Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you, committee members, for the opportunity to be here.
The John Howard Society of Canada would like to extend its condolences to the family and friends of Marylène Levesque.
The death of a young woman is undeniably tragic, but to learn that she was murdered by a parolee who had killed a woman before is devastating. I think we all hold the belief that someone under sentence for a murder, subjected to strict conditions and monitored by state officials in the community, ought not to have been able to take someone's life.
While it is rare for a parolee to commit a violent offence, let alone murder, I think a full and impartial investigation into how it happened is needed to ensure that the mistakes are identified and corrected.
We hope that having this parliamentary committee seized with the review of events leading to Ms. Levesque's death will lend objectivity and transparency to the process.
I'd just like to indicate that I am not familiar with the particular facts of this situation, so I have no direct evidence to offer the committee. I do know that violent offending by people serving their sentence in the community after prison is rare and has been declining. I think you'll find that when you look at the statistical reporting on this.
If I can comment on the implications of Mr. Blackburn's presentation, I think a reliance on the ways of former board members and thinking that is a better way might well be contraindicated by the statistical indication of improvements to the way in which the parole boards are making decisions. That being said, I think it's very important that there be a full investigation that tries to identify what the actual problems were in this particular case.
As has been pointed out, decisions about release are a confusing area because it is both Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada that are intimately involved in coming up with the decisions for prisoners who are serving more than two years. They share the responsibility for release. That means preparing prisoners for release; deciding when they should be released and what conditions they should follow; monitoring compliance with those conditions; and suspending and revoking releases if the risk cannot be safely managed in the community.
The challenge is knowing which agency is responsible for what part of that continuum. It's not entirely clear because the word “parole” factors in it all, which leads to some misperceptions and some public misunderstanding about who's responsible for what.
CSC is responsible for preparing prisoners for release, usually through correctional plans, and monitoring compliance with conditions when they're in the community, which are established by the Parole Board.
That's essentially the operational wing of this. They're dealing face to face with the prisoners in the correctional facilities and in the communities; preparing them and seeing if there is progress being made against these correctional plans.
The Parole Board of Canada decides when people should be released if they are eligible, what conditions apply to their release and whether conditional releases should be revoked. They're the decision-makers. They're pretty much reliant on evidence coming from CSC in terms of the factors upon which their decisions should be based.
These are difficult tasks, and they're guided by risk assessment tools and an understanding of an individual's criminogenic factors. Predicting future behaviour is never absolute. As I mentioned, the statistics suggest that this is working well and in fact improving in terms of community safety.
Clearly something went wrong in this case, with tragic consequences for Ms. Levesque.
While both CSC and the Parole Board of Canada are conducting reviews, many of us favour an external review to ensure transparency. However, external reviews run the risk of overly harsh constraints and a culture of risk aversion to address public fears. This, in the long run, can undermine public safety.
In the federal prison population, about two-thirds of those in there are there for having committed violent offences. There is a past evidence of violence for a good chunk of the people whom we're dealing with.
Roughly one-quarter of the total federal prison population are serving indeterminate sentences. They can only get into the community through parole. Three-quarters of the federal population have determinate-length sentences set by sentencing judges, and they will be released into the community whether or not CSE and the Parole Board of Canada think it's a good idea.
I think that Chairperson Oades, when she appeared, indicated that about 60% of the conditional releases are due to statutory requirements and are not at the discretion of the Parole Board. Members of this group generally are not getting the correctional programming and reintegration support they need.
Most concerning to me are the high-risk, high-needs prisoners who have been detained by the Parole Board of Canada until warrant expiry or until the very end of their sentences, based on the fear that they would commit a serious personal injury offence before the expiry of their sentences if they were released earlier.
After the end of their sentences, they would no longer count as a failure of the paroling or conditional release system, but they are no less likely to commit an offence. They are being asked to find their way, often after long periods of prison, with no support from Correctional Services.
We have prepared a number of podcasts, called “Voices Inside and Out”. The first two episodes are talking to two prisoners who were released at warrant expiry, and I think there is a real concern about that.
To address public safety, our view is that Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada need to apply resources and efforts to higher-risk prisoners and not focus efforts simply on lower-risk prisoners who might well be more successful on day parole.
I would worry about any recommendations coming from review committees that have the effect of discouraging CSC and the Parole Board of Canada from preparing all federal prisoners for reintegration and supporting their graduated and supported supervised release. Risk aversion that can happen as a result of tragic incidents have a price in terms of public safety, and I think we need to be worried about that.
I am very hopeful that MP Bragdon's Bill C-226, which proposes a federal framework to reduce recidivism, will receive second reading and come to this committee. It would provide an opportunity to make progress on reducing recidivism and promoting community safety for all.
I know that some are asking for this committee to look beyond the situation of Mr. Gallese and Mademoiselle Levesque to look at the general competence of the Parole Board and the efficacy of their appointment processes. If they are proposing to do that, I think you also need to look at those who have been breached in the community, had their parole suspended and have been treated unfairly by the processes, as indicated by the courts.
I raise in particular as evidence of this the case of Jim DeMaria, who had been released by the Parole Board and had served in the community for 20 years without breaching, and then he breached, was suspended and was placed into corrections for having attended two weddings that were approved by his parole officer. He has been in there for about six or seven years with a consistent failure being recognized by the courts to deal with him in a fair and impartial manner.
I think there is clear evidence of the kind of rigidity and risk aversion that can hurt people's rights, security interests and public safety if there is too much of an emphasis on being overly cautious with it, but in any event, we need to understand what mistakes were made that led to the death of that particular woman.
I wish this committee all the best in coming to terms with that, and if I can be of any assistance, I would be delighted to do so.