Does Canada’s Parole System Need an Overhaul?

March 10, 2020 Updated: March 11, 2020
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News Analysis

A case discussed by a House of Commons committee this week reflects the ongoing debate around the problems inherent in Canada’s criminal justice system, specifically the parole system.

In January, 51-year-old Eustachio Gallese killed a sex worker at a hotel in Quebec City after he was permitted by his case worker to have relations with women in order to fulfill his “sexual needs.” Gallese, who was granted day parole in March 2019 and was previously convicted of murder, killed 22-year-old Marylène Levesque by striking her with a hammer and repeatedly stabbing her.

Gallese, who pleaded guilty, has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The Conservatives condemned the parole arrangement for Gallese and received cross-party support to pass a motion calling on the public safety committee to probe the parole board’s decision. A joint investigation is also being conducted by the Parole Board of Canada and Correctional Service Canada.

University of Toronto criminologist Anthony Doob tells The Epoch Times that the system surrounding parole is one of conundrums, but sound alternatives are scarce.

“No system of decision-making is perfect,” he says. “In general, day parole is seen as a tool for reintegration of prisoners into society. The alternative is to keep people forever.”

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis advocates precisely that if someone is a dangerous offender with a high likelihood of re-offending who can’t be rehabilitated.

“There are criminals who should never be released, especially repeat offenders and those who continue to be a danger to society,” he writes in a Post Millennial op-ed. “A person can indeed change and choose a different path. If they do not change, then they will not be released even if they are eligible to apply.”

Terrorism Offences

Statutory release, which is normally mandatory for inmates who have served two-thirds of their sentence, becomes even more of a conundrum in the case of convicted terrorists.

Last month, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to modify release conditions in order to deny parole to those convicted of terrorism offences, with the changes possibly applying retroactively.

Johnson’s comment came after a 20-year-old man just freed from jail stabbed two people in south London. The man had been serving a sentence for the possession and distribution of Islamist-related extremist material and was being monitored by police. Another man, who had recently finished serving a jail sentence for a 2010 terror plot, stabbed two people to death and wounded three others on London Bridge last November.

“I hope people understand that the anomaly we need to clear up is the process by which some people are still coming out under automatic early release without any kind of scrutiny or parole system,” Johnson said, according to The Guardian.

Criminal Infraction

In Gallese’s case, he was sentenced in 2006 to life without parole for 15 years for murdering his ex-wife. His application for full parole was denied last September but day parole was granted, including being allowed to frequent with sex workers, despite his long history of violence toward women and the parole board’s own concerns.

Former parole board members have speculated in the media that the decision could have been due to changes to the nomination process to the Parole Board of Canada introduced by the federal government in 2017 that resulted in the majority of the board being new and inexperienced.

David Blackburn and Jean-Claude Boyer told CBC News they were so concerned that they and some other ex-members wrote a letter to the clerk of the Privy Council and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2017 about the issue.

Boyer said Gallese’s day parole should have been rescinded by board members.

“You cannot let a person commit a criminal infraction, even if the correctional services [team] did say, ‘Oh, we planned this,’” he told CBC. “The law is clear: If a person solicits sexual services for a person for money, then he is committing a criminal infraction. You cannot authorize that as a board member and as a correctional services officer.”

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has said that although “there’s always a turnover of personnel,” parole board members are doing an “outstanding” job.