Anniversary of the Release of the Mass Casualty Commission Final Report

Introduction

On April 18 and 19, 2020, 22 Canadians were killed and 3 more were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history. Their names were Tom Bagley, Kristen Beaton and an unborn child, Jamie Blair, Greg Blair, Joy Bond and Peter Bond, Lillian Campbell Hyslop, Corrie Ellison, Gina Goulet, Lisa McCully, Dawn Madsen, Frank Gulenchyn, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins, Heather O’Brien, Jolene Oliver, Emily Tuck, Aaron Tuck, Cst. Heidi Stevenson, Joey Webber, Elizabeth Joanne Thomas, and John Joseph Zahl. We honour their memory.

In October 2020, Canada and Nova Scotia established the Joint Public Inquiry into the Nova Scotia April 2020 Tragedy (the “Mass Casualty Commission” or “the Commission”), led by the Honourable J. Michael MacDonald, former Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, Leanne J. Fitch (Ret. Police Chief, M.O.M.) and Dr. Kim Stanton. We would like to express our gratitude to the members of the Commission and to all those who testified before the Commission. On March 30, 2023, the Commission released its seven-volume Final Report (or “the Report”), Turning the Tide Together. The Report sets out lessons learned, and makes 130 recommendations to all orders of government and civil society, calling for transformative change to ensure such a tragedy never occurs again. In the Report, the Commission concluded that preventing mass casualties requires an approach that addresses the root causes of violence and focuses primarily on prevention. The Commission also brought forward recommendations pertaining to local and national policing efforts, identifying numerous areas for improvement. The Government of Canada is committed to playing a leadership role, alongside the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and all policing partners, to put in place robust prevention and response mechanisms to better address future threats to community safety.

Three main themes emerged from the Commission’s findings: Policing, Community Safety and Wellbeing, and Violence Prevention. Work is already well underway to review and implement recommendations under each key theme. Highlighted below are actions already undertaken, as well as work the Government of Canada will be undertaking in the months and years ahead. This response is only the beginning of the Government of Canada’s actions in response to this report; efforts will continue to bring forward the change called for by the Commission. As a part of this work, the Government of Canada will continue to work closely with the Mass Casualty Commission Progress Monitoring Committee to provide regular updates.

Policing

All orders of government play a role in the delivery of effective, accountable, and responsive police services. Provinces are responsible for the administration of justice, including policing within their respective jurisdictions; the Government of Canada oversees federal policing, which focuses on issues that are national and international in scope, such as national security, cybercrime, and transnational organized crime. The Government of Canada also delivers contract policing services in eight provinces and three territories through the RCMP.

Over half of the Commission’s recommendations pertain to policing. Many are specific to the RCMP as local police under contract to Nova Scotia during the incident, as well as the interactions between public safety and law enforcement agencies in Nova Scotia, while other recommendations pertain to broader policing reforms relevant to all police services across Canada.

The RCMP started its work to identify and address gaps immediately following this tragedy. Since the release of the Report, the RCMP has reviewed all recommendations and key findings and is committed to restoring trust with Nova Scotians and all Canadians.

Policing Reforms

The Report calls for a fundamental shift in the way policing is structured and delivered in Canada. The recommendations within this theme are directed at multiple orders of government and law enforcement agencies.

Given the scope and impact of the Report, and the need to support transformational changes, the Government is providing $6.5 million over three years to support the RCMP’s new Reform, Accountability and Culture sector aimed at supporting a fundamental culture shift across the organization. This new sector has been built to examine and implement recommendations from this and other reports that advocate for similar changes across the organization. The new sector is supporting key reforms, such as the future of contract and federal policing. Dedicated employees within this sector have assessed recommendations with subject matter experts from across the country to not only fully address the Commission’s findings, but also to ensure meaningful changes are long lasting and can improve the RCMP’s ability to respond to future critical incidents. Through the Reform, Accountability and Culture sector, the RCMP will ensure that the organization understands all the various elements that must be addressed to realize the spirit and intent of the recommendations.  

