We have sought to reflect what we heard from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. Some wanted to speak with us about the direct impacts of the terrorist attack, both physical and psychological, many of which will have long-lasting effects. There have also been a range of indirect impacts, often resulting from limitations in the support provided. In some cases, we heard that these experiences have been re-traumatising. A more detailed summary of what we heard is set out in our companion publication What we heard from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses.
3.1 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 that will have lifelong impacts.
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.
Everyone 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 also shared with us a range of secondary impacts, that is the 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 whānau, 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 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.
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 are taking on additional roles within their whānau and learning new skills such as driving or financial literacy. Simultaneously, these women are carrying more of the parenting responsibilities while dealing with their own grief and recovery needs. This limits their time and ability to seek support for themselves, look 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”.
3.2 Public sector system of support
We heard that the services and support offered by Public sector agencies and some non-government organisations often do not appropriately acknowledge the diverse nature of Muslim communities and do not account for different needs. Over 50 countries of origin are represented among those who attend Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre. There are language and cultural complexities that add to the already difficult environment of engaging with Public sector agencies. We were told that:
… going on a year post the attacks, families are still waiting for adequate wrap around services that are culturally and linguistically responsive and which fully addresses their complex needs.
Meetings set up by Public sector agencies sometimes did not have interpreters present, or appropriate languages were not offered. This compounded the challenges some people faced in understanding what support options were available and how to access them. In some cases, it meant that people were relying on whānau members to translate what Public sector agencies were saying. We were told of instances where some people felt that their whānau member was not impartial or may not have been passing on all relevant information.
Policies and practices required to support people’s recovery
We heard about how Public sector agencies have been engaging with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. While people commented on the overall generous support from the public and Public sector agencies in the direct aftermath of the terrorist attack, we also heard that Public sector agencies have been uncoordinated, rules-bound and inflexible in their approach to offering support. Some people said there is a disconnect between what ministers have promised publicly and the reality of how officials are dealing with individual situations.
We also heard that in some cases the Public sector support available to people and communities affected by the terrorist attack is inadequate, or those who are eligible for it are not always made aware of what they are eligible for. We heard that the Public sector agencies’ one-size-fits-all approach has not been sufficient.
Many said that most of the support being offered by Public sector agencies is focused on short-term assistance, which does not account in a culturally appropriate way for the ongoing and long-term needs of the communities deeply affected by the terrorist attack. For example, we were told that Recovery activities needed to include long-term community-building initiatives that enable these communities to be self-sufficient and not dependent on the state. This could include initiatives such as interest free loans (that allow for religious restrictions on borrowing) to support their businesses.
We heard of experiences that have been re-traumatising or have caused additional stress. We were told that:
If trauma speaks to one’s inability to speak; the inability to articulate, come to terms with, and make sense of loss, then in many ways subsequent experiences with government agencies in the months since the attacks have been for many a concerted process of re-traumatisation, since they have perpetuated the survivors’ inability to recover.
Public sector agencies and non-government organisations do not have a common definition or eligibility criteria for those who identify as victims. We heard that eligibility for support often involved strict interpretations of rules and that criteria were applied inconsistently. This was confusing to those affected. The level of support offered sometimes differed depending on the organisation or individual offering it. All of this has left some people with the view that Public sector agencies and non-government organisations are creating a victim hierarchy or a priority list of victims, causing grievances and straining relationships.
We were told about the importance of Public sector agencies employing a people-centred approach to support the recovery of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. Critical elements of this are that affected whānau, survivors and witnesses are provided with the opportunities and space to be heard and listened to in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner, and that they are engaged in the development of immediate, medium and long-term solutions rather than just informed or consulted on solutions. We were told:
It is paramount to elevate the voices of victims. Victims have sobering sentiments as well as ideas for solutions to key issues, but struggle to be heard on these ideas.
We heard from some people that the financial support provided to them immediately after the terrorist attack had been helpful. But we also heard from people who were struggling to cope financially, on top of the other challenges they were facing, particularly as financial support was scaled back over time.
Some survivors with physical injuries said they felt pressured to return to work by the Accident Compensation Corporation despite medical advice that they were not ready.
A few people felt that the Accident Compensation Corporation did not have sufficient flexibility in its systems for an event such as this, and it was not taking into account the complications caused by firearms injuries, such as retained bullet fragments and nerve damage.
Some women whose husbands had been the sole income earner said they felt pressured by the Ministry of Social Development to place their preschool children in care so they could find work.
