Skip to main content

Serena Vermeersch is shown in an RCMP handout photo.The Canadian Press

Canada's parole board warned that the man now accused of killing a Surrey teenager would likely commit an offence "causing serious harm" after completing a previous sentence for sexual assault.

In a case that has compelled the province and the federal government to look at improving safeguards from high-risk offenders, Raymond Caissie has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Serena Vermeersch, who was last seen getting on a bus on the evening of Sept. 15. Her body was found the next day.

B.C.'s Minister of Justice said on Tuesday that the province is reviewing its monitoring of high-risk offenders in light of the case – and the federal government says it is looking at ways to protect the public further.

Mr. Caissie spent more than two decades in jail after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman who had been working at a museum. B.C. Corrections issued a public warning about him in June, 2013, describing him as a high-risk sexual offender. His plan to live in Surrey after his release drew condemnation from the city's mayor.

Parole Board of Canada documents released on Tuesday say Mr. Caissie – who was born in 1971 – has spent most of his life behind bars. The documents say he has a "long history of sexually inappropriate and violent behaviour."

The parole board documents chronicle 2006 to 2013, part of the time Mr. Caissie was in prison. In 2006, the board said he could cause a person's death if he was released. It said his behaviour within prison had been marred by violence and threats.

The next year, Mr. Caissie conceded he was not ready for a release back into the community, the documents show.

But, by 2013, he told a prison psychologist he had given up his violent ways and matured. The board disagreed, according to the documents. They say Mr. Caissie had been involved in a plot to injure a prison staff member the previous year, an accusation he denied.

Mr. Caissie was put in segregation after the plot was uncovered.

"Based on a review of your file and considering the circumstances set out above, the board continues to find that, if released, you are likely to commit an offence causing serious harm to another person…," say the most recent parole board documents, from January, 2013.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said a better way is needed to protect the public from high-risk offenders, and she intends to discuss this with the RCMP and federal government.

"At the end of the day, a family has lost their daughter and they deserve answers. The worst thing that could happen is for a tragedy like this not to result in some meaningful discussions, to see how we collectively can address these situations in a much better way," the minister wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

Ms. Anton said the province's review has already begun, and it appears "stringent" monitoring processes were followed in this case. She said such reviews are always carried out when a high-risk offender is accused of committing a crime or violent act.

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay told reporters after Question Period that Ottawa is "looking at ways in which we can improve not only the parole system, but the sentencing as well, so that we are taking every step within our power to ensure that we are protecting the public from violent sexual offenders."

Robert Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said he believes the necessary legislation is already in place. Mr. Caissie was subject to several conditions of release, including keeping the peace, not possessing weapons, and not consuming controlled substances.

Prof. Gordon said the issue is police resources.

"What happens with these cases, in my experience, is they start watching a person very closely when he's first released and they issued the warning. And then they decide that he's actually not such a problem after all, and they begin to shift the resources away from him to somebody else," he said in an interview.

Mr. Caissie was arrested on Saturday. Police said on Monday they could not release details about the accused because of a publication ban. A court official later said that was a misunderstanding.

Police had said they would answer questions on their monitoring of Mr. Caissie once it was determined the publication ban was not an issue.None of the officers who spoke at the news conference agreed to an interview on Tuesday. A Surrey RCMP spokesman said in an e-mail it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter that is before the courts.

A B.C. RCMP spokesman said in a statement "resources are prioritized and deployed accordingly" whenever information is received that an individual has or might violate their conditions. The statement said there was no information to suggest Mr. Caissie was breaching his conditions just before Ms. Vermeersch went missing.

Neil MacKenzie, a Criminal Justice Branch spokesman, said an advisory committee that includes correctional officials, police, and the Crown determines whether court-ordered supervision is needed for a person who is a high risk to reoffend. He said the committee considers factors such as past offences, participation in programs while in custody, and psychiatric reports. The court order can last for up to two years.

Mr. MacKenzie said he could not go into detail on Mr. Caissie's file.

Tim Veresh, executive director of the John Howard Society of B.C., which helps people who have been in jail reintegrate into society, said the transition can be difficult and more supports are needed.

"It is a bit of a challenge. It's sort of starting over," he said in an interview. "We ask them when they do come that they change their friends, that they change their hangouts, that they change their recreation activities. We basically ask them to change their entire life."