The Commission also recommended an examination of the RCMP’s approach to contract policing and work with contract partners. Considering the current RCMP policing services contracts expiring in 2032, Public Safety Canada assessed contract policing in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous partners, unions, and other stakeholders. Public Safety Canada has engaged partners on their views on the current state of the program, and how the program can better support their needs and interests, including future visions for policing in contract partners’ respective jurisdictions. A “What We Heard” report will be published in the coming months on the Public Safety Canada website.

Contract jurisdictions indicated they are generally satisfied with RCMP contract policing services. The main issues articulated by jurisdictions were around RCMP recruitment, staffing and vacancies, the rising cost of RCMP services, and a desire for greater local control and influence over the RCMP’s national policing model. Many of these views are echoed in the Report. Some provinces have also launched their own reviews of policing. Over the coming years, Public Safety Canada will continue discussions with contract jurisdictions to learn more about the outcomes of their policing reviews.

In addition to these efforts, a Ministerial Directive related to the Management Advisory Board, which provides advice and guidance to the RCMP Commissioner on key modernization and management matters, was issued to the RCMP Commissioner in May 2023, outlining steps the RCMP must take to consider the Management Advisory Board’s advice. In recognition of this important work, and the valuable advice being provided to the Commissioner of the RCMP, the Government is investing $6.5 million over the next three years to support the Management Advisory Board.

Operational Policing Improvements

The Report notes breakdowns in policing response and the emergency response system and calls for sweeping changes to how the RCMP manages crises, how it documents and publishes policies and procedures, and how it communicates with policing partners.

Immediately following the incident, the RCMP made significant improvements to the standardized use of Alert Ready, Canada’s emergency alerting system, across most provinces in Canada, and increased emergency response team resourcing and radio communications in Nova Scotia. More information about these actions is found in the Public Alerting section of this response.

In addition, the RCMP has improved the way it disposes of uniforms to limit access to them by unauthorized personnel. As well, the process through which RCMP vehicles are decommissioned underwent both internal and external reviews. These reviews have led to the implementation of improvements focused on mitigating risks, particularly when it comes to the sale of vehicles. A review has similarly been conducted of the RCMP’s Code of Conduct and Administrative Polices to confirm that existing policies meet the intent of the Commission’s recommendations relating to recreational drugs and alcohol, with new policies issued to confirm the need to be fit for duty, and the implications for personnel if they are not compliant.

Within Nova Scotia, the RCMP has doubled the number of full-time resources on the emergency response team, improved cooperation amongst local police services, and provided critical equipment such as real-time officer tracking and improved radio communications systems to its officers.

To date, the RCMP has also met the timelines of two recommendations from the Report that called on the RCMP to advance efforts within six months of its release. It has:

The RCMP is taking an organization-wide approach to responding to the Report and implementing its recommendations. It commits to improving its police services to enhance the safety of Nova Scotians and all Canadians. Fully addressing all recommendations will take time, but the RCMP will remain transparent and accountable in its efforts. The ongoing review and analysis of all recommendations is contributing to a greater understanding of the scope of work necessary to be able to implement them. The RCMP is committed to continuous learning, and is working collaboratively with colleagues, communities, police services, and partners to ensure that at all times, its response to the Report considers the communities it serves.

In response to the many Mass Casualty Commission recommendations aimed at enhancing critical incident responses across Canada, the Government is investing $33.7 million over 5 years and $6.1 million ongoing  to enhance the RCMP Operational Coordination Centre (ROCC). The ROCC is a state-of-the-art facility that was designed for the coordination of major crises, to provide advanced capacity for geospatial mapping, to respond to air incidents, to facilitate interagency information and intelligence sharing, as well as to help plan for and support operational readiness across the organization. The funding will provide dedicated capacity to support exercise planning, incident management, and post incident training and support.

Public Alerting

As part of its review of the use of public alerting during the mass casualty event, the Commission called for a fundamental review of the Alert Ready system, otherwise known as the National Public Alerting System, including a framework to strengthen accountability and address inconsistent use. The Commission has called for a joint government review of the altering system which includes substantive stakeholder engagement and a federally-led pan-Canadian accountability framework. It also called for the transition from a service model that relies on a private corporation. The Commission called for this work to be completed prior to the next review of the current Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) licensing arrangement. The Commission also called for this work to include a review of communications interoperability across the system. Finally, the Commission recommended a triennial federal-provincial-territorial review of the framework, which includes broad public engagement.

