Madam Speaker, today we are having a very important debate and I am so glad to be part of it.
The motion calls on the House to condemn the decision of the Parole Board of Canada that resulted in the tragic death of Marylène Levesque in Quebec City. Today's motion is extremely relevant, especially when we recognize the importance of eradicating and ending violence against women. Ensuring correct and accurate decisions by the Parole Board, making sure that it is doing its job appropriately, is what we need to do here today.
I have heard some of the interventions today. We have to look at what actually happened to this woman, what actually resulted in her death and why this happened. It is not so much about the other issues. We can talk a lot about the debates that we have been sparked in the last week. We can talk about legalization of prostitution, when to look at mandatory sentences and we can also look at the fact that the federal government has over 200 vacancies on its appointments. There are so many other issues we can intervene on, but I think we have to go ultimately to what the issue is, which is that a convicted felon was released on day parole.
Looking at the history of this file is very important, because we have to put it into context. What actually happened here and why is it so important to discuss this motion?
To begin, we have to look at the 2006 brutal death of Chantale Deschênes at the hands of Eustachio Gallese. He was convicted of murdering his wife with a hammer and stabbing her several times. We need to look at that and why this man was convicted in the first place.
Mr. Gallese was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 15 years. Then, looking at the timeline we come to September 2019, when the Parole Board reviewed his file. His file indicated that he had a history of violence against women, even before his murder conviction in 2006. According to Parole Board documents, he was not ready to have relationships with women. This is such an important point. His file noted in September 2019 that he was not ready to have relationships with women, yet that is exactly what happened.
This is very much a disconnect. We are talking about violence against women. We are talking about a man's right to day parole, but 15 years after the fact. Like any other Canadian who may not be a lawyer but wants to understand the legal background of this, I want to put out some clarification. When we look at what we are trying to justify, we really need to look at the Parole Board of Canada, what day parole is and how it came to this decision.
I would like to read into Hansard text regarding day parole in Canada:
Day parole allows an offender to participate in community-based activities in preparation for full parole or statutory release. Offenders on day parole must return nightly to a community-based residential facility or halfway house unless otherwise authorized by the Parole Board of Canada. In addition to standard conditions of day parole, the Parole Board may also impose special conditions that an offender must abide by during release.
The decision-making process includes two key principles here. I think this is what we are debating today. There are two key principles that seem to have been thrown to the wind when the decision was made to allow this person to have day parole.
First is that the protection of society be the paramount consideration in the determination of any case. Second is that the board make the least restrictive determination consistent with the protection of society. It must consider many different things as well. It has to consider whether there is a risk to letting the person out. Is there a risk to society? Will the offender, on release, contribute to society? There are lots of different things that we hear or see, but these risk assessments that must be made by the Parole Board are very important. I would like to talk about these two points.
An offender's social and criminal history must be looked at. Let us look at the decision by the Parole Board of Canada. In September 2019, the Parole Board noted that he should not have any relationships with women. In 2006, he murdered his wife with a hammer and by stabbing her. Prior to that, we know that violence against women existed in what he does. We have to look at progression. Was there any progression at all with this man? Is he going to be released to the community and is the community going to be safe?
Looking back at this file and checking things off, we see question marks all over the place. We know that Mr. Gallese was sentenced for life without parole for 15 years, from 2006 to 2015. He had murdered his wife and had a history of violence. According to the decision made, for the protection of society, the offender will not present any undue risk to society.
These are check boxes that were absolutely not checked. For somebody to make the decision to let him out on day parole after all of the information that was given is extremely risky to the safety of our society.
Although the file seems cut and dried to most Canadians, somehow it got lost in translation when we were dealing with the Parole Board of Canada. To me, this question is absolutely crazy. Why did this happen? What happened next, when we were looking at this? How did this happen in the first place?
We can play the blame game here, but I think the most important thing is that we do not ever want to see this happen again. As we are having this important debate, who in this chamber wants to see such a horrific crime ever happen again to any victim?
In Quebec, we know that, after some changes made in 2017, only two of the 16 parole officers had any experience, which means that they were reappointed. I would like to share with members an article from the CBC, which said:
Two former Parole Board of Canada members said Tuesday they tried to warn the...government in 2017 that changes to the way board members were nominated could lead to inexperienced members making “dangerous” decisions.
Here we are today, and those dangerous decisions were made. Unfortunately, Ms. Levesque is no longer with us.
The article continues:
They fear that very inexperience may have contributed to the death of...Levesque, 22 [years old], in a...room in...Quebec City....
Dave Blackburn, a parole board member who had served from 2015 to 2018, stated in the article that:
I never would have put a man who has a violent past, who killed his...spouse, among young women who are vulnerable.
This is so important. I am listening to people talk about vulnerable women. We are talking about an escort. We are talking about a young woman who was working in a massage parlour. We are talking about our most vulnerable women. We are not protecting them when we allow people to say, “Go out there and have sex with them. Do not worry about your criminal background and let us not worry about the risk. This is okay.”
Mr. Blackburn continues to say that, “It's like putting the wolf in the hen house”, which is exactly what the Parole Board of Canada did by releasing that man.
The article continues:
Jean-Claude Boyer, a parole board member from 2012 to 2018, agreed, questioning how Gallese's Correctional Services' case worker or his parole officer [would have] ever...characterized the offender's encounters with sex workers as a “risk management strategy.”
This is what really scares me. We have people making this strategy and assessing it, but the fact is that, looking at the risk management and recognizing his past history, this person should never have been released in the first place.
Second, he should never have been released and advised to pay for sex to deal with his sexual urges. This is absolutely ludicrous. As a mother of daughters and a member of Parliament who represents so many women and children, I am very concerned with what our society is going to look like if we are going to treat these situations so lightly.
The article goes on to say that:
Former parole board member Jean-Claude Boyer was one of a group of ex-members who warned the clerk of the Privy Council and the prime minister...that losing experienced members could lead to “dangerous” decisions.
Again, that is exactly what we saw.
Today, as members know, is another monumental day, because the bill that was brought forward previously by Rona Ambrose was reintroduced by the Minister of Justice. This is extremely important. We need to see this important type of legislation go through the House of Commons and perhaps look at some amendments, because we know that judges are dealing with these cases, but what about Parole Board officers?
Have they gone through the proper training on sexual assault to make sure that when they are releasing these people on bail or day parole they are not going to reoffend? Are they aware of what happened to previous victims? If we are going to protect our most vulnerable, why are we not doing this? We talk about this all the time, and we are not doing it.
To conclude, a Canadian Police Association brief to the House of Commons in 2007 noted that:
Many dangerous offenders admit to having committed a large number of sexual offences for which they were not arrested—an average of 27 offences per offender.
This is hugely concerning. Therefore, I am looking forward to continuing this conversation. We can do more, and we must do better.