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Halifax MP explains delayed call for public inquiry into mass shooting

Family and friends of victims of the deadly Nova Scotia mass shootings display their appreciation after an inquiry was announced, in Halifax on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The federal and provincial governments will launch an inquiry instead of a review that had no power to compel testimony or deliver binding recommendations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

More than two weeks after the federal government called a public inquiry into April’s mass shooting, the member of Parliament for Halifax is shedding some light on why he took so long to publicly support one.

Andy Fillmore was one of five Liberal caucus members who broke ranks on July 28, calling on Ottawa to scrap its controversial joint review of the tragedy, and start a new process that includes the power to compel witnesses, testimony and evidence.

But of those who vouched for an inquiry — including Dartmouth-Cole Harbour’s Darren Fisher and Cumberland-Colchester’s Lenore Zann — Filmore was the last to do so. He told Global News on Thursday he was making the best decisions he could with the information he had at hand.

Halifax MP Andy Fillmore broke ranks with Ottawa on July 28 by calling for a public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting. Patrick Fulgencio/The Canadian Press

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“On the Friday, the day the two ministers had their press conference, the Nova Scotia caucus released a letter supporting what the ministers were announcing as ‘a step,'” Fillmore explained at a federal funding announcement in Halifax.

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“Within hours of that, the terms of reference were released and as I read into the terms of reference and learned, for example, that the power subpoena — the power to compel testimony — was not in the purview of the panel, I began to have second doubts already.”

The information changed “rapidly,” he said, and after hearing from the public and victims’ families over the weekend, he realized the review fell short.

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The joint review into the massacre that occurred on April 18 and 19 was called by federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey on July 23. It immediately sparked protest from the public and victims’ families, who claimed the review lacked transparency and legal teeth.

Fillmore’s colleague, Zann, who represents the region where the atrocity took place, has previously said the Liberal caucus was not consulted on the decision to call a review, and Liberal MP for Central Nova Sean Fraser said his own name was added to the caucus’ letter of support for the review without his knowledge.

In the three months after the shooting, Fillmore said the Nova Scotia Liberal caucus was, on a “regular basis,” communicating to Blair and Furey about what they “thought was important to the process.” Speaking for himself however, Filmore said he did not have a full grasp on the differences between a public inquiry and a review.

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That’s why he did not publicly vouch for an inquiry right after the shooting, he explained. He said he supported the families’ calls for answers, and had to consider the balance between getting fast answers through a review, and having a more thorough legal process that could take several years.

“We were being educated as we went on what the possibilities were,” said Fillmore.

“The legal differences between an inquiry and a review were not something I appreciated before this terrible tragedy happened. It’s certainly a difference I understand and appreciate now.”