The Commission also made several recommendations specific to the RCMP's use of public alerting and communications in critical incidents, including amending policies concerning how public communications are activated during critical incidents, providing the best available information, and improvements to training.

Since 2018, the Government of Canada has been working with provincial and territorial partners to consider potential measures to address sustainability and governance gaps in the alerting system. In June 2023, Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Emergency Management reviewed the progress on strengthening the overall use, sustainability, and governance of the alerting system and to explore alternative funding models in collaboration with provinces and territories. Ministers instructed their respective teams to consider the Mass Casualty Commission recommendations related to public alerting, including its call for an alerting framework.

The RCMP has taken action on all the Public Alerting recommendations of the Mass Casualty Commission. In the operational space, significant improvements have already been made, including nationalizing the use of the Alert Ready system by police to issue emergency alerts, and the RCMP updated its crisis communication protocols to alert the public during critical incidents. The RCMP has updated its Alert Ready policies, as well as its broader policies and training in regards to issuing public warnings. The usage of the Alert Ready system by police was increased, and Alert Ready training was made available for incoming personnel at RCMP Depot. Further, the RCMP has identified several initiatives that will help increase the compliance and practicality of using Alert Ready in an emergency, including the development of pre-translated scripts for different scenarios.

Community Safety and Wellbeing

The Report noted that traditional law enforcement efforts alone cannot fully address complex social problems and calls for a shift towards a collaborative community safety and wellbeing approach to keep Canadian communities safe. In addition to integrated preventative approaches, the Commission also called for improved preparedness and coordination amongst sectors when a crisis, such as a mass casualty, occurs.

Public Safety Canada is working in partnership with all orders of government to address crime and enhance community safety. Between January 2020 and October 2022, Public Safety Canada has co-led, alongside Alberta Public Safety and Emergency Services, the development of the Pan-Canadian Strategic Framework on Rural Crime (the Framework), the first comprehensive federal-provincial-territorial strategy to better understand, address, and combat rural crime.

Forty-three (43) initiatives have been identified by officials across the country for inclusion in the Framework to reflect the diverse nature and regional dynamics of rural crime across Canada. They are centered around the following seven areas of focus: Knowledge Development, Prevention, Drug Interdiction, Addressing Victim Needs, Offender Management, Criminal Process Reform, and Enhanced Enforcement Practices. Together, these initiatives support the objectives laid out in the Final Report around responding to the growing issue of rural crime and the need to address urban bias in decision-making. The Government is investing $4 million over 5 years and $800 thousand ongoing to implement and renew federal initiatives under the Pan-Canadian Strategic Framework on Rural Crime. These new initiatives will contribute to knowledge development and respond to growing needs for data and evidence around patterns and trends in rural crime in Canada.

In addition, Public Safety Canada is currently working with the provinces and territories to advance crime prevention approaches across Canada, including through the Community Safety and Wellbeing Strategic Partnership Framework.

The Federal Government is also making significant investments to support early intervention. Through the National Crime Prevention Strategy, Public Safety Canada supports a range of community-based crime prevention and community safety initiatives. Through this strategy, the Government of Canada supports communities in addressing the root causes of crime, with a focus on youth gangs and youth violence, hate crimes, bullying, and cyberbullying. In 2022-2023, through the strategy, the Government supported 200 initiatives in communities across Canada.

Public Health

The Commission observed the profound impact of the mass shooting on the mental health of community members, locally and beyond. Many people continue to be deeply affected by what happened, and are dealing with ongoing post-traumatic stress symptoms. Although a wide range of supports has been made available, three years after the mass shooting, the Commission referred to the situation in Hants, Cumberland and Colchester Counties as a “public health emergency”.

