EDMONTON — Alberta’s attorney general has bungled the case of a woman ordered deported after killing her children and is now making inflammatory comments that border on professional misconduct, the woman’s lawyer said Tuesday.
Peter Royal, in a letter released to the media, said the office of Jonathan Denis had almost six months notice that Allyson McConnell was going to be deported to her native Australia and did nothing about it.
“Simply doing the math would lead to the inevitable conclusion that (McConnell) was to be released on April 4,” wrote Royal, who noted that a deportation order from the federal government was issued on Oct. 18, 2012.
“We fail to see how this (deportation) could have taken the minister by surprise.”
McConnell was found guilty last April of drowning her two young sons, but a Crown appeal of the sentence and conviction has yet to be heard.
Royal said the attorney general’s office did not ask to have the appeal hearing moved up and didn’t contact his office to see if McConnell would agree to return to Canada if her sentence were extended.
He also said that the province’s appeal was delayed for months because the Crown missed deadlines to file background information with the court.
“(Denis) suggested that all reasonable steps had been taken to prosecute this appeal. That is simply not the case,” said Royal.
But Greg Lepp, assistant deputy minister of justice responsible for prosecutions, maintained Tuesday there was nothing the province could have done.
“There was no basis upon which to move it up,” he said.
“Even on an expedited basis, the appeals could not have been heard before she was released and either deported or free to leave Canada of her own volition.”
Royal’s comments echo remarks from federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is in charge of deportations. In a written statement last Friday, Toews chided Alberta for not taking action on the appeal.
“It is unfortunate that the Alberta government did not act prior to Ms. McConnell’s release in order to prevent this situation from occurring,” said Toews.
McConnell reportedly flew home to Gosford, Australia, late Monday.
She was convicted of manslaughter for drowning her two-year-old son, Connor, and his 10-month old brother, Jayden, in a bathtub in the family’s home south of Edmonton in February 2010. The children were found by their father Curtis McConnell. The couple was involved in an acrimonious divorce and custody fight.
The same day the father found his boys, his wife drove to Edmonton, jumped off a freeway overpass and seriously injured herself.
She was kept in psychiatric care from then on and remained so after she was sentenced last June to six years. She was given credit for the more than two years she had spent in pretrial custody, so had 15 months left to serve. She completed two-thirds of her remaining sentence by last week and so, by law, had to be released.
Regardless of the deportation order, McConnell had already indicated at her trial she planned to go home to Australia if she were released.
The case has outraged Curtis McConnell and his family. They have told the media that the government has told them little about the case and that they want a longer sentence for his former wife.
Denis is also publicly pushing for harsher punishment. He said the Crown will pursue its appeal and will push to have McConnell brought back if her sentence is extended.
“Our department filed the appeal immediately and has left no stone unturned whatsoever,” Denis told the house during question period Tuesday.
“We’re dealing with two dead children and a grieving family,” he added.
“We will not stop until justice is served in this province.”
Royal suggested Denis is out of bounds for publicly stumping for a longer sentence in a case still before the courts.
“For the attorney general to descend into the arena and make these sorts of comments is entirely inappropriate and indeed may constitute professional misconduct as a lawyer,” said Royal, who declined an interview with The Canadian Press.
Critics from the three opposition parties agreed.
“It’s completely inappropriate for an attorney general who has direct impact on, for example, the compensation of judges as well as the judicial system in general to be commenting on a specific case and trying to influence the outcome,” said Wildrose critic Shayne Saskiw.
Added Liberal critic Laurie Blakeman: “If I can go to my minister of justice and say, ’I’d like you to come out on my behalf this time,’ then there’s a good argument they’re going to have to come out on somebody else’s side next time.
“All of a sudden what we don’t have is not an independent court, but something that is influence-able by the highest bidder.”
NDP critic Rachel Notley said “the conflict is big.”
“We have a minister who is making decisions about courthouses, about support for courthouses, about support staff in courthouses, about schedule matters, about laws that govern lawyers,” said Notley.
“He has extensive control over the whole judicial system.