15 March 2019 terrorist attack
We heard the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack described as the day that shook New Zealand.
Human capacity for visiting harm upon other humans seems endless yet most of us live in peace and harmony pursuing our daily interests with little concern for our safety. That changed for all New Zealand’s people on March 15 and although we were naive to believe it, we were of the belief that our systems and surveillance alongside our small population would ensure this type of event was highly unlikely.
– Licensed firearms owner
A few people had questions about the day of the terrorist attack, for which they wanted us to seek answers. This included questions about suspicious vehicles and people at Masjid an-Nur and Linwood Islamic Centre, and whether the individual acted alone.
Some submitters had alternative views of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack. These views included that it was a “false flag” event, an act committed with the intent of disguising the actual source of responsibility for an attack. Some submitters suggested that the individual’s livestream video appeared to be recorded prior to the terrorist attack.
Another person noted perceived discrepancies in images recorded of the terrorist attack that were available in the media. A few submitters believed that others, including the government, had a role in the terrorist attack, possibly to use the events to achieve other goals, such as civilian disarmament.
Direct impacts of the terrorist attack
Affected whānau, survivors and witnesses who had lost loved ones told us about how the terrorist attack affected them. Survivors who suffered physical injuries in the terrorist attack told us about the progress of their recovery. Some suffered severe injuries, which will have lifelong impacts.
We received personal accounts of the terrorist attack from individuals present at Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre and from whānau members, who recalled the effect that the terrorist attack had, and continues to have, on them and their whānau, physically, mentally and financially.
This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. I am still going through it and suffering the loss of my little brother. [He] was my first best friend from when I was 2 years old. I can still remember when mum was pregnant with him and I used to speak to him through her stomach. I couldn’t wait to meet him! [He] was a gentle-natured and kind man who always tried his best. He was dedicated to his family, education, football, and his faith. The thought of someone [the individual] even touching him, let alone killing him, drives me crazy. He was so young, his future has been unjustly taken from him and from all his family and friends who wanted to share that future with him.
– Whānau member
Many survivors told us they still do not feel safe, or feel less safe than they did before 15 March 2019, both at the masjid when they pray, and more generally in their daily lives.
When I sleep at night, I set up three different beds so if someone was to come, I have one in three chances of being shot. If someone comes to kill [me], if I’m sleeping I could probably survive this way. If someone was to come now I can’t run away, my leg is gone. I’m very disillusioned, I don’t trust the system, nothing comes out of the system.
We heard from people who had undergone multiple surgeries as part of their physical recovery but were not fully healed. Some will never regain the full use of their limbs. Some survivors require full‑time care and purpose-built facilities in their homes to help them live with their injuries.
Many survivors could not return to work immediately, and some had to change vocation because of their injuries. While many survivors reported that their employers were supportive, giving them ample time off to recover, some people lost their jobs because they could no longer perform their tasks. A few survivors lost their businesses.
All of the survivors we met with had experienced some form of psychological distress, such as anger, fear, stress, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping or survivor’s guilt. Many people had received, or were still receiving, counselling or other psychological support, while some were ineligible to receive publicly funded support. Some people said their spouses and children had also experienced psychological distress and that support from Public sector agencies and non-government organisations was limited and, for some, ineffective.
Affected whānau, survivors and witnesses shared a range of secondary impacts caused by the terrorist attack indirectly, either through the effect on people or as a consequence of measures taken, or not taken, to provide support to affected survivors and witnesses. Some people’s relationships (with spouses, whānau and friends) have been damaged. This included different views within a whānau about the receipt or distribution of the financial support provided as a result of the terrorist attack, or the toll on whānau members of supporting loved ones. It was common for whānau members to come from overseas to support loved ones who had survived the terrorist attack. This could have adverse consequences for those who came. We were told that it:
… can be detrimental to family members who have successful careers and a stable, flourishing life overseas. In New Zealand their qualifications and work experiences will likely not be recognised and in the longer term this places undue stress and pressure on an already vulnerable family unit.
– Victims’ and families’ representative
For women who had lost their husbands, the consequences went beyond the emotional impact of the terrorist attack. In many instances this meant the loss of the main financial provider for the whānau. Some women we heard from are taking on additional roles within the whānau and learning new skills such as driving or financial literacy. Simultaneously, these women are carrying more of the parenting responsibilities and dealing with their own grief and recovery needs. This limits their time and ability to seek their own support, search for paid employment and to work or study.