The Government of Canada is taking action to address the needs of communities. On April 28, 2023, the Governments of Canada and Nova Scotia jointly committed $18 million over two years ($9 million from Nova Scotia and $9 million from the Government of Canada) to make enhanced mental health and grief supports available. This funding is supporting prevention and promotion initiatives that complement the mental health care services delivered by the province. These include community wellness and development initiatives, including activities focused on children and youth; community-level prevention and promotion supports and referrals; and training and capacity-building for trauma and violence-informed practices for health care providers, community organizations and schools.

The Government of Canada is also responding to the Report by supporting the development of evidence-based and community-centered guidance and resources to assist communities in planning and delivering psychosocial services and supports in response to emergencies. The aim is to make these resources available to communities by early 2025.

In addition to these new initiatives, the Government of Canada is extending significant funding to support the delivery of mental health services. In 2017, it signed 10-year bilateral agreements with provinces and territories focused on shared priorities, including improving access to mental health and substance use services. In 2023, it announced additional funding of $200 billion over ten years to improve the delivery of health care services across Canada, including $25 billion over ten years in new bilateral funding for the provinces and territories to focus on four priority areas, one of which is mental health and substance use. Provinces and territories have the flexibility to allocate this new funding based on need and circumstances in their jurisdictions, but the goal is to support a multi-disciplinary system of care that integrates mental health and substance use services within the broader of delivery health care services. On January 10, 2024, Canada signed a bilateral agreement with Nova Scotia, providing more than $355 million over three years to improve health care, including access to mental health and substance use services and supports.

The Government of Canada is also ensuring that Canadians in emotional distress have immediate access to support. On November 30, 2023, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions announced the launch of 9-8-8, a three-digit number which is now available for Canadians, including first responders, to call or text 24/7 for suicide prevention and emotional distress support.

Complementing the range of actions described above, the Government of Canada has also shared knowledge with professionals and policy makers aimed at educating and preparing them for the impacts of traumatic events on mental health and wellbeing. In October 2023, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada published her 2023 Report, Creating the Conditions for Resilient Communities: A Public Health Approach to Emergencies. The report recognizes the profound effect that emergencies – ranging from extreme weather events, to pandemics, to violence – can have on physical and mental health and wellbeing. The report proposes a public health approach to building resilience so that communities can prepare, withstand, and recover from emergencies.

Violence Prevention

Firearms

As part of its review of how the perpetrator accessed firearms, the Commission found that over the years, the perpetrator’s pattern of violent and intimidating behaviours and illegal acquisition of firearms gave rise to numerous red flags and missed opportunities for prevention and intervention. The Commission concluded that the existing firearms regime must be evaluated in relation to how it operates in conjunction with other aspects of public and community safety systems, with recommendations aimed at: reducing gun lethality; revoking firearms licences for those with convictions of gender-based violence, including intimate partner and/or family violence; preventing the unlawful transfer of firearms from estates; strengthening interoperability among domestic law enforcement agencies at the border; effective, consistent and accountable enforcement; and a public health approach to gun safety.

The Commission’s recommendations reinforce the importance of ongoing efforts to strengthen the firearms regime, including to remove assault-style firearms from community settings, combat firearms trafficking and smuggling, and address risks associated with firearms in situations of gender-based, intimate partner and family violence. The Commission’s recommendations also underscore the importance of promoting firearms safety. While there is more to do, significant advancements have been made towards these goals.

Following the conclusion of a national public engagement process from October 2018 to February 2019 on how to reduce violent crime involving the use of assault-style firearms, on May 1, 2020, the Government of Canada prohibited over 1,500 makes and models of assault-style firearms. Building on this, former Bill C-21, An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms), which received Royal Assent on December 15, 2023, ushered in some of the most significant gun control measures Canada has seen in the last few decades. The Act created a prospective technical definition of a prohibited firearm, which prohibits firearms designed and manufactured on or after Royal Assent that meet the criteria set out in law. The Act also codifies into legislation the national freeze on handguns that came into effect by regulations made on October 21, 2022, barring the purchase, transfer, and importation of handguns, subject to narrow exemptions.

