I'm going to read a prepared statement. Hopefully, I can keep it within the seven minutes.
I appear here today as a proponent of parole and its use as part of the reintegration process for incarcerated persons. I wish to acknowledge that the death of Marylène Levesque was an unfortunate and terrible tragedy. I wish to express my sincere condolences to her family and the community.
I have been a professional and a volunteer in the criminal justice system since 1973. I have personally counselled inmates in their parole preparations many times through my involvement with the 7th Step Society's self-help groups, which are designed to teach accountability and self-awareness as offenders work their way through the system.
Our institutional self-help groups use confrontation and support to assist inmates to develop realistic release plans. Once released, we provide community support groups composed of successful ex-inmates and community volunteers. These are groups to which parolees can return on a regular basis to discuss challenges and successes in their lives.
I am myself a former offender, having been convicted of several offences as a young man. Having successfully completed a parole, I continued my education, graduating in 1975 from Mount Royal College in Calgary with a diploma in criminal justice. I was subsequently involved with the development of community residential centres and contract parole supervision through the auspices of the Alberta 7th Step Society in conjunction with Alberta Correctional Services and the then national parole service. I received a pardon in 1980 after the appropriate eligibility period and considered this a positive milestone in my life.
I chose to leave employment in the criminal justice system in 1982 to pursue a career in the oil and gas business, but I continued as a volunteer board member and self-help group member thereafter. I assumed the role of volunteer executive director of the 7th Step Society of Canada in 2002 and continue in that role today. As well as sitting on the executive committee of the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice, I was fortunate to have a successful career in the oil and gas business and was able to dedicate my time and expertise within the criminal justice system with no need for compensation.
During the past five years, I've been an active volunteer at William Head Institution on Vancouver Island. Our 7th Step institutional self-help group there primarily consisted of inmates serving life sentences for murder. All of our members were actively working on release plans as they neared their parole eligibility dates. They were not always successful in their first or even second attempts. However, with perseverance and co-operation with their case management teams as well as their own personal development and accountability, our members were able to gain their releases to the community and are contributing members of society today. Of our eight original group members, our last active member was released on day parole to a community residential facility in Victoria this past September. We are planning for a new group to start once COVID restrictions allow. This tells me that a system of supervised release is an important and necessary part of the reintegration process.
I fully support the mandate of the Parole Board of Canada, and I do have some knowledge of their selection of board members, having acted as a reference for two people who had applied for part-time parole positions in the past. I understand the selection process to be quite rigorous, with extensive training once a person is selected. I know that the Parole Board members are charged with an onerous responsibility in administering decisions regarding release on passes, day parole and full parole. I do not interact directly with sitting parole board members, but I do have feedback from the inmates who appear before them and know that the hearings are intense, in depth and thorough.
As a citizen and a member of the community, it gives me a sense of comfort to know that in addition to the professionals and volunteers working with offenders in the system, there's an oversight body that makes the final decision on an inmate's suitability for release into the community. Once the decision to release an inmate has been made, the responsibility for supervision in the community then rests with the Parole Board or the Correctional Service of Canada. Although the final responsibility still rests with the Parole Board, the direct supervision is handled at a community level.
I have read the board of investigation's report regarding the release of Eustachio Gallese and his supervision in the community. I believe that the tragic death of Marylène Levesque was an anomaly but cannot judge if it could have been predicted since I'm not a psychiatric expert and know nothing of the offender's personality. If warning signs were overlooked or ignored, this is obviously very concerning and needs to be addressed.
I can only say that in my previous experience as a contract parole supervisor, albeit many years ago, there was very good communication and accountability between our agency and the parole service with regard to each case that we supervised, as they had the ultimate responsibility for the offender in the community.
I do not believe that contracted parole supervision presents an undue risk to the community, if proper protocols are followed and there is clear communication in all directions.
In this specific case and gauging from the board of inquiry report, there is some ambiguity as to how the direct supervision of Mr. Gallese was administered. Hopefully, if there were gaps, they will be closed in the future.
It is not for me to assign blame in this case, since I have only a peripheral understanding of it. I can only state that predicting human behaviour is not an exact science in many respects, but with adequate assessment and preparation, proper supervision, and follow-up with clear communication, the chance of this happening again is unlikely.