House Call with Carol Hughes

We can’t abandon safeguards in the justice system

Like so many others, I was deeply saddened to learn the details of Tori Stafford’s tragic demise 10 years ago when news coverage of her disappearance, murder and the subsequent trail of Terri-Lynne McClintic and her accomplice shook Canadians to their foundation. This autumn, we learned that McClintic had been re-designated as a medium security threat and transferred to a healing lodge in Saskatchewan. The raw emotion that Canadians felt over this was easily tapped by Conservative politicians who advocated for the government to break its arms-length relationship with Correctional Service Canada and have her sent back to prison. It sounded like an easy solution, but it wasn’t ever a legal option for the government which is, in the end, a good thing.

What the Conservatives aren’t telling people is that Terri Lynne McClintic was re-designated as a medium security threat while they were in government and at the time, they said the government had to trust Correctional Service Canada, but their story changed in a few short years. Recently, it was also revealed that there were several other child murderers transferred to healing lodges under their watch as well.

The Conservatives clearly attempted to politicize our justice system in a way that, as indicated by an Assistant Deputy Attorney General, runs contrary to “a number of constitutional, statutory and common law practices.” Despite this, it is obvious that for many, accepting our system’s limitations and safeguards in this case was less than easy. MPs were put in a bind because in order to defend our system which built in real, defined, and important limits as to what Parliament can do for outcomes that involve any person held in custody, they had to vote against a Conservative motion that appeared to offer an easy solution for this case, but wasn’t really a viable option.

The truth is that no elected official has the ability to instruct Correctional Services Canada in a way that will determine the treatment of an individual prisoner. Countries where members of a government are able to act in that way are less than democratic. The government’s ability in instances like this is limited to reviews which have brought about desirable outcomes in the past and did in this instance as well. There is a process that has to be followed and a review had to take place before any move occurs. New Democrats supported this with a request that the review be expedited.

That’s exactly what happened, which resulted in a change of policy that applies to all prisoners. McClintic was then transferred to the Edmonton Institution for Women, a multi-level facility, while maintaining her medium security designation.

The whole political battle could have been avoided and should be seen as a cautionary tale about the court of public opinion. If you will recall, there was public speculation about Tori Stafford’s parents when she went missing for over a hundred days back in 2009, showing how this was always an emotionally driven case. That’s why we have to rely on our established processes that can be fine-tuned to match identified needs. If not, we could descend into wild-west justice that can be demanded by elected officials because it suits their political desires. In short, we can’t allow ourselves to diminish our justice system so that it makes us feel good in one instance.