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, the identification process, changes to the Arms Act following the terrorist attack, New Zealand Police’s response to the terrorist attack and the individual’s interaction with the criminal justice system.
5.1 Terms of Reference
Many people had views about our Terms of Reference, generally in relation to the scope of our inquiry.
Many people felt our Terms of Reference were too narrow. Some felt this meant they could not comment on non-operational matters, such as Public sector agencies’ organisational culture and context. Some considered our Terms of Reference would not achieve proper scrutiny of Public sector agencies or an adequate explanation to the public about what happened. They did not allow for appropriate remedies. The list of named Public sector agencies was seen as too narrow, as it did not include the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (the lead agency for the national security system) or other agencies involved in social cohesion work, such as the Department of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Education.
We were also told that our Terms of Reference were not clear as to what we could inquire into and could be interpreted in a number of ways.
Some also felt that there should have been wide engagement with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, and Muslim communities more generally, on the Terms of Reference before they were finalised. 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.
5.2 Identification process
Many 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 family 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.
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 the delays in identification. This also led to confusion for whānau members who were trying to find their loved ones and understand what had happened to them.
5.3 Changes to the Arms Act following the terrorist attack
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. Comments included that it was a “knee-jerk reaction” penalising responsible licensed firearms owners, resulting in higher compliance costs and not impacting on criminals.
Many who submitted on firearms matters felt the 2019 law change (banning most semi-automatic firearms) had the effect of blaming the 250,000 legal firearms owners for the actions of one person. Some felt distressed that they were no longer considered to be fit and proper to own some of their firearms.
There were many comments on the speed of the 2019 law change. A number of submitters considered that it was undemocratic, allowing for little or no public consultation.
Some people noted the illegal trade and importation of firearms was rife in New Zealand, and believed banning legally owned firearms would neither change this nor make the public safer.
In relation to the 2019 and 2020 amendments to the Arms Act passed by the Government following the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack, we received many comments from submitters who did not support the legislative changes, in particular:
- querying the accuracy and usefulness of firearms registration;
- suggesting that the money spent on the buyback of firearms and new processes such as a firearms register could be better invested elsewhere;
- claiming that the ban on military style semi-automatics and assault rifles would prevent people from carrying out leisure activities such as competitive shooting; and
- asserting that people should have been allowed to retain these firearms with restrictions.
5.4 New Zealand Police response to the terrorist attack
We heard from many people about the response to the terrorist attack. This was the most frequently raised topic in our meetings with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses.
Many affected whānau, survivors and witnesses we met with expressed anger, grief, frustration and concern about how long it took for New Zealand Police to enter Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre, and to allow emergency medical services through the cordons at the scenes. Nearly everyone we met with believed that more lives would have been saved if the injured had received medical treatment sooner. On the other hand, a few people were happy with the New Zealand Police response to the terrorist attack.
Many people that we heard from were frustrated that New Zealand Police did not act quickly to protect other masajid and gathering places of Muslim communities both within Christchurch and across New Zealand. They believe that lives could have been saved at the Linwood Islamic Centre if New Zealand Police had deployed quickly to that location.
Some affected whānau members were also frustrated that they were not permitted to go inside the New Zealand Police cordons at the scene to search for their loved ones.
We were informed by some that they believe 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.
We were told at our 8 November 2020 hui with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses that they still have outstanding questions about the response of New Zealand Police and hospitals to the terrorist attack.
Many affected whānau, survivors and witnesses advised that the former Police Commissioner, Mike Bush, had announced an independent review of the New Zealand Police response to the terrorist attack. Many affected whānau, survivors and witnesses felt frustrated that the results of the review had not been made public and it should have been by now. Some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses felt that their trust and confidence in New Zealand Police had further diminished as a result. Some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses were suspicious that the review had identified a number of faults that New Zealand Police did not want to be transparent about.
5.5 The individual’s interaction with the criminal justice system
Some people we met with said New Zealand should have harsher sentences for terrorism. A few people suggested New Zealand should reintroduce the death penalty, with some claiming 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.
Some people we heard from were concerned that the prison conditions in New Zealand were not harsh enough for the individual. Many expressed distress that the state would pay more each year (that is, $1.8 million per year)2 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.
2 Kate MacNamara Christchurch mosque shootings: [name of individual] prison bill to cost taxpayers $3.6m – Cabinet papers (New Zealand Herald, 4 August 2020).