With the enactment of An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms), a firearm licence will now be required to purchase a cartridge magazine, as is currently the case for the purchase of ammunition in Canada. Likewise, once the provisions are brought into force, a licence will be required to import a cartridge magazine and ammunition. In addition to the new offence for altering a cartridge to exceed legal limits, the Government remains committed to improving the regulation of large capacity magazines. The Government has also committed to introducing regulations to require that manufacturers seek a Firearms Reference Table Number to ensure that no non-restricted firearm goes unaccounted for in the classification process. Together, these measures respond to elements of the Commission’s recommendations to reduce gun deaths.

In addition, harm reduction measures enacted through An Act to amend certain Acts and to make certain consequential amendments (firearms) are consistent with the Commission’s recommendations. The Act introduced new red and yellow flag laws, enhanced licence revocation authorities, and strengthened eligibility requirements, with a particular focus on reducing risks associated with firearms in situations of gender-based violence, including intimate partner and family violence.

The legislation also provides for the automatic licence revocation for persons subject to protection orders and requires that a Canadian Firearms Officer revoke a licence when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual may have engaged in an act of intimate-partner violence or stalking. It also amended the Firearms Act to strengthen existing firearms licence eligibility criteria, preventing an individual who is subject to a protection order or who has been convicted of an offence in the commission of which violence was used, threatened, or attempted against their intimate partner or any member of their family from being eligible to hold a licence. In addition to work underway to support the implementation of the Act, the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) is developing client mental health tools and techniques to further strengthen and support Canadian Firearms Officers in determining licence eligibility. Further, the CFP’s National Contact Centre remains the key means for clients and stakeholders to access services. On average, the CFP receives 750,000 calls per year from license holders, businesses, police and the general public. In addition to providing regulatory information, the CFP has established an at-risk line to support and respond to non-emergency regulatory, compliance and public safety concerns.

Under the enhanced licence revocation authorities (“yellow flag” laws), Canadian Firearms Officers will be required to temporarily suspend an individual’s licence if they have reasonable grounds to suspect the individual is no longer eligible to hold a licence (for example, if a licence holder is suspected of illegally reselling firearms).

With respect to enforcement and the border, the new legislation authorizes the disclosure of prescribed firearms licence information to law enforcement to support trafficking investigations and increases maximum penalties for weapons smuggling and trafficking. These legislative measures complement significant investments in the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to enhance tracing and targeting of firearms smuggling and trafficking, and to support bilateral initiatives with the United States (for example, the Cross-Border Firearms Task Force). Overall, the Government of Canada has invested over $1.3 billion to combat gun crime since 2016. This includes funds for anti-gang programs and investments to support law enforcement in their investigative and anti-smuggling efforts.

In addition to the work underway, the Government is investing $22.5 million over 5 years and $3.3 million ongoing to increase public awareness and strengthen firearms data collection. This funding will also support federal efforts to strengthen regulations to ensure that all firearms are accounted for in the classification process. It will also support enhanced reporting on firearms trends and analysis from multiple sources. Combined with ongoing investments and continued engagement, including with provinces and territories, Indigenous groups and stakeholders, this approach responds to many of the Commission’s firearms-related recommendations and serves as a strong basis for continued work to reduce gun crime and to keep our communities safe.

Gender-Based Violence

Since 2015, the Government of Canada has put in place several measures to prevent, address, and ultimately eradicate gender-based violence in our country. In 2017, it launched It’s Time: Canada’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence (Federal Gender-Based Violence Strategy), which is supported by investments of over $800 million for seven federal departments. Women and Gender Equality’s work under the Strategy aligns with the Commission’s recommendations, and includes:

Women and Gender Equality Canada will continue to share gender-based violence expertise and work collaboratively with other government departments and partners on the use of federal levers to contribute to a Canada free of gender-based violence.

Building on the foundation laid by the Federal Gender-Based Violence Strategy, Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women launched the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence in November 2022. This 10-year National Action Plan responds directly to decades of calls from survivors, experts, advocates, as well as domestic and international organizations, for Canada to take stronger action to end gender-based violence and provide national leadership and coordination to enhance efforts across the country.

