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Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. Mr. Blair expressed condolences to Ms. Levesque’s family, and has said the commissioner of Correctional Services and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) will investigate.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The murder of a 22-year-old woman in Quebec City has sparked a federal investigation into how a man on day parole after serving 15 years of a life sentence for killing his girlfriend could have been permitted to meet with women to fulfill his “sexual needs.”

Eustachio Gallese, 51, who was convicted in 2006 of killing Chantale Deschenes with a hammer and knife, was charged with second-degree murder last week after police found Marylène Levesque dead in a hotel room.

The death of Ms. Levesque, who worked in the sex industry, has reignited calls for the decriminalization of sex work — which advocates say is the only way to protect such workers.

Mr. Gallese was granted day parole in March, 2019. The parole board agreed at a review of his conditions in September that Mr. Gallese – who had a history of violence against women before his murder conviction, according to parole documents – was not ready to have relationships with women.

Yet a risk-management strategy had been developed by his parole officer and case management team, the documents noted, "so that you can meet women, but only to meet your sexual needs. Your [case managers] allowed you to make these meetings provided that you be transparent.”

In its September decision, the board recommended reconsidering this strategy. Nevertheless, Mr. Gallese was granted a six-month extension of his day parole. His risk of reoffending, the decision noted, was “moderate.”

The Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil reported that Ms. Levesque had been working out of an erotic massage parlour that had banned Mr. Gallese for being violent with other women there. The two had arranged to met at a hotel in the city’s Sainte-Foy district.

“I think that [the case] really shows the degree to which we do privilege male entitlement to women’s bodies over the safety of women,” said Isabel Grant, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law who specializes in intimate partner violence and femicide.

“I think it reflects, too, this idea that men who killed their girlfriends or wives or intimate partners don’t present as much of a threat to the public as other men,” Prof. Grant said. “And I think that’s problematic, and it also shows how we see the safety of women, particularly the most marginalized women, and how little priority we give it.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair expressed condolences to Ms. Levesque’s family, and has said the commissioner of Correctional Services and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada (PBC) will investigate.

In an e-mail on Thursday, Mr. Blair’s office said the parole board, in its September decision, “explicitly opposed letting this individual visit massage parlours while on day parole.”

The investigation, the e-mail said, "will examine whether [Correctional Services Canada] and PBC followed proper protocols, and what changes might be appropriate in order to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The review will include external investigators, it will be transparent, and the findings will be shared.”

Under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, it is illegal in Canada to pay for sex work, but not to be a sex worker. The intention of the law, implemented in 2014 by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government – was to eradicate the demand for sex work. But advocates say it pushes the industry into the shadows.

Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella, a Montreal-based advocacy organization for sex workers, said that if sex work were decriminalized, the women at the massage parlour might have felt comfortable calling police about Mr. Gallese.

“We know firsthand how frequently men are violent toward sex workers, and criminalization prevents us from doing anything about it,” she said. “If we report something with the police, the immediate outcome tends to be that our workplaces get shut down. Our co-workers get arrested, our clients get arrested, we lose our income.”

According to Statistics Canada, 294 sex workers were killed across the country between 1991 and 2014.

Jenny Duffy, board chair of Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, said in an e-mail on Thursday that she was pleased the case will be investigated, but added that won’t keep sex workers safe.

“The government needs to listen to sex workers, and decriminalize the work.”

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