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Ex-NHL goaltender Don Edwards is writing a book detailing the injustice surrounding his parents’ murder. Edwards believes full parole is inevitable for the man who killed them in 1991

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At his Florida home, retired NHL goalie Don Edwards reads a scrapbook of his hockey career compiled by his parents, Arnold and Donna, who were murdered in 1991. Mr. Edwards is writing a book about the family's ordeal.Photography by Mark Taylor/The Globe and Mail

Don Edwards, a former National Hockey League star, is writing an unusual memoir for a retired athlete.

His working title is After the Game: Victim of Violence. The book will talk about George Harding Lovie, who killed Mr. Edwards’ mother and father in Hamilton, Ont., early one blood-drenched morning on the first day of spring in 1991.

It will talk about how Mr. Lovie was handed the only punishment allowed for a multiple first-degree murderer under the law at the time: life in prison with a 25-year wait to be eligible for full parole. It will explain how the Parole Board of Canada set him free on day parole, 28 years later. And it will detail the way Mr. Edwards, his siblings and large extended family fought for years – making victim-impact statements in person at more than half a dozen parole hearings – to keep Mr. Lovie behind bars.

Mr. Lovie is now permitted to spend four nights a week at his own apartment. Mr. Edwards believes full parole is inevitable.

“What we’ve endured is relentless, it’s never-ending,” the 67-year-old former goalie for the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames said in an interview. “It’s something you hope you wake up in the morning and it’s all gone. In reality it’s just another awakening, another day. The repetitive fight never stops. The requests from the parole board are never-ending. The requests from Lovie for freedom are never-ending.”

“At one time I was a very proud Canadian,” he added. “I wore the sweater of Canada in the 1981 Canada Cup. I’m not a proud Canadian any more. How can I be? I thought the justice system is there for people who abide by the laws, and their job is to protect victims.”

Mr. Lovie’s conditional release shows that people convicted of multiple murders can and do get out of prison on parole.

It is a bellwether for a justice system that, ever since a Supreme Court ruling last year, must once again allow those convicted of multiple first-degree murders to receive the same punishment Mr. Lovie received: a chance at day parole after 22 years, and a chance at full parole at 25.

In 2011, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper gave judges the authority to sentence multiple killers to consecutive periods of parole ineligibility: for each first-degree murder, 25 years. Judges could hand out what were essentially life sentences without the possibility of parole, because offenders had to wait 50 or 75 years for their first parole hearings. But in May, the Supreme Court struck down the law as cruel and unusual punishment in the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, who shot and killed six Muslim worshippers at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

More than 20 multiple murderers had received parole ineligibility periods of as long as 75 years under the 2011 law. They are now eligible for reductions to 25 years, the same parole ineligibility period that would be given to a person convicted of a single first-degree murder. Mr. Lovie’s case provides the best available evidence of how the Parole Board of Canada will address the risks they pose.

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After the murder of Arnold and Donna Edwards, their children and extended family fought for years to convince the courts that their killer should stay in prison.

Early in Don Edwards’s hockey career, his parents arranged for Lefty Wilson, trainer of the Detroit Red Wings, to make this goalie mask for their son. He made the plaster cast at the Edwards kitchen table.
Mr. Edwards still has the jersey he wore at the 1981 Canada Cup. ‘At one time I was a very proud Canadian,’ he says, but no longer: His experience of the justice system has changed his outlook.

The parole board is a mystery to many Canadians. Its hearings and rulings receive little news-media coverage, unless something goes horribly wrong.

Every parole hearing turns on its facts, beginning with the crime itself. In the Lovie case, those facts are gruesome, and impossible to separate from violence against women – like several cases of mass murder affected by the Supreme Court ruling. A month before the murders, Mr. Lovie had been charged with sexually assaulting Don’s sister Michele Edwards at gunpoint and knifepoint. He’d been set free on bail.

At four in the morning on March 21, 1991, Mr. Lovie hid under Ms. Edwards’ front porch. He brought a blanket to stay warm. He was armed with a newly purchased lever-action repeating rifle, and he had a knife in his belt. He was obsessed with reconciling with Ms. Edwards. But first he had to persuade her to drop the sexual assault charges.

At 7 a.m., as Ms. Edwards left the house, Mr. Lovie crawled up from his hiding place. She dropped her purse and raced across the street to her parents’ house, screamed a warning and called 911.

First Mr. Lovie shot Donna Edwards, twice. Then he stabbed Arnold Edwards several times, while shouting, “D’you like me now? D’you like me now?” (The 911 call recorded the chilling words.)

Later that day, he turned himself in to police. A jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempting to murder Ms. Edwards. The earlier charges were stayed.

The Supreme Court, in its May ruling, stressed that parole eligibility does not mean a right to parole; it is simply a right to a hearing. The court said Canadian values require that a door be left open to rehabilitation. And it expressed its faith in the board. “It, perhaps, provides a measure of solace to know that compelling evidence of rehabilitation will be demanded before the perpetrators of such crimes will be released on parole,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner wrote.

But does the parole board really work that way? The Globe and Mail reviewed all of the board’s rulings on Mr. Lovie since his initial 2019 release on day parole. None of them use the phrase “compelling evidence of rehabilitation,” nor do they insist on such evidence in substance.

Instead, what mattered in Mr. Lovie’s case was whether the risks he presented could be managed in the community. Evidence of rehabilitation was part of that. But the evidence only had to go so far. Conditions placed on Mr. Lovie would do the rest, in the parole board’s view.

