Should a convicted murderer and extremely violent repeat offender be granted a day parole to visit a dying family member? That’s the question that has inflamed passions in Saskatchewan, where Alvin Starblanket has been allowed to join his family around the hospital bed of a relative and join in the discussion about whether to end life support. Victims’ support groups and the president of the Canadian Police Association say a man like Starblanket deserves no such kindness or empathy, but they forget that rehabilitation is the proper goal of incarceration in this country.
The Parole Board of Canada granted Starblanket the day parole on January 17; it did not make public how Starblanket is related to the person in hospital, or the date of the visit. It did receive assurances that Starblanket was to be shackled by two restraints and escorted by two armed guards during the five-hour release.
Which is good, as he is a very bad man. He had just been given mandatory early release from jail in 2002 when he attacked a Catholic pastor named John Kratko in Prince Albert, Sask. He left the pastor to die by a river. In 2003, in prison and awaiting trial in the death of Kratko, he killed a former Hells Angel hitman turned police informant by stabbing him with a metal rod 187 times. He was convicted of manslaughter in the killing of Kratko and second-degree murder for the prison stabbing. He is not eligible for parole before 2021, and his behaviour in penitentiary in Saskatoon has been poor.
The Parole Board hopes that granting Starblanket, who is 31, a one-day leave at the request of his family will reconnect him with his kin and help in his rehabilitation. The Board believes that a show of compassion will “positively impact this dimension of your life and contribute to future pro-social behaviour.”
Critics say a man like Starblanket deserves no such compassion, and that furthermore the province should not spend the money required to escort him to the hospital. The general sentiment is that a man who shows no mercy deserves none in return.
This is certainly a difficult case but, in the end, the Parole Board of Canada is correct to allow Starblanket to reconnect with his family. Our justice system strives for the rehabilitation of violent criminals. It can be a Sisyphean task at times, but we don’t lock people up and throw away the key. One day Starblanket will be eligible to return to society. His rehabilitation has to start somewhere.