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Prime Minister chokes up over Schoenborn’s young victims

Prime Minister Stephen Harper pauses while announcing the Conservative government is providing courts with new powers to lock up people found not criminally responsible for their crimes due to mental problems, in Burnaby, B.C., on Feb. 8, 2013.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Stacy Galt says she wasn't surprised to see Prime Minister Stephen Harper grapple with his emotions when asked, as a parent, how he reacted to meeting a mother whose three children were murdered.

"Any parent would be moved by that," said Ms. Galt, the cousin of Darcie Clarke, after Mr. Harper announced the release of proposed legislation that would tighten options for the release of those found not criminally responsible for crimes.

In 2008, Ms. Clarke's three young children were murdered in Merrit, B.C., by their father, Allan Schoenborn, who was found not criminally responsible for his actions.

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"He's a human being," Ms. Galt said of Mr. Harper. "He's got emotions like anyone else. He might not be able to show them. This is something any parent would relate to."

Mr. Harper's moment came after he was asked how he related to Ms. Clarke as a parent after meeting her Friday for the first time (scroll to the 2:30 mark of this video).

The Prime Minister stood at a lectern struggling for a moment to find the words to respond before answering.

Mr. Harper first talked about the act being retroactive then, after a long pause, said the morning was a reminder that once you become a parent, you see the world differently.

He said meeting Ms. Clarke and others touched him in a "profound" way. "Given the love we have for our children, one cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering this kind of event brings about, that lasts for a very long time."

He said "terrible things" happen but it is possible to create a "reasonable" system that more vigorously considers the rights of victims.

When Ms. Galt, Ms. Clarke and another family member arrived for Friday's announcement at a Burnaby hotel, they were taken for a surprise 15-minute meeting with Mr. Harper, who then had a five-minute meeting with Ms. Clarke.

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"We had a nice chat," she said. "You could definitely tell he felt strongly about this cause."

Ms. Galt spoke for her cousin at a subsequent news conference, expressing her family's support for the proposed reforms.

Ms. Clarke monitored the proceedings electronically from elsewhere in the hotel. She has not commented on the case, though she testified at Mr. Schoenborn's 2009 trial.

Ms. Galt said her cousin is not capable of speaking in public. "It's just too emotional," she said. "It's a pain that has lasted so long."

She said Ms. Clarke won't be able to write a victim-impact statement for a scheduled review hearing for Mr. Schoenborn next week at the psychiatric facility in Coquitlam where he is being held.

"It just rips her apart," she said of the prospect of reliving the case. "It's just raw to the bone."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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