Shrubsall: Andy Fillmore’s challenge and opportunity

Is Halifax Liberal MP Andy Fillmore just one more mindlessly reliable yes-vote for whatever Justin Trudeau’s Liberals propose or oppose? Or could he fill what is now a political void and champion a non-partisan attempt to make sure our parole system helps those who deserve it while protecting the rest of us from dangerous offenders like William Shrubsall? T.C. — and the rest of us — are waiting.

William Shrubsall

This column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner December 10, 2018.

It is not just a done deal. This deal, in fact, is almost certainly already past the point of reconsideration. But that shouldn’t stop the rest of us from demanding answers from those who made the deal, or accountability from those responsible for allowing it to happen.

On Nov. 7, the Parole Board of Canada granted full parole to William Shrubsall, a murderer, serial rapist, brutal assaulter of women, a court-designated dangerous offender whose most recent psychological assessment concluded there was “no institutional programming” available to reduce his risk to re-offend to a point “where it would be manageable in the community,” and whom Corrections Canada has unequivocally recommended be denied any form of parole.

The apparent reason the parole board ignored every report and recommendation, every strobe-flashing, don’t-do-this red light is because Shrubsall’s immediate freedom will be so short-lived as to be non-existent. He would be released, immediately re-arrested and deported to the United States to serve out a previous sentence there.

The unspoken explanation for the decision seems to be that warehousing Shrubsall away from society would no longer be Canada’s responsibility or Canada’s expense.

But here’s the rub: in Canada, he was serving an indeterminate sentence and would not have been released until he could prove he was no longer a danger (meaning, most likely, never); in the US, he’ll probably serve out his time and be back out on the streets in less than a decade.

He’ll only be in his mid-fifties then and, most believe, still a clear and present danger to society, to women in particular.

But not necessarily just in the United States. Shrubsall, who is often described as clever, has a history of using false names and successfully slipping across borders, even while wanted by law enforcement.

So it’s easy to understand why those who were victimized by Shrubsall in Halifax in the early 1990s — and there were many such women — are upset by the parole board’s decision.

Consider the story of T.C., as she is referred to in court documents. (There is still a publication ban on her identity.) She was, briefly, Shrubsall’s girlfriend.

“When I ended our relationship, Shrubsall pursued me relentlessly. He broke into my apartment. He was warned by the police to leave me alone. He persisted and communicated with me through letters, showing up in my class, through Sigma Chi fraternity members and with calls. Police and Dal security warned him repeatedly to stay away. He persisted… On one occasion, Dal security removed him from my class and he showed up after my class and waited for me at the Arts and Administration building. He would not leave me alone and I was terrified.”

She had even more reason to be terrified as she connected dots later. At one point near the end of their relationship, Shrubsall told T.C. she reminded him of his mother. “He said that sometimes I am the nicest person in the world, but then sometimes I remind him of his mother.” Shrubsall, she later learned, had beaten his mother to death with a baseball bat.

Shrubsall’s fraternity brothers told T.C. he had created a noose in his room after their breakup. A Halifax police detective later told her she’d made Shrubsall “really angry when I broke up with him.”

How angry? And with what consequences? One week after she broke up with Shrubsall, she realized later, he had viciously assaulted a woman in a retail store with a baseball bat, fracturing her skull. T.C. learned later from a mutual acquaintance the woman “lived a few blocks away from me.”

Even after Shrubsall was charged with criminal harassment and administering a stupefying substance with intent to enable him to commit an assault against her, the terror didn’t end. “I ran into him by chance on Spring Garden Road. He kept staring at me. I wanted to call the police because I was petrified.”

In the end — which tells you more than you need to know about the nature and number of his crimes — T.C. was not called to testify about her experiences during his dangerous offender hearing and her allegations didn’t form part of the application.

That said, she told me:

“When he was declared a dangerous offender, I took great solace in the Halifax community (doctors, nurses, crown attorneys, police officers, judges and the multiple victims) ensuring that he was designated a dangerous offender.  We came together as individuals and collectively to work on keeping him off the streets. I was in the courtroom when the verdict was delivered, and I remember appreciating what Justice Felix Cacchione stated. He stated that Shrubsall could have made different choices in his life and could have made a different contribution to society given his intellect. When he was deemed a dangerous offender, I thought the designation meant he would never be able to harm another woman again. I re-iterate that feeling of solace in knowing what the designation could achieve.”

Looking back, T.C. believes she was initially let down by a “series of mistakes” by everyone from the FBI to Canada Customs to the local police, which “led to Shrubsall being on the streets for as long as he was.” She says she also felt “guilt because the police didn’t believe me when I warned them about this individual and told them that he was not who he said he was. I tried so hard to portray how dangerous he was and gave names of other victims. But they did not connect the dots.”

Now, nearly two decades later, she says the parole board’s “totally absurd decision… rejecting common sense and rejecting their role to keep the public safe” has not only made all women less safe but also her.

“He holds bitter resentment against me specifically.” While he was in jail awaiting trial, she recalls, Shrubsall “had an individual he was incarcerated with contact me and tell me that Shrubsall was to be feared.  [Now] I am afraid for myself and the community he is released into because he has made no amends or significant improvement. I am worried that he will stalk me once again when he is released. I am worried that his victims will be much younger than him and that he will manipulate and physically hurt women once again.”

One again, T.C. — one of Shrubsall’s victims — has taken on a task that should belong to others. Following the parole board’s decision, which she only learned about from the media, she contacted Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt. A month later, not one of them has replied. Even “other politicians that tweet about action against gender-based violence can’t be bothered to reply to me… Truly disappointing.”

That said, T.C. has been promised an “in-person meeting in the near future” with Halifax Liberal MP Andy Fillmore to discuss “gender-based violence.”

For Fillmore, the non-partisan Shrubsall issue could be an opportunity to demonstrate he is something more than a reliable yes-vote for whatever Justin Trudeau’s Liberals propose or oppose.

He could listen to T.C., who is far from a one-note critic. While she wants to know why the parole board failed so abysmally in Shrubsall’s case and what the government is going to do to prevent such failures in the future, she also recognizes there are other, flip-side issues the government needs to address. Why, she wants to know, are other low-risk offenders being denied parole “because there is not enough community support for them when they get out?”

Will Fillmore really listen? Will he act? We shall see.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Halifax Examiner
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