For instance, the board banned him from entering parts of Ontario where members of the large extended family of Arnold and Donna Edwards live.

At least one condition didn’t work out. Mr. Lovie was supposed to see a mental-health counsellor, but when he told the counsellor after just three sessions that he was there only because of the board’s order, the counsellor refused to see him again. The board dropped the condition.

The evidence of rehabilitation in Mr. Lovie’s case is murky. Mr. Lovie is still, in some recent parole board decisions, described as being at high risk of reoffending if he enters an intimate relationship – so much so that the board insisted he report all relationships with women, even friendships, to his parole supervisor.

The board’s rulings say positive things about Mr. Lovie, but often add negatives or qualifiers. He completed 10 mental health programs in prison – but only because they were required. He takes responsibility for his actions – but still denies sexually assaulting Ms. Edwards. A report from a mental-health clinician said his insight into himself depended on whether he could overcome his frustration and anger over being accused of sexual assault. In other words, his denial keeps him from self-understanding.

Based on psychological reports and Mr. Lovie’s own testimony at hearings, the board said it believed he was at low risk of repeating the terrible violence of the killings.

Even so, it acknowledged some violence was possible: A measurement of his recidivism risk by the Correctional Service of Canada determined that one in three offenders with the score he received would likely commit an indictable offence within three years of release.

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One of the photos on Mr. Edwards's wall, at bottom right, shows him with his father at a childhood baseball game. In another, bottom left, Mr. Edwards suits up in hockey gear alongside his uncle Roy, a former Red Wings goalie.

Canada’s data on the release of multiple murderers is sorely lacking.

The Globe asked the parole board and the correctional service for information on the release of multiple killers. Both agencies responded that their database is organized only by “major offence” (the most serious crime for which someone was convicted), making them unable to supply information on parole and multiple killers.

But the evidence they did supply suggests some murderers on parole do kill again.

Since 2000, nine people convicted of murder have subsequently been convicted of additional murders committed while they were on parole, according to Marielle Gervais, a spokesperson for the parole board.

Still, things are improving. In the past 10 years, just three people had their full or day parole revoked for homicides, and just one of them had committed a previous homicide. And more than 99 per cent of day- and full-parole periods during that time were successfully completed without violent offences, Ms. Gervais said.

The numbers used to be far worse. Between 1975 and 1999, 58 Canadians were killed by 37 parolees serving sentences for murder or manslaughter.

Federal law says that to be released on parole a person must not pose an “undue” risk of reoffending. In practice, according to Mary Campbell, a former director-general at Public Safety Canada, which oversees the parole board, this means the board decides if an offender’s risk can be managed in the community.

In Mr. Lovie’s case, the board has been cautious, she said after reviewing its rulings on Mr. Lovie at The Globe’s request. It moved from escorted passes, to work releases, to unescorted passes.

“This is a very incremental approach that allows authorities to carefully observe Mr. Lovie’s gradual increases in freedom,” she said. She noted that his release on day parole came nearly six and a half years after he was eligible for it.

“There must be some evidence that the offender has progressed … The rehabilitative evidence may be strengthened by the add-ons of conditions and supervision. So in that sense it is ‘compelling,’” she said, endorsing the Supreme Court’s use of that term.

But Isabel Grant, a legal specialist in policies related to violence against women who is also a law professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law, sees Mr. Lovie’s release differently. The parole board’s reasons “suggest that he deflects responsibility, that he has a need to convince others he has changed, and that he has deficits in controlling his emotions, impulsivity and anger,” she said.

“We are told that his recidivism score suggests that two of three people with the same score will not commit an indictable offence in three years. Clearly that means one of three will. That feels a bit like playing Russian roulette with women’s safety.”

Scott Newark, a former Alberta prosecutor and victims’ advocate, went further. “The clearest conclusion is that the SCC doesn’t understand the reality of the parole decision-making process,” he said in an e-mail.

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Mr. Edwards sifts through court papers while reading from the book he is writing, titled After the Game: Victim of Violence.

The Edwards family has been writing victim-impact statements for the parole board since 2011, when Mr. Lovie began applying for day passes.

The hearings have at times been explosive – especially the one in August, 2019. While Don sat within a few feet of Mr. Lovie, Michele spoke from a separate room about having had a knife held to her throat. Seven family members testified about their feelings of fear, continuing trauma, and skepticism of Mr. Lovie’s rehabilitation.

After that hearing, the board granted Mr. Lovie day parole for the first time. Even so, it acknowledged that his response to the Edwards family was unsatisfactory.

“You reacted to the victims’ statements by claiming that you have never been able to process what you had done; you spoke of devastation, deprivation and distorted views,” the board said in its decision. “You later apologized saying there was no justification for your actions. Your remorse appeared genuine although you have been characterized as being manipulative in the past.”

Mr. Lovie’s day parole in Sudbury, Ont., has been renewed every six months since it was first granted. He has been pushing to be allowed visits to parts of southern Ontario that are off-limits because Edwards family members live there; his stated reason is that he wants to visit his own relatives. The board has resisted these requests.

Recently, Mr. Lovie asked the parole board for permission to visit Brantford, a short drive from where several members of the Edwards’ extended family live. The family sent letters opposing the visit. Don and Michelle now both live in the United States. As a convicted killer, Mr. Lovie is not permitted to cross the border.

“You have to really be in our shoes to understand the devastation that we have gone through,” Mr. Edwards said. “Yes, it’s 31 years now since it occurred, but the nightmare never goes away.”

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