This national approach builds on existing federal-provincial-territorial approaches and strategies to prevent and address gender-based violence, including addressing the root causes and systemic factors that perpetuate gender-based violence. This plan contains 5 pillars: 1) Support for victims, survivors and their families; 2) Prevention; 3) A responsive justice system; 4) Implementing Indigenous-led approaches; and 5) Social infrastructure and an enabling environment. The principles, vision and pillars of the plan are aligned with and prioritize actions which address recommendations made in the Report, including: a societal-wide response to gender-based violence; primary prevention efforts to address the root causes of gender-based violence; creating safe spaces to report violence; improving the responsiveness of the justice system; prioritizing women-centered strategies and actions; and putting women’s safety first.

The Government of Canada invested $539.3 million over five years to support provinces and territories in their efforts to implement the National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, and signed bilateral funding agreements with all provinces and territories.

As part of the implementation of the plan, federal-provincial-territorial governments are working together to monitor progress against an Expected Results Framework. An annual national report will be made publicly available to show progress, starting in fall 2024.

The Government of Canada is also working to address ending violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBQTI+ people. On June 3, 2021, the Government of Canada, alongside Indigenous partners and organizations, families, survivors, and provinces and territories, launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ National Action Plan and the Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ People. They both aim to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit+ people. Progress reports on the Federal Pathway are published annually in June.

The Government of Canada is committed to working with all partners to end gender-based violence and respond to the needs of victims and survivors of crime. This includes looking at ways to strengthen our criminal law responses to coercive control, an issue of specific concern highlighted by the Report. The Government is supportive of legislative enhancements in this area and in other areas to better respond to gender-based violence.

Support for Victims

Several of the Commission’s recommendations address issues related to victims and survivors of crime, including incorporating the concept of coercive control in both criminal and family law; ensuring coercive control is carefully considered by police and prosecutors in the context of laying criminal charges; collaborating with provinces, territories, and non-governmental organizations to develop and deliver prevention materials and social awareness programs that counter victim blaming; improving victim services at various levels of government; and enhancing and/or creating trauma-informed tools for the general public and police.

All levels of government play an integral role in responding to the needs of victims and survivors of crime. Through the Federal Victims Strategy, the Government of Canada is supporting increased access to justice for victims and survivors of crime and giving victims and survivors a more effective voice in the criminal justice system.

The experiences of victims and survivors of crime will continue to guide the Government of Canada’s work.

Monitoring Progress

The Progress Monitoring Committee

The Commission identified a shared responsibility of the Canadian and Nova Scotian governments to respond to the Report, and calls upon other levels of government, civil society, community groups, and members of the public to join together to affect positive change. In response, Canada and Nova Scotia have established the Progress Monitoring Committee to provide a mechanism to monitor, report on, create mutual accountability and exchange knowledge and information as Canada, Nova Scotia, and others respond to the report. The Government is investing $3.5 million over three years to support this important work. The Progress Monitoring Committee is composed of representatives of the victims' families, municipalities, senior representatives from the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia, the RCMP Management Advisory Board, a policing association, gender-based violence advocacy groups, Indigenous community organizations, and African Canadian community organizations.

Moving forward, the Progress Monitoring Committee will post its plan for monitoring the work that Canada and Nova Scotia are undertaking, as well as progress updates in both official languages. These updates include general public updates, which will be posted on its website no less than every six months, and an annual report.

In addition to the Progress Monitoring Committee, federal departments responsible for implementing initiatives that intersect with recommendations are ensuring that appropriate monitoring mechanisms are in place to measure progress and will continue to report on progress through regular Government of Canada platforms, such as annual Departmental Results Reports, which are available online.

The Path Forward – the Federal Government’s Contribution

It is essential that we learn from this terrible event and do everything we can to prevent heartbreaking tragedies like this from happening again. Implementing the Commission’s vision for society-wide systemic changes will require partnership, collaboration, and support from all orders of government, civil society, and partners across the criminal justice system.

The Government of Canada is committed to providing national leadership and coordination to spur the transformative change articulated in the Report. Existing federal-provincial-territorial forums focused on crime prevention, justice, emergency management, and gender-based violence are already discussing how their work can help advance the Report’s findings. The Government of Canada will take every available opportunity to engage with Canadians on these issues, consistent with the Mass Casualty Commission’s calls for transparency and accountability.

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