Some witnesses of the terrorist attack told us that they were not eligible for financial support from the Accident Compensation Corporation as they had not suffered any physical injuries. They felt that their mental wellbeing continued to be affected by stress, depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, and that this would have lifelong impacts. They considered they were the “forgotten victims”.
Some affected whānau told us that many of the death certificates for the shuhada included incorrect spelling of names or other incorrect details (for example, one death certificate does not accurately record how many children the person had). We were told this needed to be rectified, with the death certificates reissued with names spelt correctly, but that it was unclear how this could be done and that Public sector agencies were not providing affected whānau with the support to do this.
Public sector systems of support
We were told that some of the affected whānau, survivors and witnesses have been re-traumatised by their interactions with Public sector agencies since 15 March 2019. A particular cause of this has been a lack of cultural competency and training within these agencies when dealing with trauma. One submitter explains it as not only representing the “daily challenges of inter-cultural understanding and negotiation, but more profoundly with the need to be cared for as a human being and survivor in a situation of desperate vulnerability”.
A submitter discussed hearing that Public sector agencies do not appear to have a common definition or eligibility criteria for survivors of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack. They believe that survivors who were equally affected by the terrorist attack are not receiving the same level of treatment or services. They consider that inconsistencies in providing support and services and a lack of long-term planning are “resulting in significant medical, psychological and employment issues for families that were already in a vulnerable position before the attacks”.
Many witnesses to the attack were not provided support until third party advocates became involved and some were not even identified as victims, let alone witnesses, until months later. Witnesses to the attack have suffered severe mental trauma, which some describe as a feeling of physically debilitating pain.
– Victims’ and families’ representative
The submitter further outlines their concern that in some cases, affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack have to deal with several different people at once from within the same Public sector agency and multiple Public sector agencies. They believe that Public sector agencies are using the Privacy Act 1993 as a reason to not share information with each other, despite affected whānau, survivors and witnesses having provided their consent for them to do so.
Survivors told us that they are still repeating their story to agencies even as they approach the one year anniversary.
– Victims’ and families’ representative
A submitter asked what will happen regarding compensation for affected whānau, survivors and witnesses if the Royal Commission finds failure by the government of any Public sector agency to protect New Zealanders. Some submitters believed every person who lost an immediate whānau member should be permitted to have a person come to New Zealand in their place, regardless of whether they fit the immigration criteria.
Reparations [must] be made to those who have suffered economic loss that is not covered by [Accident Compensation Corporation] or any other workplace scheme, being loss arising as a direct result of the Christchurch attacks, including families of those who passed, those who were injured and their families, those who were present during the attacks and were traumatised by what they saw, medical, police and other professional workers who had to support the injured, take care of the deceased and deal with the awfulness of the situation.
– Community organisation
Solutions proposed by submitters
A few submitters provided us with proposed solutions centred on affected whānau, survivors and witnesses including:
- establishing an independent statutory body to authorise and coordinate consultation between victims and their families and Public sector agencies, which would include assigning a “victim care coordinator” as a single point of contact for each whānau for the foreseeable future;
- culturally responsive legal counsel to advocate for victims in any further processes;
- transport for appointments and engagement with Public sector agencies;
- appropriate linguistic assistance and professional interpreters for victims to engage with Public sector agencies and to engage with any future inquiries;
- engaging victims in the development of long-term solutions for their needs to ensure that they are self-sufficient and not dependent on the government;
- appropriate support for people who witnessed the terrorist attack but were not injured;
- improving Public sector agency engagement with victims and affected families;
- establishing a coroner’s inquiry; and
- establishing an independent inquiry into New Zealand Police’s response to the terrorist attack and the response of first responders and hospitals.
A further solution offered by a submitter called on the government to establish a long-term restorative justice process. This process would need to be co-designed with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. The restorative justice process would be established to address the ongoing complex needs of victims. The process would provide victims with:
- an opportunity to have a voice; and
- vindication (including compensation in appropriate cases).
The process would require the full engagement of all relevant Public sector agencies and relevant non-government agencies. This means a process that caters for whānau and is conducted in a space in which they are comfortable. The submission emphasised that it is important to determine the needs of the victims. The best way to do this would be to hear from the affected whānau, survivors and witnesses themselves, and then analyse which needs are being met and those that are yet to be met.
The most fundamental and critical need right now is for victims to be heard and involved in long term solutions. The above recommendation [for a Restorative Justice Process] incorporates a victim-centred approach, free from the bureaucratic system that allows victims to enable themselves with the tools to help themselves and their communities, long term.
– Victims’ and families’ representative