Family members mourning the loss of a Red Deer couple killed by a drunk driver on Feb. 7, 2010, are being short-changed by Canada’s parole process — as are other victims of crime.
And if they feel the offenders’ rights supersede their rights under the system, they are bang on the mark.
Canada’s ombudsman for crime victims agrees and says this obvious imbalance must be corrected now.
There’s a general consensus among crime victims in Canada that offenders’ rights surpass those of the victims.
Parole board hearings often leave victims feeling defenceless, fed with shallow information and void of a voice.
On the other hand, an offender’s well-being can be addressed with compassion, and at times rewarded with an early release.
And victims attending these hearings can feel victimized yet again by the outcome.
But ombudsman Sue O’Sullivan, in her first report since her appointment in August 2010, said crime victims unquestionably have the right to attend parole hearings and they must be entitled to more information about the offenders who preyed on them.
Under the current parole system, victims attending hearings are limited to reading a pre-approved statement.
In the early morning of Feb. 7, 2010, in Red Deer, Brad and Krista Howe were returning home to their five children. A drunken Chad Mitchell Olsen, who owned a driving record full of infractions, sped through a red light and slammed into the small car driven by the couple, killing them instantly.
Just before last Christmas, Olsen was granted day parole. He had also been relocated to the comfort of a halfway house after serving only seven months behind bars for a 3½-year prison term.
“This was just another huge slap (in the face),” said Sandra Green, mother of Krista Howe. Olsen would be home for Christmas, but not Brad and Krista Howe.
The victims’ families didn’t attend the parole hearing, where the killer asked for sympathy. Attending would reopen wounds but give them no latitude to change the decision of the parole board.
The ombudsman said in her report that information to crime victims under the current parole system is strictly limited and it is time to strike a better balance. “The care and rights of victims should be equivalent to that of offenders,” O’Sullivan wrote. “As it stands now in Canada, this is not the case. We must take action now to correct that imbalance.”
O’Sullivan said many victims are frustrated by rules that limit their participation at parole hearings. “They don’t feel that their voices have been heard.”
She wants more compassion for crime victims. They should have the option of video-conferencing, or access to transcripts or recordings if they cannot attend parole hearings in person.
Further, she says victims should be kept up to date about where offenders are serving their sentences, when they are up for release and how they have progressed in rehabilitation.
There’s no good reason why that information should be kept secret.
Who is the system protecting, the victims or the offenders?
The rights of criminals are clearly enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They are innocent until proven guilty.
Beyond that, there is no precedent in Canadian law that says they have the right to preferential treatment. They cannot exceed the rights of victims, who are guaranteed full protection of the law under the charter.
Until O’Sullivan’s recommendations are put in place, victims like the Howe family will be pushed aside by a twisted parole system.
Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.