process”.
We heard of disillusionment and a loss of hope and trust, largely due to the lack of acknowledgement of victims in the criminal justice process and the feeling that they are not being heard. That submission also noted that the issues and concerns that victims have had in this specific case were seen to be a demonstration of the issues that victims face more broadly in New Zealand’s criminal justice system. There were complaints of a disconnect between the principles of victims’ rights as set out in the Victims Code,5 and victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system, including re-traumatisation.
We were told that the purpose and scope of a victim impact statement was not clearly explained to many affected whanau, survivors and witnesses. We were told this affected what they wrote in their victim impact statement. In many cases this was compounded by a lack of interpreters. Some people said that the narrow and prescriptive format of the victim impact statement template produced by the Ministry of Justice provided to affected whānau, survivors and witnesses was not appropriate given the unique circumstances of this case and was further disempowering. Some people said that the court system should have recognised this and modified its templates.
A few people we met with suggested New Zealand should have harsher sentences for terrorism. A few people suggested New Zealand should reintroduce the death penalty, with some arguing this would deter terrorist attacks in future. A few people also criticised the significant time it took to conclude the criminal process, noting the impact of the delay on the ability of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses to heal.
A few people we heard from were concerned that the prison conditions in New Zealand were not harsh enough for the individual. One person expressed distress that the state would pay more each year to imprison the individual than to support those directly affected by the terrorist attack.
A few people shared concerns and frustration that the individual was able to send correspondence to like-minded people while in prison. They questioned how this could have been allowed to occur and sought accountability from the Department of Corrections.
Other out of scope submissions
One submitter provided views about the desirable elements of a training package for Explosive Detection Dog support so that the teams that carry out this function are well prepared for their role.
One submitter considers that parents who turned up at schools in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019, demanding to take their children from lock-down, stressed and traumatised the children present as well as potentially putting them at risk.