The Chronicle Herald with Kim Pate 28 September 2018
After hammering the government for days, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer plans to force a vote next week on a motion condemning the transfer of convicted murderer Terri-Lynne McClintic to an Aboriginal healing lodge, and demanding the decision be reversed.
But Scheer wouldn’t say exactly how he thinks the Liberal government should put McClintic back behind bars to serve the remainder of her 25-year sentence. McClintic pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford in 2010.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Scheer suggested the public safety minister could issue a directive dictating “that a broad class of offenders are not eligible for transfer to a minimum-security facility.” But he wouldn’t say who that would include. “You can absolutely develop a policy that would capture McClintic,” he said. “This could include a wide variety of offences, including murder and the types of offences that McClintic has been convicted of.”
Still, his suggestion seemed to acknowledge that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale cannot unilaterally overturn Correctional Service Canada’s decision to transfer McClintic to the Okimaw Ohci healing lodge in Saskatchewan. The lodge houses minimum- and medium-security female offenders, and McClintic was classified as medium security in 2014.
Goodale has called for a review of the decision, but has insisted he cannot reverse it on his own. According to a legal opinion provided to the minister and obtained by the Post, he “cannot … provide specific direction in a particular case or on a CSC officer’s decision.” The memo goes on to say that “decisions whether to transfer an offender from one prison to another … are specifically given … to CSC officials.”
But Scheer said a review isn’t good enough. “They still have not even weighed in on whether or not they agree with the decision,” he said. “We condemn this decision. We don’t need to wait for a review to understand that this is a mistake.”
McClintic’s transfer to a healing lodge sparked outrage this week after Tori’s father, Rodney Stafford, spoke out about the decision to the London Free Press. Irvin Waller, an emeritus professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa, said the pain Stafford’s family is going through highlights the importance of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, who can make recommendations to government agencies like the CSC about concerns raised by victims. The position has been vacant since November 2017. On Monday, the Liberals announced a new ombudsman, Heidi Illingworth, will take up the role on Oct. 1.
“I think that what the family of the girl who was murdered should be doing … is they should be going to that federal ombudsman and asking for her help,” Waller said.
Still, not everyone agrees that McClintic’s move to an Aboriginal healing lodge is akin to a free pass. Independent Sen. Kim Pate, former executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, said it’s “irresponsible” to suggest that Okimaw Ohci is “anything other than a multilevel penitentiary.”
“I think it is irresponsible for people to be calling for a review of any penitentiary placement … if they have no idea of the conditions of confinement about which they profess to speak,” she told the Post by email.
The Conservatives have raised concerns about the level of security at the Okimaw Ohci lodge, which isn’t fenced in, and the possibility of children living there.
“She’s in a healing lodge with no walls, no bars, and with children living inside. It’s absolutely reprehensible that a child killer is living alongside children,” Scheer said Friday. “Terri-Lynne McClintic belongs behind bars.”
The CSC has an institutional mother-child program that allows children younger than school age to live with their incarcerated mothers, provided the mothers have not been convicted of an offence against a child. Older children may also visit. The program has existed at all women’s institutions since 1997, and no child in the program has been harmed, according to Scott Bardsley, Goodale’s spokesperson.
CSC would not say how many children are currently residing at Okimaw Ohci, citing privacy concerns due to the low number of children in the program.
Bardsley also said it’s inaccurate to think that the healing lodge isn’t secure because it isn’t fenced in, as the lodge is located “many, many, many kilometres from the nearest community.”
“There’s literally nowhere to go,” he said. “It’s not like it’s in the middle of Chilliwack or something. It’s in the middle of the wilderness.”
There are nine Aboriginal healing lodges across Canada, most in the three prairie provinces. They are the product of 1992 legislation that allowed Aboriginal communities to provide correctional services, part of an attempt to address the high rate of Indigenous incarceration in Canada.
Offenders do not have to be Indigenous to be eligible for transfer to a healing lodge, and there has been confusion this week about whether or not McClintic is Indigenous. In a statement, a CSC spokesperson said offenders can self-identify as Indigenous at any point during their sentence, and as with any other visible minority, “there is no expectation of proof.” A family member of McClintic this week they didn’t believe she was Indigenous.
However, McClintic has previously identified herself as Indigenous. According to The Canadian Press, on the day of Stafford’s murder, McClintic spent time at an employment centre where she indicated she was a non-status Indian — someone who identifies as Indigenous but who cannot register under the Indian Act.