Some people told us that Public sector agencies do not account for the recovery needs of those who witnessed the terrorist attack but were not physically injured. We have heard of the post-traumatic stress being suffered by many of these people, whose symptoms include difficulty sleeping and recurrent mental images of the terrorist attack. Some witnesses of the terrorist attack who did not suffer physical injuries were not provided with Public sector support until third-party advocates stepped in to assist. Others who have tried to access support have been told they are not eligible for publicly funded recovery and support services.
Many of those we met with told us about the challenges they faced getting visas for whānau members to come to, or remain in, New Zealand to help them while they were getting their lives back together. People were concerned about the requirement for someone to have been in New Zealand on 15 March 2019 to be eligible for the discretionary visa that the Government had put in place for support people. Some expressed their frustration that allowances were not being made in what were exceptional circumstances.
We heard of the need for immigration issues to be considered on a case-by-case basis given the complexities associated with the circumstances of each whānau. For example, members of the Somali community who had lost loved ones or had survived the terrorist attack faced challenges due to New Zealand not recognising the Somali passport as a valid travel document (although it is accepted by some Public sector agencies for refugee purposes). This meant it took significantly longer to get the whānau support they needed. In some cases, affected whānau were not granted visas until late 2020. These visas were granted after we wrote to Immigration New Zealand outlining these issues and seeking their assistance to progress matters due to the negative impact on the wellbeing of these whānau.
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 were 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,1 and victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system, including re-traumatisation.
We heard that the purpose and scope of a victim impact statement was not clearly explained to many affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. We were told this impacted on 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 and provided to affected whānau, survivors and witnesses was not appropriate given the unique circumstances in this case and was further disempowering.
3.3 Solutions proposed to improve the Public sector’s system of support
What we heard from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses reflected much hurt and frustration with Public sector agencies. It was distressing for them to have to outline their concerns over and over again to different employees in the same Public sector agencies, and with different Public sector agencies that were not working in a collaborative manner. We heard that Public sector agencies did not adequately recognise the needs of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, and did not provide sufficient integrated and tailored support services to help their recovery from the terrorist attack in the medium to long-term.
Affected whānau, survivors and witnesses shared with us their thoughts on how Public sector agencies could improve their support for whānau recovering from a future attack and how this interrelates with their experience of the criminal justice system. It was suggested that Public sector agencies need to have flexible plans in place to respond to the medium and long-term recovery needs of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, and that these plans must be co-designed with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner. For example, the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019 resulted in a range of recovery needs from an immigration perspective. Some suggested that Immigration New Zealand could create a special visa for whānau members to travel in and out of New Zealand for a few years, for support purposes, to reduce the burden for grieving people.
We were told that Public sector agencies should be seeking cultural and linguistic expertise so that they can understand:
- the challenges faced by, and recovery needs of, traumatised people and communities;
- the challenges that people working with traumatised people and communities are likely to face and ensure that there is interpretation support available;
- how people who have experienced a terrorist attack are likely to receive and process information;
- how to build trust-based, collaborative relationships with ethnic and religious communities; and
- how community engagement activities can support psychological recovery needs.
One submission from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses recommended that the government establish a long-term restorative justice process co-designed by affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. The restorative justice process would be established to address the ongoing complex needs of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. It would provide affected whānau, survivors and witnesses with an opportunity for accountability, to heal, 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 affected whānau, survivors and witnesses that is conducted in a space in which they are comfortable. The submission emphasised that it is important to determine the needs of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses. The submitter also noted that:
… coronial processes, which is another investigatory process (and which will incorporate the circumstances of death including after the shooting had commenced, the police and medical response etc.), rather than standing alone as yet another process – and likely re-traumatising process – to be added on to the victims’ post-shooting legal experience should instead be incorporated into a single restorative process within which both coronial considerations (and thus any recommendations for prevention under the Coroners Act for example) as well as other consonant restorative principles and practices.
The best way to put in place a restorative justice process would be to hear from affected whānau, survivors and witnesses themselves, then analyse what 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.
We were told that a coronial inquiry should be held to provide an independent assessment of the response to the terrorist attack including the response of New Zealand Police and hospitals and ensure that all outstanding questions are answered.
Some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses proposed that there should be a minister responsible for affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack and the implementation of our recommendations, similar to the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, and that all relevant Public sector agencies would report to that minister. This would ensure transparency and accountability, and give communities confidence that changes will happen. They said that it should not be left to communities alone to hold the government and Public sector agencies to account.